The Common Good

Defining 'Progressive'

"Progressive" has become the adjective of choice to describe faith communities with commitments to justice, serving the poor, and environmentalism. Yet, in the last couple of months, a number of faith leaders have pointed out that the term lacks clarity and that not all progressives believe the same things -- especially in regard to two important progressive issues: reproductive freedom and marriage equity -- not to mention significant theological differences among "progressive" groups.

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

Indeed, there appears to be a divide in the progressive community between what my friend Del Brown (a professor from the GTU in Berkeley and member of the Beatitudes Society board) calls "purists" and "accommodators," those who maintain a prophetic distance from power structures and those who form pragmatic coalitions in order to get things done. At the moment, the Obama administration seems to be favoring the pragmatic progressives over the purist progressives.

A few years ago, in a meeting at Sojourners, I publicly worried about the use of the word "progressive" to describe the emerging justice-based Christianity. I aruged that the term "progressive" had complex historical and theological origins -- and that, ultimately, "progressive" would prove confusing and perhaps even divisive. Well, that day appears to have arrived. For weeks, there's been a debate over at Religion Dispatches about "who counts" as a progressive -- and much of that debate has expressed anxiety about the use of the phrase "progressive evangelical," including some criticism directed specifically at Sojourners.

Yesterday, I jumped into the fray with a piece about "Post-Modern Progressives" to sort through the hazy terminology -- arguing for the "both-and" rather than the "either-or." You can read it here.

Diana Butler BassDiana Butler Bass is pretty much a postmodern progressive. In addition to blogging here, she also blogs at Progressive Revival and is the author of the new book, A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories


Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)