Though I was raised in a conservative evangelical Protestant home, I had the good fortune of completing a graduate program in theology at a progressive seminary of the United Methodist Church. There, I was introduced for the first time to Christianity’s social justice tradition and its progressive political theologies. In the classroom and at weekly chapel services, outdated patriarchal metaphors for God such as “King,” “Lord,” or “Father” were replaced by far more agreeable ones: “Life-giving Spirit,” “Liberator,” or “Mother.” Traditional doctrines such as the Trinity or the atonement were overshadowed by an emphasis on Jesus’s solidarity with the victims of Roman imperial power, which was believed to mirror God’s own predilection for the poor and disenfranchised. God was no longer the distant, austere sovereign whose primary preoccupation amounted to culling sheep from goats: he loved all creatures infinitely, labored earnestly for their well-being in the here and now, and stood side by side with any who had suffered injustice—particularly women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, and subaltern peoples.
Initially, I found these new models of God very attractive. Even more important was the ethical orientation they authorized: inclusion of and equality for all, care for Earth and its fragile ecosystems, a more capacious stance toward people of other faiths, and an abiding commitment to rectifying the wrongs of imperialism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. After graduating from seminary, I brought these new values and models of God with me into my first two parishes. I quickly discovered that most ordinary Christians have little interest in what elite liberal seminaries are teaching their future ministers.