Guest Blog: Unaffiliated and Underrepresented

op-ed by Charles M. Blow

President Obama is a Christian (despite the fact that most Republicans apparently still believe that his “deep down” beliefs are Muslim, according to one poll conducted last year.)

In fact, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, there have only been four “religiously unaffiliated heads of state in American history,” the last being Rutherford B. Hayes, who left office in 1881. This, however, does not mean that they did not believe in God.

Perhaps the most famous unaffiliated president was Abraham Lincoln, who wrote in 1846:

“That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.” Continue reading Guest Blog: Unaffiliated and Underrepresented

Guest Blog: Pastors’ Letter – Texas public schools are not ‘Godless environment’

Speaking passionately and personally, we pastors are for Texas children, and we are alarmed at the language and legislation coming from some of the most powerful people in our land. It attacks neighborhood and community schools and the dedicated, faithful educators who nurture and instruct our children.

The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.

The lieutenant governor’s hand-picked advisory board issued a letter calling every public school classroom “a Godless environment.”

We are offended. Several of our spouses and many of our members work in public schools, and many of our children attend them. We are certain they take God with them.

We see first-hand the dedicated servants committed to the moral, ethical and emotional well-being of children as well as their academic preparation. We know the love with which counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and other staff work with the broad range of students.

They encourage all, fretting over those with particular challenges, pouring their hearts, their hours, their energies into the precious lives of children, no matter their native ability, economic background or ethnicity. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., also an Episcopal priest, points out that objects — like chewing gum — may be kept out of schools, but not God. God is the creator of heaven and earth.

Pickpocketing public coffers while simultaneously attacking public schools — anchor of the common good — seems to us inadequate leadership.

We applaud the 12 senators who opposed the disappointing voucher legislation, and we urge our representatives in the Texas House to defeat vouchers. Here’s why:

Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.

This time the ruse is not to give religious schools money directly but simply to allow a reduction of funds in the public treasury to be diverted to private schools.

Religious liberty is at stake. The separation of church and state is intended not to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state.

With Thomas Jefferson, we believe it is sinful and tyrannical for government to compel people to pay taxes for the propagation of religious opinions with which they disagree, or even with which they agree. Authentic religion must be wholly uncoerced.

Faith should be dependent on the persuasive power of the truth it proclaims and not on the unwanted, and unneeded, assistance of the Texas Legislature.

George W. Truett, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church for the first half of the 20th century, said on the steps of the nation’s capital: “Religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree it is thus supported, it is a millstone hanged about its neck.”

As a practical matter, vouchers channel public monies to private schools with no public accountability. Private schools could use public money to discriminate on race, gender, religion and special needs.

Private schools define and meet their constituency’s needs, but public money must come with public scrutiny.

Vouchers have always been defeated in Texas because they neglect the lawful, public system and, thus, violate the Texas Constitution.

Article 7, Section 1, says: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

Texas benefits from a robust economy, yet hovers near the nation’s bottom in per-pupil spending. We feast at bounty’s table while some children subsist on crumbs.

Education is God’s gift to all persons. Education is a core component of democracy.

We pray the Texas House will defeat vouchers by whatever name.

Let us, rather, defend and protect public education in Texas, and let us affirm and support those who shape children on our behalf.


The authors are the Rev. Brent Beasley, Broadway Baptist Church; Tim Bruster, First Methodist Church; Carlye J. Hughes, Trinity Episcopal Church; Tom Plumbley, First Christian Church; Larry Thomas, University Christian Church; Karl Travis, First Presbyterian Church, all in Fort Worth.

Continue reading Guest Blog: Pastors’ Letter – Texas public schools are not ‘Godless environment’

“How Corporate America Invented Christian America:” A Reflection

I’ve been reading Kevin Kruse’s book, One Nation Under God, and I’m intrigued by his analysis of how “corporate America invented Christian America.” Oftentimes our national debate circulates around the Founders and how they understood the relationship of church and state. Even with a fairly adequate historical record available to us, Conservatives and Liberals argue ad nauseam about what the authors of our Constitution and Bill of Rights intended. Kruse also downplays the theory that the Christian revival of the 1950’s was primarily a reaction against Communism. Kruse only nods to these discussions and instead posits an economic domestic agenda: that “a Christian America” was intentionally created in the 1930’s by anti-FDR corporate magnates in league with Evangelical preachers. Continue reading “How Corporate America Invented Christian America:” A Reflection

Charlotte’s Earth Day Letter to Sen. Ted Cruz

Earth Day 2015

Dear Senator Cruz,

On this Earth Day 2015, I thought I would write my fourth letter pondering our relationship to the earth from the perspective of our shared Judeo-Christian heritage.

I’ve read the email reports you send to us, your constituents, and I’ve researched the NASA sub-committee you now chair, the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. This committee could be a significant place for you to use your voice to influence the larger conversation and motivate Americans to be more actively involved in the care of our planet. But then I watched the video of your interview with NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and heard you contest the agency’s request for an increase to NASA’s earth science budget. 27398e432a4402f66006738cee989ce8This puzzles me.

As best I can tell, Mr. Bolden and his team are quite experienced and competent at their jobs. If they recommend having the budget support their original and continuing mission to focus on earth and atmospheric science as well as space and aeronautics, then why would you consider that a problem? From its inception, NASA has helped safeguard this planet by offering scientific data that allow policy makers to create sound approaches in our relationship with the earth. Right now, with all the environmental issues facing us, we need more of that, not less. Continue reading Charlotte’s Earth Day Letter to Sen. Ted Cruz

How to Talk to “Those People”

Civil conversation is hard.

Whenever people in a multifaceted, multicultural civilization try to have a civil discussion, things can get complicated very quickly. Our past experiences, our societal conditioning, our moral assumptions can place us in very different worlds when it comes to communicating. We talk to each other—sometimes using identical vocabulary—but we discover that words don’t necessarily mean the same things for people whose very lives function with an entirely different complex of meaning than our own. This happens in every day normal dialogue, so consider how challenging it is to carry on a meaningful conversation when deeply held values are at stake.

Civility is hard. These days, some people think it hardly matters. But it does.

As a pastor, I have done my share of marriage counseling, family counseling, congregational conflict counseling. Two things are particularly important when I help people find a peaceful way through painful differences: one is honesty and the other is respect.

Honesty demands that we speak clearly about the issues that spark our own passion.

Respect demands that we listen deeply in order to understand the issues that spark the passion of another.

Honestly does not mean saying whatever we think and feel and believe in a disrespectful manner. Respect does not mean hiding the truth of what we think or feel or believe just because we may offend. In a civil conversation, we say what we think with words that invite ongoing discussion and we respect the humanity of the other person enough to hear them out no matter how much we may disagree with what they say. ( I repeat: we respect the humanity of the person even when we disagree with their words and ideas.)

I found some helpful suggestions for civil conversation recently. David Gushee, an ethicist at Mercer University writing for the Baptist News Global, reflected on a recent lecture by Professor Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law and church-state expert—and a practicing Jew. That may sound like a joke (an ethicist, a Baptist and a Jew walk into a bar…) but Gushee loves to write (as I do) about intersections between faith, culture and politics and he thought Brownstein’s speech on Civility and Tolerance When Absolutes Clash was “riveting” and “brilliant.”

(David Gushee went on to reflect on the recent clashes concerning “religious freedom” laws using Brownstein’s guidelines of civility and tolerance. I think his essay is quite helpful. Read more here.)

How does one engage in civil conversation with honesty and respect when our core values seem to be dishonored by someone else’s deeply held beliefs? It’s hard. But Brownstein offers these guidelines:

Neither side may trivialize or dismiss the concerns of the other.

Neither side should define the “other” according to one single characteristic or identity marker.

Both sides should aim to help each other understand their own experience and perspective using a type of speech that can be heard by the other.

Both sides should accept the fundamental ground rule of life in a free society: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

That statement made me stop and read it again: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

Professor Brownstein went on to highlight the fundamental role of fear in situations of public conflict that we end up facing in our culture, politics, and law:

The fear of being excluded from full participation in public discourse or public life;

The fear that the other side is trying to coerce change of my side’s core identity;

The fear that the other side will use the power of law to force my side’s conformity with beliefs and practices that we find abhorrent.

The fear of losing or betraying deeply valued relationships of love, either with the Divine or with people, or both.

I find Brownstein’s guidelines helpful on several levels. His first suggestions are practical and workable. I’ve said for years that “communication is a skill to be learned.” Talk-To-Me-Image-300x233From the time we were babies, learning to speak, learning how to discern language, learning that some behaviors communicated an invitation to relationship while other behaviors alienated—from our earliest years, we have been learning how to communicate with others.

And we’re not done yet; we will never be done with learning and improving. Brownstein reminds us that there are many down-to-earth kinds of things we can do (and refrain from doing) that can help us speak and help us listen.

The other thing I like is Professor Brownstein’s insight about the covert power of fear. This rings true for me. When I think I am in danger in some way—my reputation, my ideas, my “truth,” my deeply held beliefs—then I am tempted to respond to another with defensiveness and attack. But whenever I step back and consider that the other person is struggling with their own fears—even if from a very different perspective than mine—then I am more inclined to work from the “honesty-respect” paradigm. Whenever I consider the very real possibility that I could be wrong (or at least partly wrong and only partly right) then I am more able to give others the liberty to be different and to act wrongly in my eyes. (I’ve written about this before in my blog: Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely.)

My volunteer work with the Coffee Party USA has reminded me how uncivil our communication patterns have become in America in this 21st century. Maybe it’s the political climate. Maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace. Maybe it’s a devaluing of common courtesy across the broad spectrum of our society. Maybe it’s our culture’s dualism that tends to categorize people and ideas into boxes marked: black or white, right or wrong. Maybe we all are living with too much fear. Whatever is going on, incivility is damaging us in deep ways and it’s time to turn this around.

Some people won’t care; they are in this to “win” by using speech as a weapon that destroys its opponents (as Dr. Brownstein points out.) 6a00d8341c500653ef012877186c7e970c-800wi

But lots of us do care; we want to find ways to employ honest, respectful civil dialogue as a tool for breaking down walls and building bridges. We who share this commitment are the ones who carry the greater responsibility to model civility and to persevere in actually acting like civilized people.

We’re not so far-gone that we can’t improve our skills of speaking and listening.

We’re not so hardened that we have lost our ability to respect our shared humanity—even for an adversary.

We’re not so inept that we can’t express our honest differences of opinion with courtesy and civility.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


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.

Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Church and State

Dear Senator Cruz,

I have written numerous letters to you pondering our shared Christianity and how faith intersects politics in this nation of ours. Unknown+copy Although you and I see faith quite differently, still as a pastor, it is important for me to share my thoughts with you because you are my senator, but also because you are a candidate seeking to be President of the United States.

I have to say: the way you use your faith in the public arena disturbs me. What I see is more a profound and dangerous misuse of faith.

As a Christian, I believe fervently in America’s promise to keep faith and politics separate in our official policies. State legislatures and local municipalities struggle to balance the importance of both religious freedoms and civil rights. However, in too many actual and proposed public policies, a particular fundamentalist version of Christianity has unbalanced the discussion and demanded that this way of being religious should be inordinately privileged.

Many different people have written about appropriate applications of religious liberty within our secular society.  I am no expert on constitutional law but it is clear to me that the faith I love is being severely misrepresented and misused in this public debate. When some Christians claim victim status and demand special protection, I am disappointed and offended. 2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3eIn spite of our Constitution’s explicit call for government to avoid “the establishment of religion,” Christianity still does and always has had immense privilege in this nation. And now you want to assert that it is Christians who are being persecuted? (“Jihad” !?!? Really now, Senator Cruz.)

Too often your words are divisive and accusing. Too often you fuel the fires of fear and disrespect. This may be the standard practice of politicians but a president must strive to unite the nation’s citizens while honoring the wide range of diversity inherent among Americans.

That said, as much as I am concerned that the rights of everyone should be protected, as a pastor I am even more concerned about the rampant misuse of faith and how that damages Christian witness.

When a Christian baker or florist or pizza parlor owner claim it is their “right”—because of their faith—not to serve someone, I will claim they do not understand how authentic Christian faith is to behave.

It was Jesus who taught his disciples:

“…love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Love your enemies …” (Matthew 5:43-45)

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Christians who claim that their own rights are more important than Jesus’ call to love and serve others demonstrate a sadly inadequate faith. Christians who claim they are entitled to wield corporate power in order to avoid serving those of whom they disapprove show they have no real understanding of the Christ who loved and welcomed “sinners.” Self-serving self-righteous self-centeredness has no place in either faith or politics—no matter how pious or fervent it may sound.


When you conflate faith and politics and encourage followers of the Christ to elevate their own rights over the rights and needs of their neighbors, you pervert the faith of these who have put their trust in you.

When you conflate faith and politics and applaud the misuse of corporate power in the name of Christ, you betray both third-party citizens and Christ.

When you conflate faith and politics for your own presidential ambitions, you damage the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (a word of good news for the truly oppressed but a severe word of warning for religious hypocrites.)

 This fusion and confusion of faith and politics disturbs many of us.

Religion inappropriately wed to political power has been a bane throughout human history and so I urge you: please do a better job of maintaining a wall of separation between your Christianity and your politics. Any one version of religion with its particular doctrines and dogmas has no place determining broad public policy in a diverse nation such as ours. Make your arguments as a public servant and leave your dogma out of it.

data-1Or—if you would really be true to authentic faith within the public conversation, then let your words be grounded in these core tenets: “Love your neighbor” and “Do to Others as you would have them do to you.”

If you would be President, then show us an active concern for the rights of ALL Americans, not just some.

Respectfully yours,

Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle


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.

Guest Blog: Civility and tolerance when absolutes clash

Read the full article at


David P. Gushee is senior columnist for faith, politics and culture for Baptist News Global. He is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.

Guest Blog: Why I Think My Church Is Upset About Indiana’s RFRA


Continue reading Guest Blog: Why I Think My Church Is Upset About Indiana’s RFRA

Feminism is Not the F-Word

Some time ago, as part of my volunteer work with Coffee Party USA, I posted a meme to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page. It’s a quote that made me smile; wise words from a passionate current day feminist, Dale Spender.

Feminism has fought no wars.  It has killed no opponents.  It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties.

Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions…for safety on the streets…for child care, for social welfare…for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.

If someone says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist,”

I ask, “Why, what’s your problem?”

Feminism advocating for equity and justice for women and children and men.

Feminism working with everyone for everyone.

Feminism as a force for good in society.

A grand ideal, I thought when I posted it. But some commenters didn’t think it was grand at all.

This little meme got lots of attention. A large number of people made positive comments and shared it to their own Facebook pages. But then there were plenty who took offense and complained: “feminism is divisive;” “feminism isn’t necessary anymore because women have it so good now;” “feminists are nothing but angry, men-haters.” I was prepared for the differences of opinion; I was not prepared for the vitriol.

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am, after all, “a woman in a man’s job” and I’ve experienced some of the contempt that comes to any of us who dare step “out of our place.” And as a woman in my particular field, I find it is often other women who are my harshest critics. Even so I admit I continue to be surprised that such strong negative reactions continue to be so widespread and public here in the second decade of the 21st century. We’ve been doing this male-female thing for a long time now; shouldn’t we be doing it better by now? Continue reading Feminism is Not the F-Word

Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely

A long-time good friend and I are having an ongoing cyberspace discussion about a controversial social issue; our opinions are polar opposites. We both are Christians but he’s pretty conservative and I am not. We both are smart, articulate and thoughtful. And we both love each other. imagesI’m guessing neither one of us will change our mind, but – as he says – we are discussing our sincere differences sincerely. And we both are better for it.

I know where he’s coming from because I used to believe pretty much the same way. I’ve made similar arguments; I’ve had similar concerns. We’ve both grown and changed since we were so close, but we’ve grown and changed in different directions. Such is the human journey. Such is the way of relationships.

But for us, relationship is the key; being friends is more important to us than being right (but of course, we both think we are right!) I am grateful this friendship means as much to him as it does to me because I have other conservative friends who have broken off their relationships; they unfriended me on Facebook a long time ago. It’s like some people are so committed to a particular (peculiar) kind of integrity that agreeing to disagree somehow compromises their core ethics. They seem to believe their sworn duty is to fix me, to change me and if they can’t do that, then we can’t be friends. This belief system makes me immensely sad because it contributes to alienation and estrangement throughout the human community. Friends, families, governments… minds set in stone, conversation in talking points, assassinating character and impugning integrity, listening just enough to misunderstand…

I admit I don’t have these kinds of probing conversations with very many of my conservative friends; most of us agree to disagree and then agree not to talk about it. But this friend is precious. Authentic community between human beings is always precious, but when we make a real effort to build community, when it calls for an extra dose of patience and understanding and respect and compassion – that kind of relationship is rare and beautiful and precious.

Our current American civilization is not very civil these days. There are deep divides that separate us; strong differences of opinion that keep pushing us farther and farther apart. But I think it’s not the divides and the differences themselves that are the problem. We’ve always had our differences and when we’re smart, we recognize that our diversity is part of our strength. No, I don’t think it’s our differences that are the problem; I think it’s the fear.

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert, a well known Roman Catholic, was asked which is his favorite Bible verse: “Do not worry about your life…” he quickly replied. And “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” In order to stay mindful, Stephen believes, one cannot live in fear. It’s a little like comedy, he explains: You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.

“You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”

There are plenty of things in our lives, in our world that justifiably cause anxiety. Stephen Colbert knows that as well or better than must of us. But we’re not going to solve any of our problems if we can’t talk to each other, if we don’t participate in honest conversation and collaborate in creative dreaming. We can’t hope to find our common connections if we don’t discuss our sincere differences sincerely. bridge-buildingWe can’t build bridges of cooperation if we don’t come together across the deep divides. We can’t live if we don’t laugh and love.

I’m not sure this will ever happen on Facebook – even though I volunteer for Coffee Party USA and I have high hopes that more and more people will commit to civil public conversation around controversial issues. But I do believe we can build these bridges one relationship at a time. “Anthropology trumps ideology,” another friend likes to say. When I really get to know a person – who they are, where they come from, what they value; when I really grow to love a person – then my dogmas become less rigid and my boundaries become more porous. One friend, one family member, one co-worker who sees the world differently can be a great resource for expanding our understanding. One person’s effort to listen and learn from another (especially one who has been “the other”) can erode fear and cultivate love and laughter.

You may say I’m a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.


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.


Colbert Catechism: Stephen Colbert Professes His Faith to Fr. James Martin