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So You Call Yourself a “Progressive Evangelical…”

On Friday, a tweet went out announcing that a bunch of folks known as “progressive Evangelicals” would be holding a Revival in Lynchburg, VA near Liberty University where Jerry Falwell Jr. is president.

But we’re not here to talk about that.

Among the people who are organizing this event is Shane Claiborne, author of “Jesus for President,” “The Irresistible Revolution.” He’s also a staunch opponent of the death penalty, a proponent of environmental reform, and seems, to most folks, to be a “progressive evangelical.”

But what exactly makes a progressive evangelical?

In my mind, to be a progressive Christian, in general, is to be a person who is intersectional in their justice work. Being pro-women, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, pro-native people’s rights, ya know… not just believing the right things, but backing up your beliefs with your actions.

However, not all progressives are created equal.

Shane is a non-affirming individual, meaning he doesn’t believe that LGBTQ people’s identities are in line with God’s best for our lives, and thinks that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Would he go so far as to say homosexuality is a sin? I do not know. However, this is a trope that happens all the time: so-called “progressive” evangelicals (usually white, cis, straight dudes) (no one is surprised at that) with platforms being billed as “progressive” while still having problematic views on queer folks.

And what’s more is that when people call them out on it, they get defensive.

Exhibit A: a screen capture of the conversation between Shane and my friend Eliel Cruz:

“But we’ve never met.”
“You don’t really know me.”
“I wish you’d hear my heart.”

Queer folks get these lines all the time. A well-meaning, kind-hearted loving-but-non-affirming (LBNA) Christian wants to have queer friends while still holding onto non-affirming beliefs, theologies, and practices. They want to be “authentic” and be “in relationship” and “do life” with LGBTQ folks because they recognize it’s the 21st century and you can’t keep ignoring our existence. However, when it comes to full acceptance and affirmation, there’s a line that they tend to dance around without ever entirely crossing for a number of reasons.

Honestly, it’s low key gaslighting.

(Google it if you don’t know what that means.)

Let’s unpack this with an anecdote:

Over this past weekend, I sat down with a friend of mine who I have known since my youth. He’s a pastor and works hard at being loving. He’s come a long way when it comes to issues of race and guns and all that stuff. One might even bill him as being pretty progressive. He’s stuck with me even after I came out. He loves me incredibly well, asks me about my partner and my ministry, and all that good stuff.

And he is also not affirming. He wouldn’t call himself that, but when asking the questions, I pointed out that you can’t say you’re affirming if you still practice a non-affirming theology. And this happens often. It’s complicated, trust me, I get it.

“I just want to be okay with it,” he lamented to me.

And therein lies two things that I find interesting:

The first is the lack of conviction in this sentiment.

(Also, my friend SueAnn Shiah pointed out the lack of conviction. This is me riffing on that:)

There is this desire to want to be affirming, and I believe this the Spirit of God helping us and compelling us in our hearts before being able to wrap our minds or theology around it. We have to hold onto this feeling because it’s essential. Our experiences have to inform our faith. And this is a place that so many LBNA Christians fall into. They have queer friends, they “want to be affirming, but…”

…the Bible.
…the tradition of scripture.
…what my church thinks.
…if I come out as affirming, my community would…
…blah blah blah.

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Listen, I get it. There are consequences to standing in your convictions. You could potentially lose your job, your ministry, your relationships, your friendships, everything.

And most queer Christians do lose so much when we stand in our convictions and when we come out. Many Christians allies lose so much when they begin to stand in solidarity. So yeah, following Jesus comes at a cost. And it’s important to weigh whether or not that cost is worth it to you.

What’s lacking for some many LBNA folks is a lack of conviction. They have sorta-kinda landed in this space of trying to love their gay friends, and most of the time they do love their gay friends quite well, but they just “don’t know what to do with the rest of it…”

This attitude is what my friend, Amelia, calls “benevolent hypocrisy,” where the LBNA Christian acts better than they claim to believe.

And this lack of conviction to stand in one’s actual beliefs is what I call, and what I think Jesus would call “lukewarm.”

The second thing I find interesting is this notion that someone “wants” to be affirming.

(This next part is the Twitter thread I wrote just after reading the exchange between Eliel and Shane.)

Here’s the thing: nobody “wants” to just be affirming of LGBTQ folks. If you want to be, you are. You either are, or you aren’t. And yes, there can be nuance and all that shit, but honestly, when you boil it down to the fundamental question, there are only two answers.

As stated before, I’ve got friends who aren’t affirming. I’m aware of their opinions, and I know what it means to have a relationship with them. We are clear where we stand.

And that’s the thing: we’re not faking it or making concessions for one another. We are committed to a radical difference in relationship. But what bugs me is folks who don’t want to be labeled a certain way, as a “non-affirming” person, based on what they confess to believe. They want to “love their gay friends” but don’t want to be transparent about their convictions. And that’s wrong.

This is duplicit and damaging. If you cannot tell the truth in your quest to be loving, you perpetuate damage and hurt. And if you’re a Christian, you push people away from the Church by your desire to be seen as something other than you are.

You may not want to be labeled as non-affirming, but that’s small potatoes compared to being heartbroken again and again. You may not want to be labeled, but we don’t want to be hurt, gaslit, and traumatized (again).

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And when LGBTQ folks and other marginalized folks don’t want to engage with you, please don’t ask us to “try and understand your heart.” Please do not try and trick us into intimate relationship if you don’t hold our full humanity as valid, good, and worthy of God’s love.

If you hold a specific set of beliefs, be real about them, and don’t be offended when we do not want to engage with you. We all draw boundaries at different areas to allow ourselves to live.

It’s not personal. It’s survival.

I don’t think you can call yourself progressive and exclude LGBTQ folks. I don’t believe that you can work for justice and leave an entire population of people behind. It’s time people start owning their convictions and receiving the consequences as such. Yes, it’s important to work across lines of difference, however, the only way we can engage across lines of radical difference is to know where those lines are. The only way to have authentic relationship with people different from us is to tell the truth.