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’

Guest Blog: Civility and tolerance when absolutes clash

Read the full article at http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29982-civility-and-tolerance-when-absolutes-clash

 

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.

Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

“If I change my mind, then I’d have to admit I’ve been wrong.”

He was a good man: humble and kind. He had lived for more than 80 years and had a gentle wisdom about him. So when my friend made this statement, my jaw dropped. How on earth can anyone think that way? I marveled.

But then I remembered – that used to be me.

I used to believe that “Right” and “Wrong” were Black and White; that if I was right, and you disagreed with me, then you must be wrong.

Now I believe all of us are probably mostly a little bit right and a whole lot wrong – about a whole lot of things.

I used to believe truth was a small fragile thing that needed to be defended.

Now I believe Truth is a rainbow with infinite colors and facets that takes a lifetime to explore. Truth doesn’t need to be defended; it needs to be discovered. Continue reading Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

This is Outrageous: Loving our Muslim Neighbors

This past January, a community of Muslim Americans gathered to explore how they could foster more positive depictions of the faith they love. It was timely work for these practitioners of Islam given the terrorist actions just a week before – an extremist acting in the name of their religion at Charlie Hebdo.  

Muslim+Conference_41766895_927960 2 But their efforts for peace were interrupted by other extremists acting in the name of their religion: some “Christians” gathered to protest the presence of their neighbors, claiming Muslims had no right to gather at the local community center; claiming Islam is inherently violent. (These claims, by the way, were accompanied by Internet threats of guns and bombs.)

This happened next door to me. I lived in Garland Texas; I served a Christian church there; I sometimes worshiped at the mosque just down the street in the neighboring suburb. This is my community. This is my home. These are my neighbors. This is outrageous. Continue reading This is Outrageous: Loving our Muslim Neighbors

Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Love of Neighbor

Dear Senator Cruz, Since you are my Texas Senator, I often receive letters from you reporting on your work in the U.S. Senate; here is a letter to you in response. This is not so much a point-by-point political argument about specific ways you and I would approach our nation’s problems and solutions (you and I seem to have very different opinions on many of these matters). Rather, since you are a self-proclaimed Christian and I am a Christian minister, this will be more a reflection on the priorities of Jesus Christ and how his values might help you and your fellow senators better care for “the least of these” in America. (You probably recognize Jesus’ words in the parable from Matthew 25). Of course there are countless differences between Jesus’ time and ours, but there are also some timeless attitudes he demonstrated and some abiding charges he delivered that should challenge any of us who dare to wear his name: Christ-ian. data Since you are a man who speaks openly about your Christian faith, may I remind you of the fundamentals of this faith. Since you are a public servant, might I make some suggestions about how you could serve this nation more effectively… 1) Love you Neighbor as yourself Jesus was pretty clear about priorities – his and ours: we are called to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and we are expected to love our neighbors as ourselves. He was also clear about who is a neighbor and how we are to be neighbor. In a nation such as America, our citizens are free to understand and worship God as they see fit. I am grateful for the bold vision of our Constitution and the way our First Amendment protects people from state and federal incursions into our religious practices. I am a minister who believes very strongly in the separation of church and state because I see how marrying religion and politics has deeply compromised both our government and the church of Jesus Christ. That said, Jesus’ call to be the neighbor and to love our neighbors might inform and improve how Americans could live together in our society for the common good. A Christian discipline for the love of neighbor demands an unselfish generosity and a willingness to sacrifice our own preferences and convenience for the good of the other. But I am deeply concerned about our neighbors here in Texas and across America; I am concerned that their own government is working against them instead of for them. Those who finally have access to affordable health care may lose it if you have your way; the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act sounds selfish. Your pledge to work against immigration reform instead of working with President Obama to find solutions sounds foolish. Your effort to undermine our public school systems sounds short sighted. Such actions would undo the progress we have made as a community of neighbors, a community that looks out for one another: for “the widows and the orphans,” for the “little ones,” for the “strangers” among us, for those who are trampled under the feet of the rich and powerful. Your programs and policies that increase the benefits of the privileged and compromise the possibilities of the underprivileged are not the way of the Christ. 2) More is Less and First is Last When you read your Bible, I hope you especially notice Jesus’ words that proclaim “the least among you is the greatest;” that the “last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Throughout the story of Scripture, God has always honored humility. One of my favorite biblical characters is Jesus’ own mother. Mary’s Magnificat celebrates God’s mysterious, upside-down-way in the world that honors the poor and lifts up the oppressed. When followers of the Christ acknowledge that same reality in our own day, then…

we too must do whatever we can to speak for those who have no voice, to stand for those who have no standing, to align ourselves with those who are maligned by the rich and the powerful.

I am deeply concerned about the gridlock in Congress that keeps you from cooperating together to work for the common good of ALL the people of America. These days – even more than most – you elected officials of Congress appear to be representing your own interests instead of the interests of those you are elected to represent. There is too much self-promotion and preening, too much self-righteousness and condemnation. ted-cruz-me-me-me-shutdown-10-17-13-webThere is too much hubris and not enough humility. Your inflammatory language is inexcusable. Your refusal to compromise with your colleagues is harmful. Your unwillingness to consider all sides of any issue is small minded. Your alignment with the rich and powerful is completely upside down from the way of the Christ. Sometimes I wonder who you think your “neighbors” are. If you continue to call yourself a Christian, then it would make sense to use the same definition your Christ used. If this has slipped your mind, then please read again the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10. Respectfully, Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Dear Nice Person Who Asked About My Recent Letter to Senator Cruz

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Nice Person,

Thank you for writing and thank you for your questions about my pastoral reflections for Senator Ted Cruz.

I’m impressed with your questions. More than that, though, I am pleased to see your willingness to engage in honest conversation with someone who holds different opinions. That kind of curiosity and openness is lacking in our current public dialog and I applaud your effort.

You are a student in a conservative Christian school and I am a progressive Christian pastor. You say you were “intrigued” by my letter and I can only assume that is because you have had very few opportunities to hear an articulation of Christian faith from a perspective that is different from your own. I get that; I was raised fundamentalist and it was years before I was able to see how very, very large this Christian tent actually is. I love that about our faith, but I know a lot of people are threatened by such diversity. I hope our conversation will help you see diversity is not harmful but instead is immensely helpful and healthy. Continue reading Dear Nice Person Who Asked About My Recent Letter to Senator Cruz

Holding on to Hope in Such a World

A friend of mine visited Auschwitz a few years ago; they showed us their pictures and shared some of the stories from that evil time. The realities of the Holocaust are chilling, horrific, gut wrenching.

How did people hold on to hope in such a world?

Some of history’s calamities have been conceived and spawned by humanity’s twisted malevolence: massacres and pogroms and persecutions. Sometimes it is the devastations of nature that roar and rage or slowly strangle the life out of entire regions of the earth. Whether natural or man-made, the people who endure such tragedy are changed forever.

How do people hold on to hope in such a world? Continue reading Holding on to Hope in Such a World