Coates to speak on need for progressive Christian approach



In a diverse, global society in which Christianity is often associated with the political right, the Rev. Delman Coates said it’s time for a progressive approach to public engagement.

Coates will address the topic “Towards a Progressive Christian Praxis of Public Engagement,” from the perspective of both a clergy leader and an academic at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Week Four’s Interfaith Lecture theme is “The Role of a Citizen in a Just Democracy.”

“My remarks will focus upon my view that we really need to proclaim progressive theological inquiry in America,” he said. “Over the past 40 years or so, we’ve conceded the public square from the faith perspective to the religious right.”

Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, will discuss the need for progressive theological inquiry to help Christians understand what it means to be Christian in a diverse culture, he said. He expressed the need for a “renewed commitment to social justice and public engagement,” which includes campaign finance reform.

“The relationship between money and politics has got to be addressed,” he said. “Our democracy is on the verge of purchased-and-sacrificed at the altar of the dollar.”

Coates has been an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage; in 2012, he testified on behalf of the same-sex marriage bill in Maryland. He also ran as a lieutenant governor candidate in the state’s 2014 gubernatorial race after Heather Mizeur, who would have been the state’s first female — and openly gay — governor, asked him to be her running mate.

Their campaign, which was publicly financed, sent a message that African-Americans and gay people do not fundamentally oppose each other, a common misconception, Coates said. Although many people thought Coates’ career as a pastor of a “megachurch” was over after expressing support for same-sex marriage, 2012 ended up being the best year for the church yet, with the addition of 1,000 members.

Coates said it is important to model a progressive Christian praxis of public engagement, because it is what happens in boardrooms that most affects everyday citizens.

“The kinds of issues that tend to get focused on for political issues from the right were the issues of gays, guns and abortion,” he said. “I think that we need a shift from matters of personal piety and personal morality to issues of public morality. We’ve got to shift from our preoccupation of what’s happening in people’s bedrooms towards a greater analysis and a greater degree of engagement in what’s happening in corporate boardrooms.”

Coates will also discuss the need for an accountable government that governs from the bottom up, not top down, and the federal monetary policy that has led to income inequality, he said. He will argue for the federal government, rather than the private central banking system, to print its own currency.

“We could literally end poverty — social inequality in our country — if we really had the courage at the national level to address our monetary system,” he said.