Last fall, the Burke Library and the Union Theological Seminary Development Office hosted a virtual event on Zoom to promote a new book by UTS alum Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons (Class of 2016). He and his partner and husband live in Louisville, Kentucky, and he is currently a Fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy initiative of the Center for American Progress and the creator of The Resistance Prays, a weekly newsletter. The book, Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity (Broadleaf Books, 2020) is available at the Burke Library and the full event recording can now be viewed via YouTube here.
Graves-Fitzsimmons met with and Kevin Bentley from the UTS Development Office and myself to discuss his book in a virtual conversation. Graves-Fitzsimmons and I attended Union Theological Seminary together and have since been collaborating together to publish The Resistance Prays. Bentley, Graves-Fitzsimmons, and I connected on three main issues that are reflected in Just Faith: hurt and frustration dealing with conservative family members, questions around how to connect faith and politics in the public sphere, and a desire to spread hope and love instead of fear and hate.
Graves-Fitzsimmons’s book is a call to action for progressive Christians in our country. Through the chapters of Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity the author describes how it is the duty and responsibility of those who claim Christianity as their faith tradition, and progressive politics, to bind these two together in the public discourse. For far too long the narrative has been that to be Christian, in this country, is to be politically conservative. This is an untrue statement and Graves-Fitzsimmons points that there are at least 35 million Progressive Christians in the U.S. There are many of us, and part of the work is knowing that each other exists.
While Just Faith is not a new type of theology, it is a charge for progressive Christians to push back against what it looks like to be a Christian in the US today. The dominant Christian narrative in this country is one that is steeped in exclusion, hate, and fear which is a juxtaposition of the radical message of inclusion and love of Jesus. The Christian Nationalist movement is fear based and very appealing. It’s important for people of faith, who do hold progressive values, to speak up and claim our faith. Having progressive Christians involved in getting out correct information, and not misinformation, is important.
In the second half of the book, Graves-Fitzsimmons brings up the importance of not “meeting hate with hate.” It’s important that we do the necessary work of claiming Christianity, but that we do so in love. As Graves-Fitzsimmons says, “no mind has ever been changed by being told they’re wrong.” We must learn to use the basics of strategic communication in order to get the message out. As progressive Christians we tend to frame our arguments, in response to conservative Christians, in a negative way: “we aren’t just against abortion, we’re not fundamentalists, we’re against X, Y, Z policy.” It’s important to share what we’re for: we’re for inclusion and equality, we’re for love and acceptance, we’re for X, Y, Z policies. Relationship building is also a central theme in Just Faith, it is important to build connections across religious differences. Sometimes the best way to unlearn a prejudice is to meet someone from the group you are prejudiced against. Similarly, progressive Christians are spread across different Christian denominations, non-denominational churches, and the Catholic Church–some are even in “unfriendly” denominations where the institutional beliefs and policies do not align with those of the individual. It is therefore even more necessary for us to bridge these divides and connect.
Just Faith is an accessible read that meets the reader where they are. There is no judgement if this is your first exposure to progressive Christian-thinking. There is also no expectation that you have a handle on the full history of the development of Christian theology. If you’re curious to learn more about progressive Christianity, how to merge faith and politics, or strategies for avoiding burnout I recommend this book. A copy of this compelling offering is available at the Burke Library and the full event recording can be watched via YouTube, here.