On Aug. 28, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "I have a dream" speech. The dream he proclaimed was a dream for equality, inclusion, freedom and community. He encouraged all freedom-loving people "not to drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred." He promoted nonviolent resistance. He called for "meeting physical force with soul force." He envisioned a new world.
King's speech was a contemporary application of Jesus' announcement of the kingdom of God. It was and still is a progressive Christian vision for the world.
Why is a progressive Christian vision so important? Because the kingdom of God is as much about life in this world as it is about the world to come.
It's about being in right relationship with God and everyone and everything else. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is just as important as loving God—it's how we express our love for God.
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It's about a world where everyone has enough — not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.
It's about a world where the playing field is leveled, where the excluded are included, where all are treated with dignity, equality, and respect.
It's about a world where poverty is eliminated and the oppressed are liberated and all that is broken is healed.
A progressive vision emphasizes inclusion, equality, compassion, social justice, and the dignity of all people.
Visions of the kingdom which are more exclusive — that enforce narrow boundaries and limit participation on the basis of dogmatic doctrines and practices — do not seem to do as well in calling their adherents to compassion and the work of social justice.
It was recently reported by the Christian News Network that during a trip to Africa to help renovate a cancer screening clinic in Zambia, former president George W. Bush was asked by a Zambian reporter how he feels about the issue of same-sex marriage and whether or not it is compatible with Christianity.
His response was, "I shouldn't be taking a speck out of someone else's eye when I have a log in my own."
As one would expect, some Christians who embraced George W.'s presidency did not like his response. Pastor Scott Brown, the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated churches and an elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forrest, NC responded: "Mr. Bush has actually misinterpreted the verse and applied it wrongly, most likely because he is unaware of the whole counsel of God on the matter of judgment."
Brown went on to outline 12 ways in which Christians are "to make judgments, including the judgment of false doctrines and false teachers, and judging the state of civil affairs."
Now, I know that we progressives can be judgmental, too. But a progressive vision demands that we are compassionate, kind, forgiving, accepting, and understanding of others and that we work for the common good of all people.
Do we fail to live out this vision? Of course — in numerous ways. But the call for compassion, social justice, and commitment to the common good constitutes the core of our vision.
Whereas an exclusive vision may outline 12 ways in which Christians are to make judgments, an inclusive vision will outline 12 (the number is irrelevant) ways to make peace with enemies or forgive those who have hurt us, or alleviate poverty.
I am not suggesting that more conservative Christians do not engage in these things; I know many who do. But these things are not at the heart of their gospel. For progressives they are front and center.
A progressive Christian vision has the best chance of helping to bring healing, liberation and peace to our world. King knew this. I hope more of us will know it, too.