Janie and Charlotte on Religious Liberty #4

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They still maintain a good friendship even though they have very different perspectives on politics, culture and theology.

This is the fourth conversation Janie and Charlotte have had about their different approaches to the First Amendment and Religious Liberty. See the first conversation here, the second conversation here and the third conversation here.

Charlotte asked Janie to respond to her blog: Letter to my Christian Friends Who Are Anxious About Your Religious Liberty.

Janie B. Cheaney img_3556

Janie

Here’s where I agree with you:

Christ our Lord calls us to humble ourselves and not cling to our rights or goods or status; to take up a cross rather than wave a flag. Christians have done a lot of damage in the past—and still do—by yelling about perceived and actual insults. “They’re going to hate you because they hated me,” Jesus told us. It’s something we should expect.

Instead of wringing our hands over court decisions like Obergefell (even if we believe long-term results will not be good), we should roll up our sleeves and get busy showing love to our opponents the way we’re called to do. I’ve said so numerous times in my World columns and posts. I remember a distraught mother who emailed me in response to one of those posts, asking in essence why God allowed her daughter to come out as a lesbian. I replied that God is giving us an opportunity to “come out” as Christians, loving our problematic relatives, and even our enemies, by listening to them and serving them but also speaking truth to them.

“Speaking truth” is where the rub comes.

It’s heartening to read that 2/3 of Americans are opposed to discrimination. The problem is how you define discrimination. Please consider with me three specific cases:

  • In 2013 Aaron Klein, co-owner with his wife of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, meet with Cheryl McPherson and her mother to discuss providing a cake for Cheryl’s upcoming wedding. Upon learning that Cheryl is engaged to another woman, Aaron informs her that the business does not do same-sex weddings. They have had no problem baking birthday cakes and cookies for gay customers but draw the line at weddings. To date the Kleins have paid $135,000 in emotional damages, mostly raised through contributions; otherwise their business would be kaput.
  • Baronelle Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. In 2013 one of her customers, a long-time friend, asked her to design a special arrangement for his wedding to his male partner. Mrs. Stutzman explained that her conscience wouldn’t allow her to do that—though she’d be happy to design a special arrangement for his beloved’s birthday celebration, marriage had a deep religious significance for her and contributing to a same-sex wedding was too much like celebrating it. She recommended other florists, and they parted on friendly terms. A Facebook post from her gay friend came to the attention of the Attorney General’s office, and soon Mrs. Stutzman found herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit that could wreck her business.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor are an order of nuns and lay religious dedicated to serving the indigent elderly. A few years ago they were required to provide contraceptives to their female employees as part of Obamacare. The Catholic position on birth control is well known, but the Obama administration pursued the case with vigor. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in effect vindicated the Little Sisters, not by deciding in their favor but by deferring to a previous favorable decision from a lower court. That was seen as a victory for religious liberty but at a cost to the Little Sisters, who had to funnel time and resources away from their calling in order to defend themselves in court.

Christians are required to behave graciously to everyone and to be at peace with everyone, “so far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). But there’s another mandate: “Teach whatsoever I (Jesus) commanded you” and “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” Yes, there is disagreement over what those commandments are, and many Christians, even Evangelicals, don’t see the problem in baking a cake for a gay wedding. But is it discrimination not to?

Discrimination is denial of services because of personal bias. Conscientious objection is refusal to participate in an act or procedure that the objector sincerely believes to be wrong. The first stems from prejudice, the second from principle. Mrs. Stutzman and the Kleins never refused service to gays because they were gay, but they did object to a participating in a ceremony that God (as they understand him) forbids. The Little Sisters never forbade their employees to secure birth control in other ways, but they objected to providing something they believed to be against God’s will. The issue to them is obedience, not discrimination. I’ve read many comments from people who disagree with the reasoning, but who are they to define someone else’s conscience?

Whose rights are being violated here? If you’re planning a wedding with your same-sex partner, your baker or florist may be reluctant to serve you, but they’re not trying to stop you from getting married. That’s your right under the law. To my knowledge there have been no judges threatened or courthouses stormed by angry Christians trying to overturn Obergefell. Instead, we’re trying to figure out how to function in this brave new world without personal compromises of cherished beliefs.

CVC photoCharlotte

You are the one who helped me understand this distinction and I am wiser for it. Now I understand that the issue with the baker or the florist is their personal belief that baking a cake or arranging flowers is a kind of participation in and approval of the marriage. It’s not that they are refusing relationship with gay people but that they refuse to be personally involved in the ritual of a marriage ceremony. I see that now. I hope the legal dust will settle on this issue sooner rather than later.

As I’ve said numerous times, historically our Courts have bent over backwards to accommodate conscientious objectors but there is a difference between accommodating explicitly religious institutions and business owners who happen to be religious people but who have chosen to operate their business in the public square.

In your examples above, the Klein’s bakery is located in Oregon and although Oregon law provides an exemption for religious institutions, it “does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion.” Baronelle Stutzman’s case is more troubling to me because it is not her clients/friends who are suing her; rather it is the Washington Attorney General who intervened. To make her an example? Because of a Facebook post? Little Sisters of the Poor do wonderful work, agreed. But they still employ women who need and want contraception provided as part of their appropriate health care and whether the organization has a religious objection or not, the organization itself still could have negotiated a way for its employees to be fully covered. The Supreme Court attempted to force a compromise that would “accommodate the challengers’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by the challengers’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” Women need adequate health care; the compromises should have happened long before this ever reached the Supreme Court.

So here’s a completely different angle: I’m curious what these kinds of Christian business owners do when they are asked to bake a cake or arrange flowers for divorcees. As far as we know, Jesus never said anything about gay marriage but he did offer some pretty strong teachings on divorce and remarriage. Taking a stand against gay marriage but not remarriage is inconsistent. I would like to hear you address this question that many of us have asked.

Janie

Baking a cake for a divorcee would not be a problem, just like baking a cake for a gay man’s birthday party isn’t a problem, as the Kleins said repeatedly. Baronelle Stutzman also supplied flowers for her gay friend to take to his partner more than once. Baking a cake or supplying flowers for a divorce party would be a different matter. Divorces are not usually celebrated, so it isn’t an issue that comes up, but if a client walked in to my bakery and said, “I’d like a cake for my friend who’s celebrating her divorce,” I can well imagine a Christian baker saying, I’m sorry, but that’s not something I can congratulate.”

Certainly, there is a time to go the extra mile and turn the other cheek. Maybe Klein & Stutzman and others should have done that—or maybe they see themselves placed in a strategic position to force our society to make up its mind how we’re going to treat each other. I heard Christian social commentator John Stonestreet the other day exclaiming over our culture’s schizophrenia: Bruce Springsteen can “refuse service” to the entire state of North Carolina over his conscientious objections to its transgender laws, while a 71-year-old florist draws down the wrath of the state of Washington for basically the same thing. It’s not enough to say “Let the courts decide”: by God’s providence we live in a democratic republic with the ability to participate in the law-making process. That’s what test cases like Roe v. Wade were all about.

Charlotte

I’ve heard this comparison as well. My own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) threatened to move our General Assembly out of Indiana during the RFRA kerfluffle. Here’s how I see this: Mr. Springsteen could have been sued for breach of contract. The Christian Church knew they might pay a price if they backed out of their contracts. That’s how this works. Taking a moral stand is very often controversial. Christian bakers and florists, religious non-profits, churches and denominations, even secular people can and do make moral stands based on principle and they should always understand that there may well be consequences. Christians of all people should know that whenever we walk in the way of the Christ.

Janie

Agreed–and the Kleins and Stutzmans, and others who have taken a similar stand, see what they’re doing as a consequence of following Christ. Does that mean they shouldn’t do it, or shouldn’t pursue legal standing? They are not seeking damages; they’re trying to avoid financial ruin and perhaps make it safe, or safer, for other Christians of similar conviction to follow their consciences in the future.

(One quick objection: of course Jesus said nothing about gay marriage because there was no such thing, even in the minds of pagans. He did quite clearly imply that marriage was between a man and a woman, Matthew 19:4-5).

I saw a disconnect in your open letter; maybe you can explain it. In the first paragraph you write, “What I truly don’t get is why some Christians are claiming their religious liberties are at risk.” Then you accuse some Christians of zero-sum thinking: of believing their rights are threatened when other some other group gains its rights (I don’t believe that’s the issue at all). And finally you draw a comparison between baking an extra cake and walking an extra mile, the latter referring to actual first-century oppression. But if as you say religious liberties are not actually being threatened, is that even an apt comparison?

Speaking of first-century persecution, no one took more of it than the Apostle Paul. And yet, when he had the opportunity to stand on his rights and avoid a beating, he didn’t hesitate (Acts 22:25). Nor did he hesitate to speak the truth even at great cost.

So, it’s . . . complicated. I do appreciate your thoughts, and I’m glad we’re having this conversation.

Charlotte

I will concede that there is some definite unfairness going on in this time of readjustment as we all try “to figure out how to function in this brave new world.” I’m sorry for the troubles that a few conscientious people are experiencing because of their faith. But I’m ever so grateful that so many other people are finally experiencing some of their long deprived civil rights. Our LGBT sisters and brothers still face discrimination in jobs and housing in too many communities. Just because they are gay, they still can be evicted or fired in some states because there are not enough legal protections in place. But the pendulum is swinging and I am glad we will never go back to how things were. In the meantime – yes – it is very, very complicated.

As for the apparent disconnect in my letter, I’m arguing that IF a person feels persecuted for their faith, THEN there is a fairly clear biblical principle on how to respond. Go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… If a Christian reads the Bible so literally that they feel compelled to judge other people because of their sexuality, and if that judgment leads to legal and social consequences, (perceived as “persecution,”) then those believers should be held accountable to read these biblical texts literally as well and respond to said persecution as Jesus would. That’s what I’m saying.

But then, you’re right, I don’t personally believe these American Christians are being persecuted for their faith. What I do believe is that Christian privilege is being challenged in this cultural transition and some unfortunate business owners are getting caught in the messiness of change.

As you said so eloquently: Christians have done a lot of damage in the past—and still do—by yelling about perceived and actual insults. “They’re going to hate you because they hated me,” Jesus told us. It’s something we should expect.

There is real religious persecution going on all across the globe. There are Christians whose lives are in danger just because they wear the name of Christ. In my opinion, that is a much more convincing witness to faith than what I see happening in our current American culture. Using faith to protect oneself at the expense of another; using faith to claim the greater righteousness; using faith to judge and exclude any of God’s precious children should be challenged. It is not American. It is not Christian.

This is strong. I got wound up. I hope I don’t offend but I am passionate about how Christ and Christian faith are portrayed and I see the current Christian resistance as damaging witness to this faith and this Savior we both love. Your turn. Speak to my blind spots. I’m listening.

Janie

I thank you for listening, and I’m not offended. Again, I agree that these legal challenges don’t qualify as persecution. (Or not yet. It’s conceivable that pastors could be restricted from preaching and Christian schools and colleges prosecuted from teaching what they perceive as biblical truth, and that’s why we need to establish some legal precedent.)

Here’s something I read in many comments sections online: “Christians (meaning Evangelicals) only care about abortion and gay marriage.” This is a slander. Evangelicals are and have been at the forefront of many battles, including religious persecution abroad, world hunger, disaster relief, homelessness, generational poverty, human trafficking, substandard education, adoption, and so on. I would like to see a lot more involvement, but I would also like to see a lot more reporting—such as The New York Times story dated Sept. 6: “Evangelicals Ignore G.O.P. by Embracing Syrian Refugees.” Good for them! (both the Evangelicals and The Times) If some Christians are convicted that they must “love the sinner but hate the sin” (and I know that phrase is despised in some circles), they can fight that battle too, though they must be very careful about tactics. I think Evangelicals are in general getting wiser about tactics and more careful about picking their battles, and I’m thankful to God for it. But we can still be stupid and thoughtless. Please bear with us as we grope our way to amity.

Janie and Charlotte figure we have done about as much as we can do with this religious liberty topic. We’re considering what to talk about next. Any suggestions?

 

18752_264889995821_7228191_nJanie B. Cheaney blogs at Gobsmacked by Life … sometimes

Janie has published six novels for teens. Her historical fiction is especially well done with solid research, engaging characters and great writing.  Janie’s J.B.Cheaney Facebook page is a fun and helpful author resource.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

Two Good Reasons Why I’m Going to #VoteAnyway

1) Because of our grandmothers.

2) Because of our granddaughters.

It wasn’t that long ago in the history of our nation that it was illegal for women to vote. That fact boggles my mind. As a modern woman with so much privilege, I have trouble understanding the cultural mentality that insisted women were incapable of voting responsibly.

Of course, that mentality is not new. And it has not gone away. Our Founders engaged in heated debates about who should have the right to vote in the infant United States. It’s as if they feared regular people and found ways to limit the popular vote. These days, legislators in many of these not-always united states still debate. And they still seem to fear the people’s voice at the ballot box.

I have trouble understanding that mentality. And so did our grandmothers.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul.

Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt.

So many women fought so very hard under such difficult and dangerous circumstances. Too many women died in order to ensure that I have the right to vote today.

How can I not vote?!?!

And then there are my granddaughters and great granddaughters to consider.

After all we have been through, after all our grandmothers have done for us, our granddaughters’ rights to function as equal citizens in our nation are still not complete and their future is at risk.

How I vote this year in national, state and local elections will be one immensely important way that I can speak; that I may influence public policy that will affect the every day lives of our children for generations to come. Health care, poverty, the environment, employment equity, criminal justice, domestic violence, education… The list goes on and on.

How can I not vote?!?!

Whether I’m excited about a candidate’s personality or not, my challenge is to keep the big picture in mind and vote for the principles I believe in. To vote for the issues I care about. To vote.

In this current election cycle, we are watching voters across the political spectrum express frustration and discouragement, anger and hopelessness. We are hearing people say they just won’t vote at all. But I say #VoteAnyway.

Let’s all research the candidates’ positions on the issues we care about. Let’s all open our minds and challenge any stereotypes and prejudices we may have. Let’s all plow through the hopelessness and sow seeds of hope for our daughters and our granddaughters.

Let’s #VoteAnyway.

By the way, if you haven’t seen these movies on women in the suffragette movement, I highly recommend them. Iron Jawed Angels (2004) and Suffragette (2015). Talk about plowing though hopelessness! I hold on to hope because of so many amazing women who have gone before me. We stand on their shoulders. Now let’s shoulder the opportunity/responsibility/privilege to vote in this current election so that we can keep on harvesting hope for all our children.

C (15)

 

 

 

In honor of my grandmother, Charlotte.

 

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

Janie and Charlotte on Religious Liberty #3

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They still maintain a good friendship even though they have very different perspectives on politics, culture and theology.

This is the third conversation Janie and Charlotte have had about their different approaches to the First Amendment and Religious Liberty. See the first conversation here and the second conversation here.

CVC photo

Charlotte

OK Janie, now I have a question for you: Why is it that some Evangelical Christians insist that homosexuality is only behavior and not part of the innate essence of some human beings? Why can’t they allow room for other people to be who they are and do what they do and live their lives in peace?

Janie

That’s two questions, and though they’re related, the first is theological and the second political/social. The first takes us deeper into the reasons conservative Christians have for rejecting same-sex marriage (for example) while the second brings us back to the original issue of religious freedom. The first requires we have certain inward convictions but the second requires only a modicum of good will and mutual respect. I’m just going to focus on the first for now:

I’m not aware that some Evangelical Christians insist that homosexuality is “only behavior”—though I guess “some” people will believe anything! I can only speak with authority about me, and my own thought is that of course homosexual behavior stems from the innate essence of certain humans beings, since people generally act out of what we might call their essences. Out of the heart the mouth speaks, Jesus said, and the person acts.

But that’s exactly the problem. My own “innate essence,” if unredeemed by the blood of Christ, is sin. You may think I say this because I’m a Calvinist (total depravity, and all that), but I knew it long before I could put a label on it. “There is none righteous; no not one,” and that includes me. I’m not a homosexual, but I’m a casual liar and a subtle manipulator, and I have to keep a chain on these and other manifestations of me as I fight against them.

I understand that many readers will be shocked at the idea of homosexual practice in the same category as lying and manipulating (and a host of other sins). Well, I wouldn’t if I had a choice, but I believe God puts them there, and so must I. That doesn’t mean that LGBT people can’t be redeemed; of course they can. But I do believe they need to accept that their sexual desires are part of the sin nature Christ longs to redeem, rather than a special gift that should be celebrated, any more than idolatry, adultery, stealing, greed, intemperance, blasphemy and cheating should be celebrated. “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Such, in fact, were all of us, but we may be “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

I come to these conclusions not because I hate gays or don’t know anyone who’s gay, or despise anyone who’s different, but because the Bible is not squishy about this. I’ve read rationalizations to the contrary, and they strike me as just that: rationalization and wishful thinking. I know Christians who struggle against same-sex attraction, and for them the fight is worth the prize. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

As for Christians who are also practicing gays and lesbians, they will answer to God, not me. I can only tell them the truth to the best of my ability and knowledge.

Beyond that (touching on your second question), as far as I’m concerned, they should certainly be allowed to live their lives in peace. Shouldn’t I be allowed the same courtesy? What about Baronelle Stutzman? Ruth Neely? Dr. Eric Walsh?

I could go on…

Charlotte

So let me get this straight: you do accept that homosexuality can be part of the innate essence/ being of some people but you believe when these people behave according to that nature (especially sexually) and “practice” homosexuality, then they are living in their “sin nature.”

Is that fair?

We agree that you and I are not trying to change each other’s minds in this conversation; rather we are trying to understand each other. So I’ll just respond with a part of my own journey from biblical fundamentalism into progressive Christianity. And no – this is not “justification and wishful thinking;” this is sound theology held by countless Christians.

I would say that indeed the Bible is “squishy” about homosexuality. The few texts people regularly quote can be interpreted in a variety of ways, especially given the completely different cultural context of ancient Israel and the Roman Empire. Applying expectations from the First Century to the very different context of the Twenty-first Century is not neat or simple. You don’t accept the Bible’s assumptions on women’s submission and slaves’ subservience, I will guess.

As Christians, for us the life of the Christ is the key to explain, amplify, demonstrate, interpret any of the other biblical texts. For me, Jesus’ example of welcoming and including those who were judged by the religious people of their own day gives me all the motivation I need to welcome wholeheartedly. Jesus’ example of chastising the religious leaders who drew bright lines and excluded some people from the fullness of God’s grace gives me pause as a religious leader myself. As I have said before, if God is my judge then I would rather be judged for including than judged for excluding.

When I stand with couples as their minister for their wedding vows, I always cite the love passage from First Corinthians 13: Love is patient, kind. It is not arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Whenever any couple makes their commitment to live in this kind of love, then I boldly say God-Who-is-Love is honored. Whenever any couple keeps their vows “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health until death do us part…” then I say God-Who-is-Faithful is honored.

Janie B. Cheaney img_3556Janie

My position is also “sound theology held by countless Christians,” not mindless bigotry as is sometimes portrayed (not by you!). It’s not based on a few texts, but on the entire sweep of biblical history and what we can discern about God’s purpose and design from within scripture and outside of it. Such as

  • The biological fact that the sexes were literally made for each other; confirmed by scripture (“This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh . . .”);
  • The creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” which could have an additional spiritual meaning but in the context clearly means making babies;
  • The lack of any favorable or remotely positive mention of homosexuality in scripture;
  • Jesus’ own definition of marriage as between a man and a woman;
  • God’s clear and strict limits on sexual behavior, which most heteros have a problem with.

Charlotte

My progressive Christian friends and my liberal secular friends see a lot of “mindless bigotry” on the Right. Unfortunately that is the public face of Christianity for a lot of non-Christians these days. One of the reasons I’m glad you and I are having this conversation (out of the several reasons I am glad) is that I would like more non-religious people to hear the rationale of a kind-hearted, thoughtful Christian like you. Most of them won’t agree with your theological argument (I don’t even agree with it) but your thought process and conclusions are anything but “mindless.” Your humility and compassion shine through.

By the way, Progressive Christian theology also considers “the entire sweep of biblical history and what we can discern about God’s purpose and design…” So look how we begin with similar intent and end up in such different places! I keep saying First Amendment = Messy. This reminds me that our sincere differences demonstrate how biblical interpretation is also messy.

Janie

I agree that Christ is the key to interpreting all other biblical texts, so we need to pay close attention to what he said and did. He invited all sinners to come to him, but drew one bright line, and that was himself: “No one comes to the Father but by me.” He upheld the Law—“I have not come to abolish it but to fulfill it”—lived a life of perfect obedience and died with all my sins on his head. That’s how seriously God takes sin: someone has to pay for it. One sinless man paid so that I don’t have to. I still sin, but am obliged to struggle against my “innate essence,” my natural bent toward selfishness and dishonesty. As a new creature in Christ I can’t cling to my old ways, and can’t encourage others to remain in what I see as sin.

The God-who-is-love demands that we love him first and best—not because he’s a self-centered tyrant but because he’s the source of everything good, and by loving him we find our best and truest selves. If I were talking to an unbeliever who is gay, sexuality wouldn’t even be part of the conversation at first, because it’s not the real problem. The real problem, as it is with all of us, is loving something more than God, and putting our own thoughts, desires, and ambitions in place of God, as it has been since the Fall.

A brief point about being judged: if, you say, God is your judge then you would rather be judged for including than for excluding. Okay, but it seems to me this is not a matter of if but when. God will judge everyone, including me and you. If we are “in Christ,” i.e., standing under Christ’s imputed righteousness, we will be judged righteous for his sake, not for anything we did or didn’t do.

Charlotte

So we will agree to disagree on the theological and biblical arguments here. And I will say (as you suggested in our last conversation): “Okay Janie, times are changing—hope you catch up someday!”

Janie

To which I would say, if I had the presence of mind for a quick comeback, “Yeah, well, in my book, eternity trumps time.”

Charlotte

Back to our conversation about religious freedom. The examples you offer remind us how very complex it is to apply Constitutional freedoms fairly. (First Amendment = Messy). I respect each of the people who have found themselves mired in this current confusion as we figure out how to respect their rights at the same time we respect the rights of those who disagree. I am sorry for this challenging time. I believe we will get through this and be stronger and wiser and more compassionate on the other side.

Janie

It’s a real issue, and will only be solved by accepting each other in good faith. Regarding same-sex marriage, to put it bluntly: you won. But some factions seem unwilling to rest until everybody agrees, or keeps their disagreement entirely under wraps. When schools and colleges are threatened if they continue to teach their dissenting views (as recently happened in California), we are approaching something like thought control. Will you at least concede that Ted Cruz has a point, even if you don’t agree with his prescriptions? Do you understand why I’m worried about this?

Charlotte

No, I don’t concede that Ted Cruz has a point. I still argue that he (and you) are focused on one side of the issue while the Courts are trying to balance all sides in as fair a way as possible in all this messiness. One of our commenters on one of our recent conversations noted that single individuals choosing to discriminate because of a religious belief is one thing while entire communities of people refusing services to another entire population of people is something else entirely. She said: “The fact is, the past is riddled with the consequences of communities having the right to do just this…” That’s why our Court system is so important – balancing the rights of some against the rights of others.

Throughout American history, our Courts have bent over backwards to try to accommodate the sincere religious perspective in the application of our civil laws: Jehovah’s Witness Americans refusing oaths or the pledge of allegiance; pro-life Americans opting out of abortion procedures; Muslim Americans and the length of their beards or the wearing of their hijabs; Native American understandings of the sacred (definitely a mixed bag of rulings here). Anyway, I could go on…

Conscientiously objecting and opting out is a religious liberty that has been protected again and again by our Courts. However, the practice of discriminating against other people has been struck down repeatedly by those same Courts.

I wrote an open “Letter to My Christian Friends who are Anxious about Your Religious Liberty” some time ago. It’s my best argument for trying to see and respect all sides of this important issue. And yes – it would be nice if regular people could solve more of these problems face to face by giving each other space and “accepting each other in good faith.”

Janie

To conclude, here’s a paragraph from Justice Kennedy’s Obergefell opinion. I took issue with some of his other statements in that opinion, but appreciate that he added this:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Charlotte

Good quote. Justice Kennedy notes an important American reality here. Too many of my non-religious friends on the Left completely misunderstand this in their flippant application of “separation of church and state.” If the First Amendment means anything, it means we all have equal access to the public conversation.

 

18752_264889995821_7228191_nJanie B. Cheaney blogs at Gobsmacked by Life … sometimes

Janie has published six novels for teens. Her historical fiction is especially well done with solid research, engaging characters and great writing.  Janie’s J.B.Cheaney Facebook page is a fun and helpful author resource.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

Janie and Charlotte on Religious Liberty #2

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They both grew up in the same fundamentalist denomination in the Bible Belt of Texas. They both remain Christian but have grown in different ways, Conservative to Liberal. Even so, they work hard to maintain their friendship while they discuss honestly their different perspectives on the important issues of our day. Here is some of their ongoing debate about the topic of religious liberty.

In our first conversation, Janie and Charlotte agreed that the First Amendment to the US Constitution establishes religious liberty, but then went back and forth on how to apply the multifaceted meaning of the Amendment: how to limit government from restricting people’s practice of religion (“free expression”) while disallowing government from establishing religion.

Charlotte argued that Christianity has been privileged in America since our country’s origins and that religious understandings have indeed been incorporated into our civil laws numerous times. Janie argued that Christianity has been a motivation for law, sometimes for the worse and more often for the better, but seldom the entire motivation.

CVC photoCharlotte

Here is our continued conversation. Charlotte begins with Janie’s second question:

Does the right of religious people to advocate for our position extend to people in public office, exercising the duties of their office? Three examples: a) Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and others like them, who are granted legislative power by their constituents; b) Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses in Kentucky; c) Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who lost his job because of a self-published book intended for a Christian audience, one small part of which argued against the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. I realize each of these cases is different and may require some fine needle-threading, but what’s your view of the general principle?

Yes indeed each of these cases is different. Very different. I’ll do my best.

  1. a) It is no secret that I am no fan of Senator Cruz. I’ve written numerous letters to him disagreeing with the way he represents Christian faith in the public sphere. I think he is guilty of operating from his own small, black and white understanding of Christianity instead of representing and respecting the wide range of perspectives held by his rainbow constituency.

That said – Mr. Cruz enjoys the same constitutional freedom you and I do to express his beliefs in the public conversation. My effort is to rally voters who disagree with him to vote him out of office and to encourage citizens to keep him under a microscope so that his theocratic tendencies will be exposed and thwarted. This is one way I use my freedom.

Janie

Agreed, and I respect that. I don’t believe the Senator’s tendencies are necessarily theocratic, but there’s a conversation for another time.

Charlotte

  1. b) Kim Davis’ error is open and shut in my opinion. She was an elected official who took an oath to uphold the law. The moment she realized she could not in good conscience issue marriage licenses to same sex couples she should have stepped down.

Janie B. Cheaney img_3556

Janie

I understand this view, and Evangelical Christians have actually disagreed on it: some Christians who share Ms. Davis’s basic view of biblical sexuality argue that she was nonetheless duty-bound to perform her office. If I remember correctly, though, there were other clerks in the same courthouse who could have issued a license without any conscience qualms. The same-sex couple’s rights were not being infringed by one clerk’s refusal.

I have to wonder what I would have done in the same situation. I would have felt duty-bound to refuse; to say something like, “I’m truly sorry [and I would be!], but because of my convictions about what the Bible says about marriage, I can’t in good conscience issue this license to you folks. I apologize for the inconvenience, but Mrs. Jones over there would be happy to take care of you.”

Would I have the courage to do that, knowing it could cost me my job? I’d like to think so. But I would also like to think that, were I half of that same-sex couple, I could smile and say, “Okay, but times are changing—hope you catch up someday!” In other words, I wish we could bear with each other as fellow citizens, without continually resorting to the courts.

Charlotte

I have no doubt you would have handled this situation much more graciously, with much more integrity than Ms. Davis.

As I understand it, yes, there were other clerks in the office who would have been willing to issue marriage licenses, however Ms. Davis refused to let them. She forced her particular religious understanding upon the rest of the clerks and upon the citizens of her county. She put her religion above the law.

What is also sad to me about that whole Kim Davis rigmarole is the way her actions reflected so badly on each of us as Christians and on our shared Christian faith. Taking up the victim’s mantle, she missed an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Christian principles of humility and grace. Now, because of her example, countless secular people feel confirmed in their dislike and distrust of us religious people.

  1. c) I had to look up Kelvin Cochran’s situation and I admit this one is messy. (Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal.)

As we agreed in our first conversation, application of the First Amendment “is always the rub.” If I were the mayor of Atlanta, would I have fired such an exemplary city officer for his opinions published in a book designed for Bible study within a conservative Christian context? With only the information I have here, probably not. It looks to me like Atlanta’s move was more politically clumsy than unconstitutional.

One problem I see with the Cochran case is that, as an officer and core leader within the administration of the Mayor of Atlanta, he “serves at the pleasure…” This is a longstanding tradition that allows a mayor, governor, president to assemble a compatible team with shared perspectives and goals. If one of the mayor’s key leaders seems to have a significant difference of opinion about the equality and value of some of their citizens, then I can see the mayor’s concern. But then you and I don’t know the backstory (as is so often the case.)

Janie

True; no one ever knows the full backstory except those immediately involved. I’m going to try to argue from a principle, not a personality; just let me address what I see as a mistaken assumption. If you’re assuming Mr. Cochran “seems to have a significant difference of opinion about the equality and value” of gays and lesbians, I’m almost certain he would vehemently disagree. I’ve read summaries of extracts from his book and his theme is basic Christian doctrine, not sexual behavior. The offending chapter takes up six pages and three sentences mention homosexuality, among many sins that will separate men and women from God. It’s not the prevailing view right now that homosexual practice is a sin. I get that—but Mr. Cochran is arguing a theological perspective, not a social or political one. It’s not a question of equal or unequal, but saved or unsaved. If there were gay men on the squad I doubt he would have treated them differently, or even thought of them differently, except as sinners separated from God. As are we all, without Christ. I realize I’m putting thoughts in his head, but this view is pretty standard among the Evangelicals I know.

Charlotte

I see where you are coming from. After all, I too was raised with similar theological understandings. But as we have discussed before, I have changed my mind about sexuality. It’s been a long – but satisfying – journey for me. Let’s get back to that in another conversation.

Back to Mr. Cochran’s case:

Our nation established a court system in order to sort out this very kind of disagreement. The very fact that this case was filed in 2014 and is still in process supports my argument that the First Amendment is both profoundly brilliant and immensely complicated. Mr. Cochran has the freedom to argue his case and the City of Atlanta has the freedom to argue theirs. Then the Court decides. That’s how our system works.

Janie

I’m grateful for the freedom Mr. Cochran has to argue his case. The system as originally established is admirable; problem is, over time the system has become slow, cumbersome and cranky, not to mention expensive. It’s because we’re using the court to solve our ethical dilemmas for us, instead of working them out among ourselves. It seems Mr. Cochran had two options when he was fired: 1) shut up and find another job, or 2) fight it, not so much to be reinstated (because that wouldn’t happen anytime soon) as to establish a precedent for future cases.

There are probably other Americans—who knows how many—in a similar situation whose cases never came to public attention because they didn’t have the wherewithal to fight. It takes time, and money, and more time and money, and all the man wanted was to do his job. And teach a men’s Sunday school class at church with the aid of a book he wrote, which should, it seems to me, find protection under the First Amendment. Let’s imagine he were an atheist writing a blog on his own time, whose opinions offended some members of the city council. Should he be fired? As long as those views didn’t interfere with his job, or his relationship with coworkers, of course not.

Charlotte

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about Pastors and Politics. I confess that if I argue for the right of progressive Christians such as Martin Luther King Jr. and William Barber to advocate for positions using the mantle of their religious beliefs, then I have to concede the right of conservative religious folks to advocate for their positions in the public conversation. Sometimes the Courts decide where the line is. Sometimes the American people decide at the ballot box. That’s how our system works. First Amendment = Messy.

Janie

And it will get messier. I’m just wondering—is that the kind of society we really want? Always at each other’s throats because of our religious beliefs?

Charlotte

I don’t know. Our society has been pretty messy from the get-go. It’s really quite remarkable that the Founders were able to agree enough to produce the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the first place. That was a messy time indeed.

The Constitution of this infant nation was a brilliant creation, in part because it was written with room for this nation to grow. So now, all these years later, through adolescence and on to maturity, the people of the United States continue to deepen our understanding what it means to be “we the people … forming a more perfect union…” At the time these words were written, slaves were property and legally less than human, women could not vote or hold office and the Native Peoples were “savages” methodically driven from their ancient homes. America has been growing into its dream and attempting to live up to its ideals ever since our beginnings.

We humans have a long sad history of being at each other’s throats because of something or another. Besides the obvious human differences like color and gender, there are all these other cultural constructs like religion, nationality, ethnicity and class that give us excuse to keep each other at arm’s length instead of embracing our shared humanity. Our many differences don’t have to divide us; surely we can figure out how to tap into the strength of our diversity in order finally to become a “more perfect union.”

OK Janie, now I have a question for you: Why is it that some Evangelical Christians insist that homosexuality is only behavior and not part of the innate essence of some human beings? Why can’t they allow room for other people to be who they are and do what they do and live their lives in peace?

Janie:

That’s really a theological question, and will take a few paragraphs (though, I promise, as few as possible!). I’ll get back to you soon on that . . . .

 

18752_264889995821_7228191_nJanie B. Cheaney blogs at Gobsmacked by Life … sometimes

Janie has published six novels for teens. Her historical fiction is especially well done with solid research, engaging characters and great writing.  Janie’s J.B.Cheaney Facebook page is a fun and helpful author resource.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Lessons Learned from Yusra, Rafaela and Ibtihaj

I’m not a huge sports fan but I love the Olympics. The athletes amaze me: their passion, their precision, their discipline, their perseverance.

Every year there are heartwarming stories about various Olympians on their journey to the Games. I love the backstories. But this year some unique personal stories remind me how remarkable the human spirit can be.

There’s the story of Yusra Mardini.

FILE - This is a Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 file photo of Yusra Mardini from Syria poses during a training session in Berlin, Germany. They’ve fled war and violence in the Middle East and Africa. They’ve crossed treacherous seas in small dinghies and lived in dusty refugee camps.They include a teenage swimmer Yusra Mardini from Syria, long-distance runners from South Sudan and judo and taekwondo competitors from Congo, Iran and Iraq. They are striving to achieve a common goal: To compete in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Not for their home countries, but as part of the first ever team of refugee athletes.(AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
(AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

Yusra was training as a swimmer in Syria when the war forced her and her family to flee their homeland. Like thousands of other desperate refugees, they launched themselves in an overloaded boat into the Mediterranean Sea hoping for safe passage and dreaming of a new life in a peaceful land.

Like too many other refugees, Yusra’s boat floundered, so this amazing young woman and her sister plunged into the dark water and pushed it three miles to the welcoming shore at Lesbos.

Now she is swimming in the Olympics for Germany, her new homeland.

There’s the story of Rafaela Silva.

SilvaRafaela was raised in the violent, notorious slum of Cidade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro; the infamous “City of God.” Her talent for judo provided a way out of the slums and, remarkably, she found herself training in England, favored to win a medal in the 2012 Olympics.

But when she lost, she was faced with another kind of violence. A vicious organized cyberspace gang attacked her mercilessly with racist hatred and demeaning slanders. Rafaela was devastated. But with help from a supportive community, she persevered and got back to her dream.

This week, Refaela won gold for Brazil.

There’s the story of Ibtihaj Muhammad.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 09: Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

During this Olympic Games, Ms. Muhammad made history. She is the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics with a hijab which she wears to adhere to the tenets of her Muslim faith.

Ibtihaj is a New Jersey native and a three-time NCAA All-American fencer from Duke. “I feel like it’s a blessing to be able to represent so many people who don’t have voices, who don’t speak up,” she said. “It’s just been a really remarkable experience.”

Remarkable for her and for all her family and friends. Her brother, Qareeb, is especially proud. He was overcome with emotion when he watched her compete.

“It represents who she’s been her entire life. Ever since she was a little girl, she never let anything hold her back. She never set limits. She’s always striving to be the very best. Despite the adversity she’s faced: being a Muslim, being an African-American, being a female, she’s still confident in her ability to be successful. She’s my hero.”

These women are some of my new heroes as well. I love their amazing stories.

But I think what I love most is watching the community of the Olympic family. Despite the intense competition, a profound mutual respect weaves these international individuals into a close neighborhood.

Their shared experience gives them empathy for one another. Their shared goals bind their hearts together with common passion. Their shared values motivate them to recognize the inherent value within one another, win or lose.

These lessons from the Olympic family are lessons for the rest of us, the human family, as well. HkDnV2GTvka1pKc3pn42Q-GUiwC9XIy78cnnh8J_DK3vn48hJyjHw2nWlleOstKzcuTalCah6-PgtV709qCNCmsFAEXbUP25mye9GhNuTJiJMnkJYqkjxX-sRwThe Olympic symbol itself pictures the beautiful, practical interconnection of this vast global village in which our human family dwells.

Within our cities, states and nations – and across all national lines – we too can tap into the inherent value of our shared humanity in order to deepen our empathy and strengthen our passion to craft a community where we affirm and accept everyone as our neighbor.

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. cvclogo copy

Charlotte serves as the national secretary for Coffee Party USA and regularly shares articles to the popular Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Donald Trump is Wrong about Voter Fraud

I’ve been registering voters in Texas for years now and I’ve worked hard to explain to voters the challenges of the very strict voter ID laws we have endured here for the past several election cycles.

The IDs that they already have, IDs that work in almost every other situation were not allowed as Texas voter IDs. Citizens who didn’t have a copy of their birth certificate for some reason or another were in a bind trying to get the proper documents. People who live on a shoestring couldn’t afford even the fairly small fee to apply for the approved ID. Quite a few told me they didn’t have transportation or they couldn’t afford to take off work and stand in line at the DPS office.

So you can imagine how pleased and relieved I was when the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed earlier court rulings that the 2011 Texas voter ID law does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Here in my community, we are gearing up for our get out the vote effort and I’m hopeful this shift will encourage more people to take advantage of our right and privilege to vote. I hope with these obstacles removed, more people will step up to our sacred obligation to participate in our democracy.

While I’m celebrating the numerous court decisions that are striking down voter restrictions and freeing up our freedom to vote, I’m also watching some backlash. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Donald Trump said:

“If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised. The voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.”

Trump pointed to several court cases nationwide in which restrictive laws requiring voters to show identification have been thrown out. He said those decisions open the door to fraud in November. GettyImages-502208104

This is an interesting campaign tactic. Of course he is tapping into a long Republican history claiming voter fraud is a significant problem and legislating against this perceived problem.

In his interview with The Post, Trump offered that his chief concern about fraud was that states without strict identification requirements would see rampant repeat voters. “If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting,” he said. On Fox News, Trump’s only evidence for fraud consisted of “precincts where there were practically nobody voting for the Republican” in the 2012 election.

Despite his claims and Republican paranoia, voter fraud is not a significant problem in the United States. In fact, voter fraud is rare.

A 2014 study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, found just 31 possible instances of fraud over 14 years of elections with a total of 1 billion votes cast.

13641183_10154406399757733_7649743094850595801_oThis study concluded that a person is more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit in-person voter fraud.  1 in 12,000 vs. 31 in 1 billion.

I count mail-in ballots  in my little East Texas community and I have to say I’m impressed with the process. From Red to Blue to Purple, from the County Clerk’s office to the local chairs of each party, we work together to make sure every vote counts. Each of us has our own passion about any given election, but I believe most people who step up to do this work, do it with deep integrity.

As with so many other claims Donald Trump makes, his spurious assertions about rampant voter fraud are designed to stir fears and incite alarm. Let’s resist this paranoia and work together to ensure every fellow citizen has an opportunity to vote. This nation will only become stronger and smarter when every voice is heard.

See the full Washington Post article here.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Janie and Charlotte Discussing Sincere Differences Sincerely

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They both grew up in the same fundamentalist denomination in the Bible Belt of Texas. They both remain Christian but have grown in different ways: Janie a Reformed believer in the Calvinist tradition and Charlotte an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After they left college, they both married, raised their families, and now gush over their grandchildren. They both developed professionally in their various careers: Janie as a magazine columnist and published author of several novels and Charlotte as a congregational pastor turned cyberspace blogger. Janie and Charlotte work hard to maintain their friendship while they discuss honestly their different perspectives on the important issues of our day. Through these conversations, their mutual respect has grown and their ability to articulate their viewpoints has increased. They sharpen each other. Here is some of their ongoing debate about the topic of religious liberty.

Janie

Janie B. Cheaney img_3556

Whenever a public controversy flares up, certain buzz words and catchphrases form like lint and attach themselves to the debate.  After too many twirls through the drier (to stick with the metaphor), some of the meaning rubs off.  That’s why it’s a good idea when beginning a discussion to clarify just what we mean by the words we use.

Religious Liberty became a hot topic after the 2014 Obergefell decision, when the Supreme Court

a) struck down the right of states and their constituencies to define marriage (from the right), i.e. and

b) barred states from discriminating against same-sex couples (from the left).

Almost immediately, we started getting news about private business owners refusing to provide services for gay weddings, and the consequences thereby.  A number of state legislatures began debating religious liberty/conscience laws to protect individuals in this situation.  Opponents began putting “religious liberty” in scare quotes, implying that these concerns were trivial or hypocritical.   I disagree that these concerns are either, and here’s my definition:

Religious Liberty refers to the freedom of an individual to practice his or her religion, not only within the confines of a church but also outside in day-to-day life, so long as it causes no obvious harm or places no undue burden on a fellow citizen.  Religious liberty is guaranteed by the “free exercise” clause of Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution, wherein “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

So, what’s your definition?  And of course, you may feel free to critique mine, so long as you give yours first!

Charlotte

CVC photoBusted! “…putting ‘religious liberty’ in scare quotes…” is exactly what I did in our recent conversation when we were talking about how Ted Cruz approaches this issue. Mr. Cruz’s way of applying the Constitution to religious freedom does scare me. The way religious freedom legislation has mushroomed since Obergefell disturbs me deeply. This approach is a much smaller understanding of religious freedom in my mind. That’s why it’s in quotation marks. (Let’s talk more about that later.)

But otherwise – no – I do not mean to imply that “these concerns are trivial or hypocritical” as a rule. I believe wholeheartedly in religious liberty and I agree completely with your definition. No problem with our foundation here.

It’s the application of these constitutional guarantees that causes our dilemma.

As clear as the words of the First Amendment sound on the surface, the interpretation of what those words mean in any particular context and how those principles play out in our common life together is quite complex. Highly educated and well-intentioned lawmakers and judges have always had a variety of opinions about how to craft laws that appropriately apply these standards to our diverse American community.

I agree with your definition that the freedom to practice religion extends beyond the church doors. In the United States of America, all religious people enjoy the right to argue for our beliefs in the public conversation, to advocate for our positions, to write our letters and lobby our representatives, to vote…

(Interestingly the phrase “separation of church and state” is used by some of my liberal, secular friends to try to restrict the freedom of religious people to participate fully in the political process. That is a misunderstanding from the left that is just as troubling to me as the hints of theocracy I hear from the right.)

The problem comes when institutions of government attempt to enshrine particular religious understandings into civil law. Our nation has done this over and over again in our history and it always turns out badly. We religious people are right to expect equal protection under the law. But we do not have the right to expect legal privilege. The laws and policies of our government institutions must be fair and just for everyone.

Your turn…

Janie

Application is always the rub. The devil is in the details, and that’s precisely what worries both of us. I have two questions:

  • You say that through history our nation has enshrined particular religious understandings into civil law, and it always turns out badly. What particular religious understandings do you have in mind? I don’t need a whole list, just two or three examples to illustrate what you mean.
  • Does the right of religious people to advocate for our position extend to people in public office, exercising the duties of their office? Three examples: a) Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and others like them, who are granted legislative power by their constituents; b) Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses in Kentucky; c) Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who lost his job because of a self-published book intended for a Christian audience, one small part of which argued against the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. I realize each of these cases is different and may require some fine needle-threading, but what’s your view of the general principle?

Charlotte

Yes, I believe that throughout our history our nation has enshrined particular religious understandings into civil law. I will argue that the institution of slavery, the limitation of rights and opportunities for women and the exclusion of gay people from the marriage contract are three really big examples.

I’m aware it’s a bit of a tricky argument because one can also argue that those circumstances grew from the soil of long held cultural assumptions, not religious practice. But since I believe all our various religions are cultural constructs, I cannot help but see religious underpinnings.

The anecdotal evidence I offer is the countless sermons that have been preached arguing that slavery was God’s will, that women should stay in the place God assigned them and that marriage is between a man and a woman because … you know … Adam and Eve. I offer the evidence that masters used the Bible to intimidate their slaves, that husbands have used the Bible to suppress their wives, that parents have used the Bible to ostracize their gay children. I offer the evidence that it has been church folks who have been some of the most proactive and reactive to lobby for these widely held religious understandings to be incorporated into local, state and federal laws. I could also mention prohibition, abortion and the Sunday Blue Laws that you and I were so familiar with growing up in Dallas.

“Law is always contingent,” my attorney husband reminds me. Rules and regulations come from a people’s time and place that are inevitably bound up with our particular understandings within our culture in any given era. (That’s why arguments from natural law stand on shaky ground.) The brilliance of the First Amendment is that it was written (intentionally, I believe) with both stability and elasticity. As our nation grows and matures, we can stand firmly in our proclaimed individual rights while, at the same time, evolve in ways that increasingly make room for the rights of others.

I need to take a break. You stretch me, Janie! I’ll let you respond to question #1 and we can tackle question #2 in our next discussion.

Janie

Fair enough; thanks for those examples. Of course you are correct that religion (let’s just say the Bible) has been used to support American slave law and legislation limiting the rights of women. But does that mean the Bible was the impetus for those laws? I don’t believe so. American slave law was driven by economics and false science (the “scientific fact” that blacks were inferior), not primarily religion. The Bible was used to beat slaves into submission, but it also lifted them up, created a community (the black church) and provided the main principle for abolitionism. Women have likewise been subjected throughout all times and places, partly because of biology and because of the sinful tendency of the physically strong to oppress the weak. The Bible affirms that men and women are equal in worth, and does not bar women from the marketplace or the public square. I’ll admit that some passages in the Bible are problematic for women (some women, anyway!), but if scripture has been used as the central prop for legally limiting their rights, it’s been misused.

Same-sex marriage legislation is a bit more complicated. Since most of the religious liberty cases that have popped up recently concern SSM and other issues of sexuality, we’ll definitely be taking it up later.

All this is to say that the record of religion in law is murky: Christianity has been a motivation for law, for the worse and more often for the better, but seldom the entire motivation. It’s interesting, though: the basic principle of non-discrimination is religious in origin, specifically Judeo-Christian. It’s an outworking of the doctrine that humanity is created in the image of God their Creator, and all men and women are of equal worth to him. I doubt that the principle would even exist without that basic truth. Can American law be de-coupled entirely from Christianity, or perfectly neutral toward it? I’m not sure it’s possible, or even desirable.

Charlotte

Yes, you and I agree that the Bible and religion have been misused in these and many more social circumstances throughout history. Has religion been origin or justification for abuses of humans one against the other? Probably both-and.

I’ll work on my response to your question #2 and get back to you soon. Thanks for the stimulating conversation, my friend.

 

Janie B. Cheaney img_3556

Janie B. Cheaney blogs at Gobsmacked by Life … sometimes

Janie has published six novels for teens. Her historical fiction is especially well done with solid research, engaging characters and great writing.  Janie’s J.B.Cheaney Facebook page is a fun and helpful author resource.

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Black Lives AND Cops’ Lives

Last year my local newspaper published an op-ed criticizing Black Lives Matter. Normally I’m fine with critique as long as it is fair and helpful. This was not.

Writing a response to the columnist, to the publisher and the editor seemed like a proper way to express my opinion and present an alternative viewpoint. I worked hard to be respectful even though I felt her words were reckless and inflammatory.

I’m remembering this back and forth exchange because of how over-the-top inflammatory our public conversation has become.

I am thinking about it during this particular week because of the spiraling racial violence that has occurred across our nation three days in a row.

A young Black man killed by police in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.

A young Black man killed by police in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Five White police officers targeted and killed at a peaceful protest in Dallas on Thursday.

There is too much rabble-rousing rhetoric going on, too many rash responses, too much foolish finger pointing, too many careless accusations.

We all need to speak up but we need to do so responsibly. We all need to be writing our letters to our newspapers and our governors and our representatives. We need to be posting accurate information and balanced op-eds in our newsfeeds. We need to challenge our friends if they spout dangerous and divisive untruths. We need to do our part to tone down the rhetoric and foster authentic conversations around the issues that divide us.

CmzgvqhVMAAckrTIronically the Dallas Police Department and the local Black community have been making significant strides in recent years in their joint effort to foster authentic conversations. See here the photo the police department tweeted as the march began. This budding relationship of mutual trust makes the Dallas tragedy all the more heartbreaking.

For the sake of Alton Sterling let us all finally address the thorny problem of damaged relationships between Black communities and local police departments.

For the sake of Philando Castile let us all find ways to honor his life with proactive, intentional acts of repentance and reconciliation.

For the sake of the dead and wounded police officers in Dallas, let us all help craft a safer, more trusting, less violent society.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, let us all believe in a future – let us together create a future – where finally, one of these days – every life will truly matter.

Charlotte’s Letter to The Paris News concerning Black Lives Matter

I am disappointed in your recent op-ed in The Paris News that vilified Black Lives Matter. Here are my primary critiques:

1) Characterizing the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group is irresponsible.

This current effort to disrupt the status quo of white privilege in America stands squarely in the tradition of the Civil Rights Movement. The methods are different, yes, because toxic racism remains entrenched within our society even after generations of hard work. In light of recent events of police violence, it was inevitable that activists would find their passion and rise to the occasion. They will not – and they should not – stay in the place society has assigned them. It is high time for real equality in this nation.

2) Characterizing the police as white knights is irresponsible.

Of course many of our cops, most of our police are wonderful human beings and excellent public servants. IMG_1594 I am proud to call Chief Hundley and Sheriff Cass personal friends and I admire their character and their professionalism. I also grieve the inexcusable murders of too many cops.

But denying that America has a very real problem with some very bad cops contributes to the myth rather than exposing the reality. Some cops break the law. Some cops harm the people they are supposed to be protecting. Some cops lie and cover up their own actions and the illegal acts of others. Some cops are racist. Some cops are inept. Some cops need to find a job where they are not given a gun and a badge. Good cops – and all the rest of us – will only benefit from the rooting out of the bad, incompetent cops among us.

3) Characterizing Fox News as a credible news source is irresponsible.

I was astonished to see this in your op-ed piece. If you will represent yourself as a fair and thorough journalist, then interview some of our local African American citizens. Interview members of the local NAACP. Interview our police chief and our sheriff. Find out if these people see Black Lives Matter as a hate group. Everyone will have a different opinion, I daresay, but I doubt you would get the same kind of recklessness Fox News spews. You must do better for your readers.

I look forward to hearing back from you.
Respectfully yours,
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

If you care as much about our shared future as I do, consider hosting a conversation in your home or in your community. Invite your friends who have different opinions to come hear each other out. Step boldly across political lines and color lines and religious lines in order to break down barriers and build bridges.

Find here a helpful model provided by Coffee Party USA: Coffee Party Talks.

Coffee_Party_USAhttp://www.coffeepartyusa.com/coffee_party_talks

 

 

 

 

Photo: Charlotte and her friend Sheriff Scott Cass at a western themed community fund raiser event in Paris TX 2013.

Important NPR story: Dallas has been called a Leader in Police Training Transparency

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Guest Post: Sharing Our Stories

R-ewGNaa67LLmbfaVQOlwdJ4TUmh48f6abXv2K-TFdb2caykx_WbYCbBQNSS3j0bybsI7WZYAs0NRuuR8CIOmdDo8EG2r9i7UuLDdnUHtxXYH0g9HIeB94c-1BVVP_OYwrb3NVzSFrom Debilyn Molineaux
President Coffee Party USA

Events of the past week or two have brought many American issues to the forefront and many people to a tipping point, myself included. What do you need to say that must be heard?

Join us for an evening of sharing in a judgment free space.

Sharing our Stories
Monday, July 11, 2016
6:00pm PT / 9:00pm ET (2 hours)

My story:

I feel undone. Our country seems so fragile at the moment. Since the shooting of the police officers in Dallas, I’ve been distraught.  Our neighbors should be safe. Our police officers should be safe at a peaceful protest.  And yet, my neighbors are not as safe as I am…because of our history of racism.  While many claim the color of our skin does not matter (because it shouldn’t), there are families who fear for their loved ones every day.  I’m angry.  I’m sad.  I want to stay home, where I feel safe. But being alone and safe is not the answer.  I want all my friends and neighbors to feel safe as they live their lives. It is important to me now in a visceral way that it wasn’t before.  I used to say, “it may be my problem, I’ll look at that later.” I have changed and shifted to say “NO MORE.”

Please join us Monday evening in a conference call: express yourself and listen while others share their story.  It is time for us to come together.

You make a difference!

Debilyn Molineaux
President Coffee Party USA

This is Charlotte inviting my Intersections friends to join me in this opportunity to Share Our Stories. Each of us has had our own experience of the complex and heartbreaking events of the past week. From Baton Rouge to MinnesCVC photoota to Dallas, our world continues to be in turmoil.

Do you need a safe place to talk about it? Do you need someone to listen? Let’s be there for each other.

Register here for

Sharing Our Stories

Monday July 11

6 pm PT / 9 pm ET

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

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Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz: Earth Day 2016

Dear Senator Cruz,

Earth Day greetings to you and your beautiful daughters. nativeamericanquote-6w415-1 Earth Day is a good time to repeat this wise proverb: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.

I know you love your children and want what is best for them. I love my grandchildren and dream of a bright future for them as well. But you and I both know our current generation is not doing enough to provide a future with hope for your children or mine; or for all our children from whom we have borrowed this planet.

Protecting and conserving this earth ought to be right up your alley. After all you do call yourself a Conservative so it seems to me you should be on the front lines advocating for the conservation of the earth.

Continue reading Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz: Earth Day 2016