Martin Luther King’s fellow clergymen often said, “Calm down Martin. You’re going to ruin the cause. Don’t speak out against the war (Vietnam). That’s crossing the line. You will lose a lot of people.” The very President he was negotiating with in the White House had his brother Bobby, the Attorney general, wire tap a lot of the hotels and motels Martin stayed in during the struggle. Martin knew it. This stalwart practitioner of nonviolence would be beside himself when sometimes his followers broke out in violence and hatred. Malcolm X severely criticized him. So did Stokely Carmichael. Many said he was not aggressive enough. Others countered that he was too incendiary. But despite that he was a fragile person like the rest of us, he had a strong faith in God and the nonviolence of Jesus which kept him going.
I often think of what Progressive Christians are up against these days. Right wing pastors foisting a Gospel of merit and rugged individualism on the public, and that being virtually the only version of Christianity covered by the media. Charismatic health and wealth gospelers incessantly asking for people to send them money, and then claiming that they are so wealthy because they are blessed by God.
Stories like Jerry Falwell spewing that 911 was punishment from God for homosexuality, feminism and the actions of other groups of human beings that he hated. The Westboro Baptist family protesting at funerals with hellish signs and abject hatred dripping from their words. Pat Robertson telling us that natural catastrophes are punishment from God and Sarah Palin wrapping the cross in the flag by promoting her own brand of xenophobia. These distortions seem to be all that is appearing in the press.
It’s enough to make a Christian want to cry out: “This is not what it’s supposed to be all about! Where is the love in this?” Indeed, where is the Christlike love? It is a very lonely time for us. We need to get together in spirit and encourage one another that the love and sacrificial motives of Christianity are still alive. That cheap grace will not reign. That Christ still wants us to reconcile and work for social justice. That sometimes, a lot of times, we can use government and social institutions to help those who are hurting precisely because the love of Christ overcomes the cold bureaucracy that Conservatives seem to be so paranoid about.
At this time in history, being a progressive Christian, emphasizing the good things that the left can do, seems like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. But we have the grace of Jesus. We have one another, and that is why it is so comforting to have a place like The Christian Left to come and visit in spirit once in awhile. To know that there are other people out there who conclude like us that there is something terribly wrong with what is advertised as Christianity today. People who want to be assured that they are not wrong about taking up the cross. About discipleship. About not being self righteous and condemning everyone. About accepting everyone unconditionally with love no matter what.
We are broken people and we fail a lot. And that is why we can let go and put our trust in Christ and let him show his love through us, whether it be through a person to person encounter or government legislation. Whether it be through a charity or a chance encounter with a fellow human being (and yes, animals too). That is a message that many who are hurting want to hear. And that is a message that Progressive Christians can exhibit: Progress is helping others who hurt because we genuinely care and we hurt ourselves. It’s not offering someone a formula for salvation and then advising them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps come what may. We speak by our actions. Let’s all be broken together, love one another and search to help others who are broken and look to the one who was broken for us on the cross. And we don’t need to search far because they will be those who we come across everyday of our lives. As The Apostle Paul said: love conquers all.