It's Not Okay To Be A Little Bit Progressive

Rightly or wrongly, I consider myself to be a progressive. A liberal. A leftist.
Dislikes include the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
In the vast majority of my interactions with other lefties online, and with the people lefties like me claim to have a heart for, I'm led to believe I've pretty much got it figured out:
I believe that rape culture is a thing.
I believe that policing, and mass incarceration is inherently--probably intentionally--racist.
I think TERFs are terrible.
I believe we can't survive on $7.25.
The AUMF is a disaster.
The NSA is a disaster.
Drone strikes are unconscionable.
Israel is not an apartheid state only because calling it that undersells the true horrors Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinian people.
What's more, I'm a Christian who holds all the quote-unquote correct progressive theologies.
I'm an open-theist. An egalitarian. I don't buy into 7 literal days or eternal conscious torment. Prevenient grace makes more sense to me than double predestination. I think churches should affirm (and perform) same-sex marriages and allow for the ordination of queer (and female!) clergy.
I'd pat myself on the back for my correctness, but I'm also a comfortable straight, white guy, so let's be honest: I'm already playing life on the lowest difficulty setting, and I didn't get into this for cookies.

But not everyone gets all of these things. These things, many of them, go against the conventional wisdom of our day. We're constantly told that communism is evil, police are always justified, trans people are confused and sometimes women are just asking for it (and why are they leaving the house?) And yet, a lot of well meaning people who aren't constantly listening to Democracy Now, Citizen Radio, Radio Dispatch, Best of the Left, etc etc DO pass a few of these lefty benchmarks, but maybe they've got 3 kids and a couple jobs and haven't had an opportunity to drill down into all of them. So what?

Why is it not okay to be a little bit progressive?

Here's what I mean: The Facebook group Stuff Christian Culture Likes is often a first step for folks out of fundimentalism, or conservatism, or the cult-y side of evangelicalism. It's hostess/curator Stephanie Drury is constantly poking at, and poking fun at, the awful wrongs that the church is capable of unchecked. And in providing a pressure valve for those escaping such places, it's an invaluable community for many.

But it's not acceptably progressive for many others. The group as a whole, and especially Drury personally, are attacked, maligned, and shamed on the regular for being insufficiently advanced through the rubric of proper leftiness. I don't know how someone who was in fundamentalist Christianity a month or six months or a year ago is supposed to now know the proper vocabulary and GLAAD Media Reference Guide for discussing trans people. But by God they'd better figure it out or a watchdog tumblr might be started. (I wish I were joking. Regardless, I'm not linking to the SCCL Watchdog Tumblr because its charges are childish, trumped up, and they've got a whole bunch of gifs on there all about how they don't care what you or I think anyway).

It's not okay for things to be "better" or "good," they must immediately be "perfect" or we'll cut them down.


Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum had a piece about this phenomenon recently. In it he wrote of people trying to find their way around lefty politics and having their not-there-yet best efforts highlighted by others.
If you write a blog post or a tweet, and the wrong person just happens to highlight it, your public is suddenly gigantic whether you meant it to be or not. Then the avalanche comes. And, as deBoer says, the avalanche is dominated by the loudest, angriest, least tolerant fringes of the language and conduct police.
This isn't Bill O'Reilly bemoaning the PC police. This is the guy who released the Romney 47% video for one of the nations' best known progressive outlets saying that leftists have a problem with eating their own young. And the worst part is he's not wrong.

Drum was writing in response to a similar piece by Freddie deBoer at Andrew Sullivan's The Dish who framed the problem like this:
Suppose you’re a young college student inclined towards liberal or left-wing ideas. And suppose, like a lot of such college students, you enjoy Stephen Colbert and find him a political inspiration. Now imagine that, during the #CancelColbert fiasco, you defended Colbert on Twitter. If your defense was noticed by the people who police that forum, the consequences were likely to be brutal. People would not have said “here, let me talk you through this.” It wouldn’t have been a matter of friendly and inviting disagreement. Instead, as we all saw, it would have been immediate and unequivocal attack. That’s how the loudest voices on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook act. The culture is one of attack, rather than of education. And the claims, typically, are existential: not “this thing you said is problematic from the standpoint of race,” but rather “you’re a racist.” Not “I think there’s some gender issues going here that you should think about,” but “you’re a misogynist.” Always. I know that there are kinder voices out there in socially liberal circles on social media, but unfortunately, when these cyclical storms get going, those voices are constantly drowned out.

(A sidenote: I think it's funny that without mentioning her, deBoer alludes to Suey Park, who I've found to be the greatest champion of this kind of lefty cannibalism. Finding left-leaning people to be not leaning left enough is seemingly her raison d'ĂȘtre, and impressively she does it in both Christian and secular progressive circles).


Another recent example, I think, proves the rule. And brings it back to the fact that this problem happens as much in Progressive Christian circles as it does in Occupy circles.

My readers might be familiar with Christian blogger Micah J. Murray. He's the guy who awhile back wrote some incredibly powerful pieces poking holes in the ludicrous Christian patriarchy and its refusal to understand egalitarianism and the problems of purity culture (and its ugly cousin rape culture).

Micah, a designer, recently produced and sold a shirt that read "Love the sinner, hate the sin." For its intended audience, likely people still operating in the vicinity of folks who believe the stricken phrase is appropriate behavior, the shirt is a step in the right direction. It states clearly that LOVE is the only correct part of that concept, and it does so succinctly.

Unfortunately, others found this shirt to be triggering and co-opting. Micah has killed it and is donating its profits to charities supported by his critics.

I'm being a bad leftist when I say this, and I've already watched Micah's critics tell others to "sit down," and not to "speak for LGBTQ people," but I find criticisms of this shirt as "triggering" as compelling as I would the same criticisms for a "Fuck Cancer" t-shirt. That is: not very. I truly think you have to willfully refuse to see the point being made.

As for the criticism that Micah's design is making money on the backs of LGBTQ people when he has no experience being in their position? I feel a little like the critics are now saying that if you aren't sufficiently far left, you don't get to profit from your labors. No wonder the labor movement in America is dead, amirite?

I don't know (and don't think) that he was specifically thinking of this last example in his latest post, but yet another progressive blogger whose input I admire weighed in on this problem today. Writing at his blog, Matthew Paul Turner wrote of the problems of Progressive Christianity, including:

Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (problem 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (Problem number 20).
Look. Lefty politics are important. Inside and outside the church, progressivism is first and foremost about progress. But if we keep fighting battles to the death against those who have progressed--but not far and fast enough for our liking, we're going to lose the greater war through attrition.

And if you really have the guts to claim there's no difference between Mark Driscoll and Fake Driscoll, it's also possible I just don't know how to help you.

[Author's Note: I'm honestly a little bummed that I felt I had to start this piece by listing my lefty bona fides, especially since they'll surely be dismantled as wanting by anyone who thinks of themself as left of me, but there they are all the same. Feel free to destroy me in the comments, tell me I ought not speak for whoever it is you think I'm speaking for, and imply that I'm a racist, homophobe, Calvinist, or capitalist (or worse, a bro-gressive). I assure you that before I started this piece I already took those consequences to heart as an inevitability.]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. This and Matthew Turner's post have really articulated why I've left the progressive side (many of the same reasons I left the conservative side, ironically enough...). I also left Twitter, and all social media, which really helps put into perspective the level of influence a lot of the self-proclaimed gate keepers actually have over my life (none). In fact, I wonder how much of a problem this is outside of social media....

    (I also bought that t-shirt Micah made and will happily wear it. I bought it for myself and the opinion of no one else. But the idea that random strangers - especially on Twitter - should get to dictate to me what I can and can't wear is entirely abhorrent to me and the foundational reason that I'm not an "ally". I'm not interested in being someone's ideological slave.)