Author and activist Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons says he’s fed up with conservative believers dominating media attention and setting the national vocabulary for who is authentically “Christian.” In his first book, Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity (Broadleaf, Sept. 15), he turns the tables.
Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow in the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative with the Center for American Progress and founder of The Resistance Prays, fairly shouts for progressives to elbow past conservatives and step up boldly to the public square.
“We exist!” he exclaims in a conversation with PW, adding that in doing research he discovered “there are more of us than there are of them.”
(The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Who’s who here and how did you calculate those numbers?
I asked the Public Religion Research Institute to break out data from their 2018 U.S. religion surveys that I analyzed. I devised a three-part test to measure support or opposition among Christians for abortion to be legal in all or most cases; for same-sex marriage; and for a path to legal residency for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. when they were children. This was my imperfect attempt to roughly measure the number of Christian adults in the United States who are consistently progressive or consistently conservative. I was surprised to find 18 million who opposed all three positions and 35 million who favored them all.
If your analysis is correct, how is it that so many progressives became essentially invisible?
Conservative Christians were brilliant at rebranding the image of “Christian.” They rebranded “fundamentalist” as “evangelical” or “traditional” or “historic” and then they narrowed the definition of “evangelical” to exclude everyone else and claimed they are the only authentic “Christians.” They are more organized than progressives, especially when it comes to engaging the media and politics. They are better at fighting for attention by being provocative in their messaging, calling people “cultural Christians” as if they weren’t real. Well, I’m real.
Why did you write Just Faith?
I was inspired to write this book when I kept hearing people say, “I’m a Christian but not that kind of Christian.” My dream is that we could just ignore conservatives. Exposing or outing them or winning over a few conflicted people just reinforces that conservative Christians are the only ones who exist. Catching their high profile leaders in “gotcha!’ moments is not going to advance the just world that progressive Christians want to build. We are compelled to take action now because conservatives have tarnished the name of Christ. I want my book to bolster progressives’ confidence, hand them resources and send them forth.
What are you calling on progressives to do?
The first half of my book looks at all the important historic efforts of progressives in social reform, civil rights, feminism, the anti-war movement, immigration reform and more. And then we put our heads down when the Religious Right rose up. Instead, Christians should be the boldest people out there. Look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal. She talks about her Catholic faith very openly and her policies reflect it as well. Look at Rev. William Barber with Repairers of the Breach. He's one of the most inspiring voices of our time. They have hopeful visions, offered with moral clarity. We need to get out of the defensive posture. Stop defining ourselves in reaction. Go back to declaring the social gospel, expressing our faith with a pro-active agenda that proclaims everyone is deserving of shelter, peace, health and human rights. Show the world we exist!