Progressive Fundamentalism?


I was recently visiting a church that is known as the progressive voice in their city. The majority of members are highly engaged in social justice issues and serve their larger communities in multiple ways. They are proud of their open and affirming welcome of the LGBTQ community, but also with how they have been in ministry with the local elementary school providing a free after school program for families with low incomes. The school principal, teachers, and parents love the partnership and the program has a waiting list of people wanting to be a part of it.

As I toured the church a key volunteer with the after school program turned to me and said, “We have this great program but our church is dying. Most of us are in our upper 60’s and 70’s and we won’t be able to do all of this good work forever.”

In further conversation I found out that, even though this after school program has provided love and care for children and their parents, no one has ever invited these families to be a part of the life of the church.


“Because we don’t want to offend anyone.”

We don’t want to imply by extending an invitation to church that, “We know your life would be better if you just joined our church.” After all, who are we to make such judgements?

This is a phenomenon that I have seen in many of our mainline churches that are known for its progressive witness in the larger community. I call it  “politically correct fundamentalism”. In our efforts to be open and affirming of all people and all truth we will go out of our way to not impose our beliefs on you.

But what about those families who have shared a part of their lives with these church volunteers? If I were one of them I would be wondering if there is something wrong with me? Am I not good enough to be a part of this church community? Why have they not asked me and my children to join them on Sunday morning or for a church dinner or to even help with some project? Is this church like a fraternity or sorority that will never ask me to pledge?

I am reminded of the story of the woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter. Even as Jesus ignores her because she is not of his faith, she persists saying that even dogs get fed crumbs from their master.

Are we refusing to feed even the dogs? Are we abdicating our witness of God’s grace and peace when we refuse to extend an invitation for fear we will offend someone?

Martha Grace Reese who wrote “Unbinding the Gospel” found out in her Mainline Evangelism Project that the only difference between a declining church and one that is vitally growing is that members of the growing church are not afraid to share the difference that a life with Christ makes in their lives. They love talking about their church and inviting people to be a part of it.

As I walked down the hall of this progressive church, to my utter astonishment, I saw a poster advertising the evangelical mega church just down the street.

Guess which church is growing?


Published by

Beth Estock

Beth coaches weird churches all over the United States. She grew up in the Midwest, began her pastoral work in the Bible Belt, and then moved to the Pacific Northwest two decades ago. She is an ordained United Methodist pastor, a contemplative, cultural architect and futurist. She is co-author of the book, "Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century." She convenes a network of missional faith communities in the Wesleyan tradition in Portland, Oregon.

2 thoughts on “Progressive Fundamentalism?”

  1. There’s a major difference between inviting people to come to an activity at your congregation (including worship), and evangelizing and/or proselytizing. The first isn’t offensive to most people, the other two tend to be.

    author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

    1. I agree Roger Wolsey that evangelizing/proselytizing in an imperialistic way is offensive but when folks are already showing up at your church and are thankful for the ministries you are engaged in the next natural step is to invite them further into the life of the community. I find it fascinating that we have no problems sharing about a great book we have read or movie we have seen with our friends, but yet have a difficult time inviting them to a journey of waking up to the sacrament of life.

Let's keep the conversation going!