“Merciless Progressivism”Categories: Meditations
The other day, I read this fascinating op-ed by David Brooks. It tells the story of a member of a punk-rock band who called out the band’s lead singer for sending an unwelcome explicit photograph to a woman, leading to his banishment from the punk-rock scene. A few years later, someone discovered that she had mocked a nude photo of another girl in high school. She too got called out and shunned.
As always, I am struck by the bizarrely puritanical turn that American progressivism has taken. Sure, progressives are generally very tolerant of many things that the Scripture describes as sinful. However, underneath that façade of tolerance lies an ironbound code of conduct.
If it comes out that you’ve treated somebody in a way that progressives disapprove of, WHAM! The hammer will fall. All of your friends will reject you, and they will never again let you back into the circle of the elect. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about in The Scarlet Letter.
Though it’s hard for us to get our heads around the idea, progressives like this are very moral people. Even though they deny that there is any such thing as absolute right and wrong, they behave as though there is. They reject the authority of the Bible, but in their judgments of others, they appeal to the authority of progressive thought. They are more unbending in their insistence on their beliefs than the fieriest church dragon any of us have ever known.
However, for all their zeal, their ethical system has a serious, indeed fatal, flaw. It offers no hope for mercy or forgiveness. You get to feel all self-righteous when you denounce others, but when you slip up and somebody denounces you, it’s all over. You will find no place for repentance, though you seek for it with tears.
Here, we encounter one of the great things that Christ has done for us. As Paul observes in Romans 3:26, the blood of Jesus makes it possible for God to be both just and our justifier. He can simultaneously insist on the righteousness of a perfect moral code and forgive those who don’t live up to it. We see the seriousness of sin revealed in the crucifixion, but the power of the cross makes it possible for all of us to move beyond our sins. Without Christ, either God’s law is unimportant, or our transgressions must haunt us forever. With Him, we can find grace through His self-sacrifice.
In other words, Christianity offers hope. Progressive philosophy doesn’t. Progressives are either justified by works or not justified at all.
By contrast, a church is (or at least ought to be) a community of people who have confessed their inability to justify themselves through their own righteousness. We’ve all messed up, so we are able to welcome and enfold somebody else who has messed up and wants another chance. We are merciful because we have received mercy.
Without that source of mercy, progressives are left with a grim choice. Either they deny the importance of the standards that they prize, or they reject all who violate those standards. Laws or people. You pick.
In Christ, we don’t have to.