So, I was reading Facebook the other day and got pointed to this challenge by Tony Jones. He asks progressive Christian bloggers to write about God. Just God. Not Jesus, not holy spirit, just God. He says:
“Progressive/liberal/mainline theology, on the other hand, has a PR problem. We might think that people know what we think about God, but they don’t.”
I’ve had to really think about this over the last few days. Being Wiccan and Christian, I have a different take on what God’s nature is. I got introduced to the term panentheism at the same time I decided to take up this challenge, and for my personal views on deity, this fits (mostly). I’ve always described “God” (in the universal All, un-gendered sense) as being the center of a wheel, and that the deities humanity worships are all spokes on the wheel facing us. That whatever deity we’re looking at, we’re seeing a facet of the Universal All.
But here’s the thing: this is my interpretation of God. I came to this through doing my own magickal work with deity, prayer, and my own theological and spiritual training.
I was talking today with my ministry group as we were planning a radically inclusive service for PSR orientation, and we came to a part in the draft script that made me uncomfortable because the scripture included “Jehovah”. I told the group that I was uncomfortable with that, and that not everyone in our audience is going to believe in Jehovah. One of the other group members pointed out that, as we are doing something new and trying to be as inclusive as possible, that we’re probably going to tweak people at some point or another through the entire service. The other point is that there will be people in our audience that do believe in Jehovah, and we should include them, too.
They were quite right.
What I’ve noticed about progressive Christianity (and this is even before I realized I was, what I like to call, a “dual citizen”) is that the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus” (and by extension through the Trinity, God) is taken very seriously. In other words, unlike certain groups of conservative Protestants (of the Pat Buchannan and Fred Phelps varieties), your personal relationship with deity is your own to discover. And it’s a for reals relationship: you can question it, you can taste it, you can put it down, pick it back up, walk away, and do whatever it is you need to do. The progressive God is grey, a challenge, murky, something you actually have think about and chew on for awhile until you get to a point where it’s just right for you.
For a lot of humans, a God that doesn’t have all the answers right away, frankly, sucks. Taking on a particular church’s absolute idea of God is easier. It doesn’t require one to think outside of what they are told is right and proper. Everyone who doesn’t think the way the church does is “Doing It Wrong” and are easy to dismiss.
In short, they don’t want to be uncomfortable because it’s icky and doesn’t feel good. Dealing with the idea that you could be wrong about the big questions is frightening. Confronting the fact that life is not black and white is not easy and opens up the idea that Christianity doesn’t have the hold on “Truth”. Questioning the “Truth” that is given to you is daunting because of the power dynamics of lay person and minister.
Finding out who God is (or if God even exists), for yourself, is hard. Being handed a “God package” and told that if you believe in it, all your problems will go away, that’s shiny and easy.
I think the idea of God in progressive Christianity doesn’t really have a PR problem. It’s a problem of perception. We know, individually, what we think about God, but it’s not for me to tell someone who God is. It’s for them to find out.