While I am sure that there are some seriously good snarky answers to this – and feel free to leave them if you want – I am seriously trying to figure this one out.  Dictionaries haven’t helped and haven’t really found a good socio-political one.  I’ve wondered about this many times as I often think that many of the frustrations I have with politically and theologically like-minded folks are rooted in subtle differences between what it means to be a “liberal” or a “progressive.”  Sure, this could all be semantics and no person is one-dimensional, but in church, politics and other contexts I think there are some deep differences between the two that could use some fleshing out for the good of my mental health and friendships.

A liberal is generally one who is deeply committed to a set of beliefs or positions and sees the ultimate goal of a liberal movement is to see those positions succeed. The strategies by which these positions come to fruition may vary, but the commitment to those positions is the primary driving force behind the energy of a liberal.   

{UPDATE 01.15.11} It was pointed out that in my def’s I could probably substitute “conservative” for “liberal” so to be clear, I am really talking about the folks who hold might tend to support same-sex marriage, are pro reproductive rights, are against capital punishment, etc.  Again most folks are more nuanced, but you get what I mean.

A progressive may share some common beliefs and positions as liberals, but the movement and process is valued over an above the set of beliefs or positions.  Often seen as centrists or fence-sitters by liberals, progressives are willing to find consensus even with those with whom the progressive may disagree.

In short a liberal is driven primarily by the specific positions of platform while a progressive is driven by the process and conditions through which the broader community is moved towards those positions.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but one must be careful to assume that they are necessarily one in the same.

Okay, there’s my contribution, so what do you think?

Nominate Bruce Reyes-Chow for a social media award in the Shorty Awards in the #religion category!Nominate Bruce Reyes-Chow for a social media award in the #religion category


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