It may come as a surprise, but President Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president that America has ever had.
President Biden’s faith has been the kickstarter for conversation surrounding what it means to be both Christian and liberal, with some members of the Catholic clergy going as far as to claim that such an identity is inherently oxymoronic.
What many Americans don’t realize is that there is a strong progressive Christian presence in the United States, from actual churches to political movements rooted in the teachings of Jesus. It is time for progressive Christians to speak up and for conservative Christians to listen.
One of the most notable examples of progressive Christianity can be found in predominantly Black churches, which tend to be much more liberal in comparison to white churches.
Related: [Read more IDS columns here]
There’s a lot of variation in the denominations of Black churches, from Methodist to Episcopal congregations. One particularly liberal denomination is the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which focuses heavily on social issues and is currently bringing attention to the disproportionate amount of Black Americans who are dying from COVID-19.
Martin Luther King Jr. himself was a minister who was not only influential for the Civil Rights Movement, but also supported progressive ideas like a universal basic income, and was a critic of capitalism. In many ways, he encapsulates what it means to be a progressive Christian, and he is now recognized as an American hero.
Yet Black churches often get completely left out of the conversation when it comes to defining the American Christian. Why should white Christians be the ones who get to decide what “Christian values” are?
Consider also organizations like the Poor People’s Campaign, a social justice group led by Rev. WIlliam J. Barber II. The organization connects faith to the group’s political goals, which include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and fighting for the expansion of federal health care.
Jeff Howell, tri-chair for the Indiana chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, said the Campaign is fighting against a range of issues.
“Those are systemic poverty, systemic racism, militarism and the war economy, ecological devastation and then the distorted immoral narrative of Christian religious nationalism,” Howell said.
He also said there has been much distortion of Jesus' teachings by those who adhere to this religious nationalism.
“As we’ve seen with the last election, and the one before, there’s still a high percentage of especially white Evangelical Christians that will support fascism, and support things that Jesus definitely is against,” Howell said.
Indeed, it is incredibly disheartening to see the message of Christ become so twisted by conservatives in America.
Take the famous verse from Matthew, which reads, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
I heard this passage throughout my childhood, and in retrospect it seems ironic given the conservative environment I was raised in. How could Christians look at verses like these, or the story of Jesus overturning the tables of money changers dwelling in the Temple, and respect them as the word of God while simultaneously adhering to ideologies like the prosperity gospel, which proclaims that the pursuit of wealth is a way of praising God?
There is something rotten within America’s conservative wing of Christianity. In this past election, 76% of white Evangelicals supported former President Donald Trump, who has never shied away from hateful rhetoric about people of color and disgusting comments about women, two things which diametrically oppose Jesus’ message of love and compassion.
In an article for The New York Times, Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham note the presence of Christian symbolism among the riots that occurred on Capitol Hill. It’s a strange picture to imagine — signs praising Jesus, a man who preached about the evils of greed and the importance of love, among such hate-fueled destruction.
The situation is not hopeless, however. There are groups of progressive Christians mobilizing all over the country, including Indiana. The Catholic congregation Sisters of Providence, St. Mary of the Woods participated in July protests against the death penalty in Terre Haute, Indiana. There are plenty of places of worship for progressive Christians to gather in Bloomington, too, such as the campus ministry LuMin and Trinity Episcopal Church, both of which are affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals.
For too long Christianity in America has been associated with right-wing ideology and bigotry, but there is a strong progressive Christian presence in this country. It is up to all of us within this sector of Christianity to be loud and proud about what we believe, and to offer up the loving, compassionate truth that lives within the message of Christ.
Molly Hayes (she/her) is a junior studying English. She plans to work in the book publishing industry.