Progressive Christian Arrogance Isn’t as Big a Threat as ‘Just Be Nice’

2019 Elections Abortion Bans

Use quotes to search for exact phrases. Use AND/OR/NOT between keywords or phrases for more precise search results.

Religion Dispatches OMFG

Progressive Christian Arrogance Isn’t as Big a Threat as ‘Just Be Nice’

Peter Laarman

A recent opinion piece scolds fellow progressive Christians who suffer from an inability to invite a "healthy dialogue" on controversial issues. There's certainly some truth to that, but there's a far more consequential problem in progressive Christian circles.

Nick LaParra, who identifies himself as a “social impact consultant,” never quite gets around to discussing social impact in his hopelessly jejeune screed on Religion News Service lamenting the bad habits of too many progressive Christians. All he does is riff on how awful it is that people had some unkind things to say about Ellen DeGeneres palling around with Shrub at a Dallas football stadium.

Shame on them! cries LaParra, not bothering to consider that Ellen could be leveraging celebrity rather than simply loving her neighbor in very publicly sucking up to the author of most of the Middle Eastern chaos and suffering we’re now living through.

I’m taking the bait here, I realize, but somebody has to to do it.

LaParra’s stance is a familiar one. I’m not singling him out. He’s actually representative of a fairly wide swath of prog Christians, many of them recovering fundamentalists, who claim to be appalled by the intellectualism, elitism, and (yes) arrogance of many, shall we say, more combative progressives who own the name of Jesus.

Subscribe to our daily or weekly email

Get the best writing about religion, politics, and culture, direct to your inbox.

SUBSCRIBE

Many of his points are self-evidently true; though they plainly don’t require the dramatization, the hortatory force, that LaParra wishes to lend to them.

Of course righteous anger can cross the line; of course there’s too much “virtue signaling” within the Religious Left; and of course anyone at all would benefit by being less angry, more willing to listen, more scrupulous in relation to one’s own motives, and more humble.

But where is LaParra’s evidence for the assertion that Christian progressives have a greater tendency than Christian conservatives to attack the other side? For God’s sake, the Religious Right of the last four decades was birthed in attack mode. Is it really necessary to name names? Is LaParra even vaguely aware of the history? It’s the “Christian” reactionaries who rode to power on homophobia and misogyny, who split whole denominations apart, who took to the airwaves to demonize Islam and who made the very term “Christian” synonymous with bigotry.

LaParra may be clueless about history, but he doesn’t let that stop him from pronouncing that most progressive Christians suffer from an inability to invite a “healthy dialogue” over controversial issues.

Really? In my experience, there’s a very different and far more consequential problem besetting too many progressive Christian circles: engaging in “dialogue” is about all they want to do; making room for “diverse views” in endless panel presentations and milquetoasty conferences is what they live for… while the world burns and justice is turned out in the streets, desperate and dying for lack of allies.

LaParra deplores too much anger? Then let me make haste to say what enrages me most about his piece. I’d like to see him produce one shred, one tiny soupçon, of warrant for his absurd claim that the feistier kind of progressive Christianity—the kind that isn’t ashamed of having real ideas and a holy impatience with foolishness—drives away “scores of conservatives” who, in LaParra’s words, “may be attracted to some progressive ideas but don’t know how to articulate their doubts or don’t know how to ask the right questions.”

Somebody needs to introduce me to these “scores of conservatives” who are just dying to get on the right side of history but can’t quite make it because of the arrogance and elitism of bookish, opinionated Christians like me. Proposing that there are such scores out there is a mere rhetorical conceit, not worthy to be taken seriously.

LaParra adds a personal coda that I can only describe as particularly sappy and soft-headed: he announces his intention to live by the rule that “if I’m not willing to build a relationship and commit to the long-term well-being of the person I am engaging with online or in person, then I shouldn’t even begin to engage at all.”

Surely we can treat people as ends, not means, and show everyone appropriate respect without going quite this far. And no, I do not plan to build a relationship with Mr. LaParra, although I certainly wish him well.

People like LaParra worry themselves over the lack of civility and existence of “purity” tests on the Religious Left. I have a much bigger problem with “piety” tests like the one LaParra lays out here. I’m more worried about the salt losing its savor.

And what about the revolutionary who said “I came not to send peace but a sword”?

Should He have stayed home and practiced being a better listener? Just asking.