What progressive Christians get wrong

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Progressive Christians, intent on enforcing equality in the church, instead sow division. In their desire for absolute equality they remake God as a cosmic Henry Ford who famously told his customers that they could have any colour of Model T 'as long as it's black'. But God does not go in for mass production: He is a craftsman and each one of us is unique.

Injustice based on skin colour, sex, age or any of the other discriminations common in our day should be opposed, especially when it appears in the church. But Christians should also be clear on the grounds on which they oppose injustice.

Subordinating theology

In attempting to undo what they see as injustice, progressive Christians abandon theology and adopt secular woke hermeneutics, particularly Critical Race Theory (CRT). This is the route chosen by the Church of England, teaching it in their schools and preaching it from their pulpits. So entrenched is CRT that a social justice unit being set up in the diocese of Birmingham announced that it would be hiring a 'deconstructing whiteness' officer. In attempting to create equality, they end up emphasising difference.

Recently the Ven Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, Archdeacon of Liverpool, called for 'anti-whiteness' in the church; she also wants Christians to 'smash the patriarchy'. Giving the reason for her views, Dr Threlfall-Holmes did not say they were the result of intensive study and reflection on Scripture; instead she said she had attended a one-day conference on racial justice organised by the charity Reconciliation Initiatives. This resulted in her waking up to the harmful whiteness of the Anglican church.

Far from helping Christians to grasp the value of loving our neighbours, a command Jesus considered of greatest importance, progressive Christianity begins by emphasising divisions between Christians on the basis of skin colour. It encourages the majority of Christians in the UK to view themselves morally flawed due to their inherited skin colour.

Starting point

Critics of progressivism within the CofE point to its divisive and demoralising effects. Valid as these criticism are, they miss the main failure. Dr Threlfall-Holmes and the other progressive Christians make a fundamental error in their starting point by adopting a secular ideology which subordinates the Bible. Where you start influences where you end up. If you are seeking racial harmony through CRT, 'you can't get there from here'.

Progressive Christians take human concepts, varnish them with biblical terminology and imagine they are being true to God's will. It doesn't matter how much of a coating you give these ideologies, they remain human and ignore the sovereignty of God. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the concept of 'intersectionality'.

In the church the Word of God must always be our starting point and supreme rule in faith and life. In Scripture we find a very different approach to reconciling people and helping us live together. The apostles, in a very unjust society, did not operate on a framework of oppressor and oppressed. The Romans who ruled Paul's world certainly oppressed the people they conquered and considered themselves above all others, yet nowhere do we find Paul railing against 'Roman privilege'.

If Paul had used progressive categories the early church would have fractured and died an early death. We find him doing something very different. Paul defends equality not by filling quotas and comparing percentages but by focussing on the person of Christ.

The same in Christ

Instead of demanding visible racial equality between Christians, Paul insists that outward differences are immaterial due to what Christ has done within us. He tells us that in Christ, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28). Our differences are recognised, but Paul ignores them because we have something far better and more important which binds us together. This is where true equality is found, in Christ and especially when we come to His table.

We are taught that we all, whatever our background, are in the same condition, need the same Saviour, receive His grace in the same way and travel together to the same end. Christians 'have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all' (Colossians 3:10,11).

No division within the gospel and its outworking was permitted. At the Lord's Supper every believer came to the same table. Nationality, language, colour, social class, these were all immaterial. In a hierarchical society based on difference and oppression, the gospel created a place of genuine equality, the church. This scandalised the Romans and provoked opposition to Christians because of their dangerously radical ideas and practices which threatened to undermine their stratified society.

Follow the Gospel fully

The church has not always lived up to its foundational principles: it consists of fallen people who screw things up. There are things in the church's history of which we should be proud and other things of which we should be ashamed. But the things of which we are ashamed should inspire us to redouble our efforts to follow the gospel more fully rather than abandon it for secular ideology.

There is only one place where there is true equality between people, in Christ. Resisting the encroachment of progressive ideology and especially CRT in the church is much more than resisting a political stance: it is a vital defence of the gospel.

Campbell Campbell-Jack is a retired Church of Scotland minister. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.