The Hidden Truth of Progressive Christians

I’m not a huge football fan, and I’m even less of a Patriots fan (gasp!) but I watched the Super Bowl last night with my family for the entertainment value. I appreciate the creativity in the advertisements and look forward to the the half-time show–even if they are in support of a sports empire that is problematic for me (read: head injuries, big money, and a culture that until recently, said/did little to outwardly condemn sexual assault by its players).

This year the chatter about the advertisements intrigued me because it was hinted that they had something risky to say about hot button topics. People didn’t know what to expect. Were they going to be scandalous and bad for business? Would they be “too” political during the few hours Americans wanted to escape divisive politics? Or perhaps they would not be political enough?

To my eyes and ears, they were none of those things because they reinforced my existing values. America is nation of immigrants (Budweiser), girls do deserve equal pay (Audi), we should welcome our neighbors (84 Lumber), and so on and so forth. Those messages took center stage in the advertising, even if their primary intent–to sell us something–was artfully hidden behind them.

Then there was the half-time show, performed by Lady Gaga. People expected her to be provocative, but  it was clear that some were left wondering what her message was, regardless of her stellar performance. It was uncharacteristically un-provocative, or so it seemed.

Indeed, Lady Gaga’s performance wasn’t political. Instead it was a reflection of her faith. For a person like me who sees God in art, and in nature, and in people, and in broken abandoned places, her lyrics affirmed a shared Truth: that all of creation reflects Imago Dei (the image of God), and is deserving of respect and dignity. Her message was only political insofar as her faith informs her politics, like it shapes her art.

In an opinion piece called The provocative faith of Lady Gaga, writer Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons said:“Her faith and values shine through not just in ‘Born This Way,’ but throughout her discography. She wears no poker face about her love of God and affirmation of all people bearing the image of God. Her theology might best be summed up in the chorus of ‘Hair:’ ‘I just wanna be myself / And I want you to love me for who I am … this is my prayer.'”

There was no hidden agenda or poker face in Lady Gaga’s performance (although she is in the business of selling records), because Progressive Christianity like hers is less about selling salvation as a ticket to heaven when you die. Instead it’s more about salvation in the here and now, which is achieved by living a life reflective of Jesus’ teachings: unconditional love, kindness, non-judgement, and radical inclusivity. What Lady Gaga had to say is important, to be sure, but she didn’t present it in a way that made her look special (which is not to imply that Lady Gaga is ordinary!). By the standards of her faith, she is simply living the way her faith calls her to be. In so doing, she invites us to consider her profoundly countercultural perspective.

Graves-Fitzsimmons says that “Lady Gaga’s faith confounds a popular narrative of religion in America. She is considered both a practicing Christian and a passionate advocate for progressive values. She simply doesn’t fit in the controlling narrative, endorsed by both the secular left and the religious right, that relegates religion be the sole domain of social conservatism.”

Since no one seems to know what to make of Progressive Christianity, it is largely ignored or misunderstood. Perhaps this is why many had to listen more intently to hear the radical message in Lady Gaga’s performance: we’re all made in the Imago Dei, loved and valued, no matter our gender, who we love, or where we come from. We’re just not used to hearing that message without some other agenda hidden behind it–even when it’s on display right in front of our eyes.

Do you practice Progressive Christianity? If so, what does it look like? What do you want others to know about it? Or, maybe you’re curious about it from either a religious or secular perspective? I would love to hear from you! Please register to leave a comment, or fill out a contact form.

My next post will explore the question: What if the Imago Dei (image of God) is obstructed when I look at those whose ideals are different than my own? Until then, keep talking!



2 thoughts on “The Hidden Truth of Progressive Christians

  1. Although I have loved Lady Gaga and have certainly respected her talent since she came on the scene, I must admit that I was ready to scrutinize her Super Bowl performance. I found myself searching for the political message that would surely be there, certain that it would be an overt one. I wasn’t in any way disappointed with her performance but as you stated it left me scratching my head, not because it was confusing, but because it was so full of meaning and delivered with such subtlety or was it subtle? I wondered – did people listen to her? Did others hear what I heard? Your words gave life to my thoughts and I thank you for that. I would like to think that I live my life and project to others what is so clear and insightful in this sentence “we’re all made in the Imago Dei, loved and valued, no matter our gender, who we love, or where we come from.” I’m sure I fall short in my endeavor, but I am determined to do better.

    • Erin Grayson

      Thank you for commenting. Lady Gaga’s performance was at the same time provocative and subtle, which is why it was intriguing and confusing. We all could aspire to do better in recognizing Imago Dei in ourselves and others. Lady Gaga is a good teacher!

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