When I organized a panel discussion in college about social justice and the Gospel, I was a new Christian steeped in the conservative evangelical milieu of our campus Christian fellowship. Somewhere in the midst, I proclaimed that we could do no good apart from God — that only Christians were capable of doing justice work that advanced the kingdom of God.
I was so certain then, but the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve learned that I don’t know. Even more than the assurance I felt in my earliest Christian years, I relish the mystery I experience today. Even more than in proclamations and certitudes, I experience the presence of the Spirit in my admission of unknowing — in the space I’m learning to hold for its movement.
Someone called me out later, vulnerably sharing with me the hurt my words and beliefs had caused her, and I learned and am still learning to undo this harm. But for this and a thousand similar drips of grace onto my head, I might still be dry, unanointed by the Spirit who delegates Her work to those brave and kind enough to show me the way.
While grace was no one’s obligation to show me, it was everyone’s gift to give — everyone’s portion of clay to mold or dash back into the earth.
Grace was my portion to extend to my mother, who could not accept a queer child until my adulthood. And grace was her portion to extend to me, who confounded her every expectation. Here, too, grace required us to make space for mystery. Had I followed the instructions of my well-intentioned friends to sever my relationship with my mother, I would have missed out on this exquisite display of grace.
In our Western Christian paradigm, certitude is a proxy to power, an assumption of enlightenment and superiority. Progressive Christians are not immune to the same temptation. If we let them, our ideals can become our currency.
Of course, we are right to remove ourselves from relationships that cause pain. Like all growing things, we must navigate a tension between grace and boundaries, pruning our dead ends and encouraging new shoots. But in our fear or discomfort, we can let our ideals speak on our behalf or weaponize them against our siblings. What we call accountability can build or destroy. What we call self-preservation can give us life or be an echo of our pain.
In the work of progressive movement-building, we do this uncommonly well. Our ideals can take the place of relationship, which is the damp soil in which grace takes root. If we are unwilling to take risks to bring into relationship those seeking a way out of toxic Christianity; if we are unwilling to be seen building consensus or watering the grassroots; then our faith and our activism will be ships untested in the open seas.
On the night before Jesus was executed, he sat with his beloveds who would betray and deny him, and he said of the cup of salvation, “Drink from this, all of you.” In my conservative Christian days, I wanted to believe in God’s universal love and salvation, and I thought I was forbidden from this belief because it would be too easy. It would mean that I didn’t have to proselytize or to mourn the dead who never prayed the Sinner’s Prayer.
I believe now that God’s universal love and salvation make our task as followers of Christ harder, not easier, because this universality beckons us to extend grace in unexpected directions and to unexpected people.
On this journey, we each encounter grace that lines the path, grace that covers us, grace that surprises us around each bend. If we are not about accountability coupled with mercy, self-preservation coupled with healing, then we are about something other than the very good news that the Holy Spirit is indeed able to transform us.
This is one of the gifts that healthy Christianity offers to progressive people. And, more importantly, this is a defining characteristic of our spiritual inheritance. Grace is part of the revolution. Grace belongs to the resistance. We are of grace, and to grace we shall return.
To whom would your extension of grace be an extravagant gift or unexpected mercy?
In your wildest dreams, what could come of the grace you extend?
Who has extended grace to you? What fruit was borne of that grace?