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

Charlotte’s Letter to Senator Ted Cruz: Whose Religious Liberty?

Dear Senator Cruz,

I’ve been looking at the information about your newly formed Religious Liberty Advisory Council. Reading your description and recognizing some of the people you have appointed to serve as advisors, I have to ask: Whose religious liberty are you seeking to protect?

Of course, as soon as I ask that question, I know the answer. constitution-426x225  Continue reading Charlotte’s Letter to Senator Ted Cruz: Whose Religious Liberty?

Religion and Culture: Two Sides of a Coin

I’ve just started my third online course in Harvard’s Religious Literacy project. 56c77bc51e000022007026fa This is good stuff. And fascinating. And absolutely vital as we seek to live well together within this diverse, global human family.

Two core tenets guide this continuing education project: one, that the culture of a people cannot properly be understood apart from its religious influences. And two, that no religion can be properly understood without knowing something about the culture that shaped it. The two are inextricably connected. Religion and Culture: two sides of a coin.

I know there are plenty of purists who will want to argue this thesis, but it rings absolutely true for me.

As a recovering Fundamentalist Christian, I am ever so grateful for the larger perspective that I gained about my own faith when I began to name the White Southern Patriarchal cultural influences that created the small Christianity of my childhood. Recognizing the reality that my religion had been shaped by its culture has freed me from a blind allegiance and allowed me to move into a wider, rainbow experience of faith. I have come to believe that there is no such thing as a “pure” religion. Across history, across the far reaches of the globe, my religion and all religions have been molded in deep ways by the various environments in which they are rooted and grown.

This is not a bad thing. Religious faith ought to be multicultural.

Some years ago, when I lived near a popular mosque and would visit there with my Muslim neighbors, I recognized how the one basic religion of Islam has multiple manifestations based on the nations and cultures from whence these people had come. I learned that the dress and the customs and the piety are different for faithful Muslims who come from different nations. I found the faith of Islam to be as diverse as my own Christian faith.

So I’m looking forward to learning more about this religion of Islam and the Scriptures that nearly a quarter of the people on the planet hold dear. I grow weary of non-Muslims quoting the Quran as if they know what they are talking about. As if they are experts. As if there is only one way to interpret the complex sacred texts of a complex people. This kind of presumptuous arrogance does nothing to facilitate greater understanding across our differences.

blogger-image--1857155484 These classes are helping educate me about some of the ways a people’s religion intersects with a society’s culture. These studies are reminding me that the authentic practice of religion will always lead its practitioners to seek the common good of all humanity. These insights are giving me more appreciation for the wisdom we humans need in order to maintain a healthy balance between the two sides of this coin.

So the Religious Literacy courses are adding lots of new knowledge and a new appreciation for the rich diversity of our human community. My faith is wider, richer and more gracious than it ever was before. My faith is both more confident and (at the same time) more humble.

There is a desperate need for people to do a better job of talking to – and listening to – each other across our divides.

More of us need to be students, learners, listeners. The world is a very big place and we all have much to learn. It is possible to be both confident in our own beliefs and curious, open and respectful of other beliefs. This kind of open, humble curiosity fosters a rich climate for talking, listening and understanding.

 

Harvard-comes-up-with-FREE-Online-Course-to-promote-Religious-Literacy-fight-MisunderstandingsThe courses in the World Religions through Their Scriptures series are offered free of charge. (Free to audit; $50 for a certificate) Follow this link to learn more about Harvard’s edX courses in the Religious Literacy Project.

https://www.edx.org/xseries/world-religions-through-scriptures

 

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.

Letter to the Judiciary Committee on Advice and Consent

Dear Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate,

I’ve read your letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell stating your intention to block any vote on a nominee for the Supreme Court until next year.  Senate-Judiciary-Committee-immigration-reform-legislation-APSenator McConnell said (long before Merritt Garland was even nominated) he would not even meet with a nominee. You and your fellow Republicans refer to this commitment as an “exercise of constitutional power” designed to “protect the will of the American people.”

There is a fundamental problem with your logic:

since the American people elected President Obama twice by wide margins knowing at the time there was a high probability there would be some Supreme Court appointments during his terms, then please understand that the majority of “the American people” already have made our will perfectly clear: we want President Obama to choose the next justice for the Supreme Court.

The American people want you and other Senators to receive the President’s nominee respectfully. We want you to offer fair hearings. We want to you allow the “full and robust debate” that this constitutional process is designed to produce. We want you to advise and consent based on the merits of the nominee, not on your particular pet ideologies. THIS is the “constitutional power” entrusted to you.

Our Founders created this impressive document in the midst of great debate and diversity. constitution-426x225 It represents a commitment to the principles of compromise and collaboration. It models a wise, ongoing approach of respectful negotiation between strong differences of opinion. Its spirit of e pluribus unum sets the stage well for our life together as an increasingly diverse community.

Claiming “constitutional authority” to obstruct the constitutional process of “advice and consent” dishonors the very Constitution you purport to serve.

It is “the will of the American people” that you respect the Constitution and do your job. Protect that.

Respectfully yours,

Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

 

Here is a link to the Senate Judiciary Committee members. You can find contact information for each of the senators from this GovTrack.us website.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/committees/SSJU

 

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.