Responding to the Cues

My adult son and I see the world quite differently. I’m fascinated to think about how that is true of parents and children. We bond early, grow together, learn from many of the same sources, but even in their young days, children develop an interpretation of the world around them that can differ dramatically from their parents. Never mind when they launch and begin to engage society without us; a myriad of other influences play their own roles in the shaping of each unique human being.

Our differences are fascinating but they are very normal.

Differences are not a problem. But sometimes the way we respond to our differences can create all sorts of relationship problems.

I can’t change my son; those days are long gone. He can’t change me; my opinions and belief system are my own responsibility and I’m not going to change my beliefs just to create an artificial peace in our family.

But we keep learning how to talk to each other. And how to listen to each other. And how to respond appropriately to the cues that come to us as we communicate with each other.

I read a blog recently from the Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford, and her wisdom rang deeply true for me. She – like I – continue to grow weary of the toxic conversation that swirls all around us these days. As a progressive Christian, some of the opinions I hear coming from the religious Right offend me. As a liberal American, some of the modes and methods of conservative politicians anger me. As a citizen of the world, some of the isolationist rhetoric alarms me

I can’t change what is going on in Washington, Moscow or Beijing. I know I can mail letters and make phone calls, sign petitions and vote, but I’m not in charge of the world.

However I am in charge of myself.

I can control how I respond to my family and friends and neighbors. I can even manage my mental and emotional reactions to the politicians and preachers who say and do things that make me crazy. I can react to the cues that others send – not in kind – but with my own commitment to goodness and grace.

Rachel calls it The Cue to Love.

It looks like this:

Another person’s closemindedness is my cue to be curious instead of defensive.

Another person’s shaming language is my cue to speak words of acceptance.

Another person’s hostility is my cue to be a peacemaker.

Another person’s arrogance is my cue to gain understanding.

Another person’s quick-to-judge attitude is my cue to remember we’re more alike than different.

Another person’s vitriol towards a group of people is my cue to love all in abundance.

It’s easy to see how accepting cues to love when we feel most unloving is helpful to the world as a whole, but taking these cues greatly benefit us at a personal level. One of my favorite enlightenment authors, Marianne Williamson writes, “Growth comes from focusing on our highest lessons, not someone else’s.”

I can choose to perpetuate the turmoil as it churns all around me; or I can choose to live as a calm presence in the midst of confusion.

I can allow my most precious relationships to rupture; or I can respond with grace and healing.

I can react in kind to cues of anger, fear, blame and shame; or I can take those signals as my cue to love.

I have made my choice. Now all I need to do is keep practicing, rehearsing and refining my efforts. This work will probably keep me busy for the rest of my life, so I figure I’d better get started.

 

Read Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog here:

Use this Emotional Cue to Turn Other People’s Infuriating Opinions into Your Highest Lessons

Truth Will Out

Years ago, as a brand new minister, a woman in my church told me she had been sexually assaulted. I did not believe her. I knew the man she was accusing: a kind hearted, hard working regular guy. I just couldn’t believe he would do something so horrific so I took his word over hers.

That terrible mistake still haunts me.

It took immense courage for her to come forward and tell me the things she had experienced. The truth was painful and embarrassing and humiliating.

It took an immense cowardice for him to deny it. His lying was a self-serving, self-protective survival response. But it didn’t save him from the truth.

Truth will always come out.

There is a current avalanche of accusations in recent news cycles, tales that range from inappropriate to criminal about the sexual improprieties of powerful men

What is your reaction to these accusations?

Do you find yourself automatically defending the men and dismissing (or even accusing) the women? Warning flags ought to leap into your consciousness if such a bias is part of your default response.

Do you find yourself believing the women and demonizing the men? This too is a bias. All women are not blameless and all men are not to blame.

The truth is that this issue is about more than men and women; this is about truth and lies.

The truth is that men and women are good together. We complement each other and every society needs both feminine and masculine gifts and perspectives.

The lie is that any human being has free rein to disrespect and diminish any other human being.

The fragmentation of our society does not exist only within our social relationships, it exists within each and every one of us. We all are both-and: good and bad, right and wrong, truthful and deceitful. We all are victims of our inescapable human brokenness.

I saw this clearly in the church friend who spent several years in prison paying for his crime of sexual assault. He remained a kind hearted, hard working, regular guy who did a terrible deed. He has worked hard to repair the damage and his rehabilitation is real. His turning point was when he found the courage to admit the truth and own up to it, as painful, embarrassing and humiliating as that truth was.

I saw this brokenness within myself as I bungled the pastoral care for a woman who deserved my trust and should have had my support. Admitting my own failure has humbled me and made me a better minister and a better human being.

Men who use their power to abuse women or children or any other person need to be held accountable. I won’t call them demons, but they are wrong and they must stop the lying and denying. I won’t call them evil, but they are cowardly and their deeds must be exposed to the light of day.

Abusers must own up to the ugly truth and begin to repair the damage they have done. Both to others as well as to their own souls. If they refuse, the rest of us must persist in calling them out and protecting their victims.

The current avalanche of accusations tells me more and more women are finding the immense courage required to speak up and bring truth to light.

One voice empowers another.

Many voices raised in solidarity can change the American conversation.

That’s what I’m hoping for: a public conversation about identity, integrity and sexuality where mutual respect guides us toward partnership and common purpose.

 

 

Helpful research and analysis from the Barna Group.

The Behaviors Americans Count as Sexual Harassment

 

 

When Women Were Objects

The stories keep coming. This politician and that corporate mogul face the accusations of numerous women who say they were touched inappropriately without their consent. This sports star and that news personality face public censure because of sexual harassment or violence against women.

The stories are not new. What IS new is that – finally – the stories evoke outrage in the American conscience.

Surely the women-as-objects paradigm is as old as time. Across the ages, across the globe, social systems evolved based on the premise that “might makes right” and physical strength justifies domination. Women are not the only people to find themselves on the bottom of this perverse hierarchy, but women and children are the most common targets throughout human history.

Within my own Christian religious tradition, patriarchy has been the norm. Our own Scriptures offer multitudes of examples of this cultural norm. Not because our religion created male dominance but rather because any religion can incorporate any kind of cultural expectations and baptize them with religious justifications. Even the famous Ten Commandments (of which Roy Moore is so enamored) warn against coveting a man’s wife, slave, ox or anything else that belongs to a neighbor. Women as property.

Women-as-objects is nothing new.

Slavery, racial superiority, plundering of the earth, violence – all these human ills sometimes become religious tenets that are fortified with religious fervor. Perpetuating such evil in the name of the Creator-of-all-things-good takes God’s name in vain and rightly shames all of us who wear God’s name.

There is another way to read our Christian Scriptures, a way that is much more faithful and authentic. That is: to see in the creation stories an intended cosmic equality between the sexes. And to see in the Cross an antidote and correction to all the inequities humans continue to perpetrate upon one another.

Here is the appropriate Christian response to the rampant disrespect of women that is finally coming out of the shadows and into the light. Not just the disrespect of grabbing body parts or the verbal assaults and dehumanizing boasts or the quid pro quo expectations in the work place, but also the disregard for her voice when a woman finally speaks.

The appropriate Christian response is to stand against disrespect and mistreatment wherever we see it and to stand for truth, no matter how inconvenient that may be.

Of course my title is inaccurate: “when women WERE objects” is not yet a factual statement. But the current outcry of the American conscience gives me hope that maybe our cultural expectations are finally shifting towards justice and equity. True partnership between men and women is an untapped resource for our society that can open up eternal springs of energy and creativity.

May America embrace this vision of partnership, equity and justice. And if Christianity refuses to lead the way, may we be dragged, pushed, prodded and shamed into following the lead of our non-religious sisters and brothers who sometimes grasp the meaning of gospel far better then we.

 

Thanks to the Naked Pastor and his team for the cartoon.

I couldn’t find an attribution for the quote about ‘loving people and using things.’ Several different people have been given credit.

How Long, O Lord?

People of faith have endured violence since the beginning of time. Maybe the main reason for this truth is that people in general have encountered violence for all of our existence; people of faith have never escaped that human reality.

The massacre at Sutherland Springs takes our breath away and we find ourselves grappling once again with the epidemic of gun violence that infects our nation. The mass murders of these people who were worshiping within their sacred space evoke our anger, our confusion and our deepest indignation.

Here are words of an ancient poet of Israel that come to my mind:

Your foes have roared within your holy place…

They desecrated the dwelling place of your name…

They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them.”

How long, O God?

Why do you hold back your hand?

Why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

Or – Charlotte’s version of Psalm 74:

Why do you keep your hands in your pockets?!?!

Why don’t you DO something!?

Here is a constant dilemma for people of faith. If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? If God is powerful, then why doesn’t God do something about the evil? These are questions that many thoughtful people have asked across the ages. I too have pondered this conundrum but I will not attempt any facile answers here.

I will ask this question instead:

Why don’t WE do something?

In my understanding of the biblical story, God has shared power with us humans. The Creator has given US the responsibility to serve and protect creation. The earth. The nations. One another.

So how is that going?

The wise Wendell Berry says:

There are no unsacred places.

There are only sacred places and desecrated places.

Those of us who live with religious faith forget this truth and don’t live into it very well. But those who are not religious bear equal responsibility for allowing the desecration of creation.

Most of us would have considered Sutherland Springs Baptist Church to be a sacred place even before Sunday morning, November 5, 2017.

But now it is sacred space that was desecrated.

Now it is holy ground, sanctified by blood.

As are the concert grounds of Las Vegas, the club in Orlando, the towers in New York.

As are too many city sidewalks and community parks.

As are too many schools and homes.

My faith is in the God I have come to know in Jesus Christ. I believe God is at work in in the world in mysterious ways. I believe God offers me wisdom and courage to participate in that divine work.

Others carry faith in a higher power they call by a different name. Some put their faith in ideologies, scientific theories or the hopeful possibilities of humanity. Some only trust in themselves.

We all believe in something.

So let’s come together to believe in the shared power available to us and within us; power that we can wield against the evil that permeates our world. Let’s start believing in our ability to employ our power for peace and justice for all.

Let’s come together:

to help heal the anger and hatred that fuels the violence;

to find common sense solutions to regulate the weapons of violence;

to advocate for the most vulnerable: the youngest, the oldest, the poorest and the sickest among us;

to confront greed and hubris in our leaders;

to care for the earth, our home.

We are not helpless.

There is within us and among us more than enough power to serve and protect the sacredness of our world, our communities and one another.

We have more than enough power. But will we summon up the will power that is needed for such a immense task? Will we begin?

Will WE do something?

How long, O People?

 

Photo of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church by Austin-American Statesman.

When Respect is a Cultural Construct

Countless words have been spoken, tweeted and typed about the recent national anthem protests. My two cents: respect is a real and solid attitude but the ways we demonstrate respect is fluid. The signs of respect are a cultural construct.

When I was growing up in White Southern Christianity, it was disrespectful for women and girls to wear pants to church. In some traditions, for many years, it was disrespectful for women to attend church without a head covering – a hat or a scarf or a veil. Even today, in many Black churches, it continues to be a sign of respect for women to wear hats and men to wear suits.

In my current church culture, women aren’t expected to wear head coverings but men still remove their hats. Other signs of respect include standing, bowing and kneeling. I usually stand, I rarely kneel and I never bow. Is that disrespectful?

In my Southern culture, it was disrespectful for men to wear their hats at the dinner table; however, that was not true for the women in the room. Now, men wear their ball caps and cowboy hats in diners and restaurants all over the South.

In my world, it was disrespectful to call an older person by their first name; we called our elders Ms. Daisy or Mr. Smith. I still do that out of habit and respect when I greet my Meals on Wheels friends but now I call other people who are old enough to be my parents by their given names. Am I being disrespectful?

When I attend Rotary meetings, I am happy to stand, place my hand over my heart and recite the pledge of allegiance because I still believe in the ideals behind those words (even though I have never actually seen my nation live up to its promises!) But then I remove my hand and stand silently when the rest of the room recites the pledge to the Texas flag.

Tim Tebow knelt on the football field every time he scored a touchdown. I understand that to be a sign of respect for his God even in the midst of a very secular setting. Was he scolded for using the NFL to flaunt his personal beliefs? Was he chastised by fans because he was praying on NFL time?

Colin Kaepernick knelt on the sidelines whenever the national anthem was played. I understand that to be a sign of respect for the ideals of the Constitution and a protest of the ways America continues to fall short of its ideals.

Was he scolded for using the NFL to flaunt his personal beliefs? Was he chastised by fans because he was kneeling on NFL time?

The answers to the above questions are either “yes” or “no” depending on which “side” one is on.

Maybe part of the controversy goes back to religion. Secular folks criticized Tebow’s public religion and his seeming disrespect of America’s secular spaces. Religious folks criticized Kaepernick’s public protest and his seeming disrespect for America’s civil religion. (See Charlotte’s blog: Yes, Civil Religion is a Real Thing.)

Ironically, both situations can be seen as positive examples of the First Amendment in action.

The freedom to express one’s faith.

The freedom to protest.

Too many different “sides” in this controversy have disrespected the various embodiments of our Constitutional guarantees demonstrated in Tebow and Kaepernick. The signs and symbols have become more important than the actual, core values of America. That is why this has become such a divisive maelstrom.

Signs of respect are cultural constructs.

And over the years, those signs, those symbols of respect evolve as cultural traditions and expectations change.

But a person’s core attitude of respect and true patriotism can only be discerned by behaviors deeper than superficial signs. Not by kneeling or standing, not by words we mouth or decorations we wear on our lapels. But rather by the ways we actually participate in our national life together. The ways we understand our role as Americans and live that out as citizens within a shared and equitable society.

Let’s go deeper. Let’s be wiser, America.

Let’s stop hyperventilating over superficialities and find the ways we can work together to truly help America be great and kind and good and committed to her promises.

And let’s stop judging one another. Instead of accusing and demonizing, let us strive to presume good intentions of our fellow citizens and find our way to common ground. Let’s build something great together with mutual respect and courageous conviction.

 

Here are two excellent pieces I recommend.

David Frost’s blog on “Two Christianities.”

Dale Hansen’s challenge concerning the hypocrisies of the current anthem kerfuffle.

 

Image credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She serves as national president 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.

Is it Really the End of White Christian America?

I am a White Christian American born and raised. So it’s been an interesting experience to read Robert Jones’ book: The End of White Christian America.

Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), begins with an obituary:

White Christian America is survived by two principal branches of descendants: a mainline Protestant family residing primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest and an evangelical Protestant family living mostly in the South. Plans for a public memorial service have not been announced. 

He then tracks the history of White Christianity in America, from the founding of the nation all the way through the recent election in which 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

(Black Christian America and Catholic America both have a different story. The work Jones tackles is challenging enough as he unpacks the complicated family tree of us Protestant White folks. But the analysis he offers about White Protestant Christians is important, critical even, in order to understand our current political climate.)

White Christian America was a given at this nation’s founding. Of course there were a handful of Deists among the Founders but almost everyone was some sort of Christian. Some were pious, others were nominal; some were active practitioners while others wore the name simply because of the comfort of its cultural pervasiveness. The culture of the day was White and Protestant. The leaders of the day were Free Male Land Owners.

So the question: “Is America a Christian nation?” never has been an appropriate framing of the situation. Yes – many of the Founders were some sort of Christian and often their thinking and writing reflected that orientation. Yes – America has been majority Christian for its entire lifetime. But No – the First Amendment makes it clear that, even if there is a religious majority within the nation, the federal government is to be neutral, not establishing (nor disestablishing) any particular religion. And Yes – ongoing amendments and common law have unpacked the First Amendment so the Constitution has been evolving across America’s entire lifetime.

Robert Jones outlines the historic divisions between the two major representatives of White Christian America: Protestant Mainline Christianity and Evangelical Christianity. He does this through the lens of three critical issues: politics, race and family. I will skim through his analysis of White Evangelical Christianity.

Politics in White Christian America

The marriage of White Evangelicals to the Republican Party is a fairly recent development. Jones identifies how a “White Christian Strategy” arose out of the “Southern Strategy” of the 1960’s when White Southern Democrats flocked to the GOP in droves because of their disdain for the Civil Rights Movement. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority tapped in to this “Great White Shift” and the Christian Right became a political force. In 1976, Falwell’s “I Love America” rallies were filled to overflowing with people who wanted political solutions to their targeted issues of abortion, feminism and homosexuality. Heirs of this religious-political movement continued to gain steam during the 1990’s, but during the 2000’s, there were numerous scandals, stumbles, divisions and declines within White Christian America. This led to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.

Just a few months into the Obama presidency, however, the Tea Party emerged. There have been numerous explanations for this movement but Robert Jones cites PRRI data that clearly links the Tea Party to the Religious Right. It wasn’t just about taxes and small government like they claimed; rather objections to abortion and gay marriage dominated the Tea Party movement, demonstrating to Jones that the Tea Party was “another revival of White Christian America.”

Robert Jones added a chapter to this book after the 2016 election, analyzing the fact that 81% of White Evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Jones remains convinced that the End of White Christian America really has arrived, and he sees the current situation not as a revival but rather as the last gasps of a growing minority. White Christian America has been in power for 239 years and we should not expect it to go quietly into the night.

White Christian America and the Family

Jones shows how successful the Christian Right was in its early efforts to outlaw gay marriage based on its commitment to “traditional family values.” Numerous states passed laws and even Constitutional amendments that outlawed marriage equality in the years leading up to the 2015 tumultuous Supreme Court decision. Since that ruling, a variety of religious freedom issues continue to arise that demonstrate the ongoing resistance from the Religious Right.

Racism in White Christian America

In my opinion, the most powerful chapter in Jones’ book is chapter 5. Race: Desegregating White Christian America. In recent years, when young Black men and women were being killed in epidemic numbers by police officers across the nation, President Obama said: “This has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

But for White America, it did feel new. PRRI asked Black and White Americans about their perception of police violence.

“Is this part of a larger pattern or are these isolated incidents?”

The perception gap was huge.

Three quarters of Black Americans see a broad pattern while less than half of White Americans do. (The numbers barely changed over the two decades since Rodney King.) But among WCA, the gap was even larger. 74% of Black Americans see a problem but only 26% of White Evangelical Christians do. We look at the same world and we see things entirely differently.

The Ongoing Grief Process

Robert Jones concludes his work with an interesting discussion of the grief process. He says the loss of power, privilege and predominance for White Christian America is evoking the classic stages of grief: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. And then finally Acceptance.

Jones specifically mentions David Gushee, an Evangelical ethicist, who is nudging conservative Christians to accept the end of White Christian America. But it is an acceptance tinged with hope.

Gushee makes the following appeal to his fellow evangelicals: “We have to grow up—past conspiracy theories, demagoguery, single-issue voting, partisan seductions, mudslinging, and God-and-country conflations and confusions.”

Naming reasons for decline, addressing the causes and finding new pathways forward is the only way through the current dilemma for White Christian America. Gushee is one my recent favorite writers as he seeks to carve out a center space for conversation and collaboration with Non-White, Non-Protestant, Non-Christian America.

Is This Really the End?

I am a White Christian American born and raised. My own path has led me out of fundamentalism, through conservatism and now into liberalism. (Whatever all those fuzzy terms mean!) My own theological studies and my pastoral work with congregations of Christians across the conservative to liberal spectrum has convinced me that White Christian America needs to die.

Too much of what we see represented as Christianity in this nation is an empty shell, a hollow structure.

As a Christian minister, I believe the Church needs to find its way back to the authentic witness of the Christ whose name we wear. If we don’t live as Christ-people, then we ought to die. As an American, I believe our nation will benefit from a rebirth of Christianity and the transformation of American Christians: White, Black, Brown, Conservative, Mainline, Gay, Straight, Rich, Poor, Republican, Democrat, Independent.

When we Christians begin to “treat others as we want to be treated,” then America will be kinder. When we Christians begin to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” then America will be stronger. When we Christians begin to “empty ourselves” in humble service to others, then America will be greater.

So (as T.S. Elliot said) the end can be the beginning.

 

 

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America. Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

 

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.

 

Bilingual: Speaking both Liberal and Conservative

I was raised by conservative parents, shaped by fundamentalist churches and immersed in the worldview of the Right for the first 40 years of my life. My journey away from all that took a long time. Finding my way out of the bubble and exposing myself to people who saw the world very differently than I was a challenging and sometimes scary process. But I’m grateful. Both to be where I am today: living with much larger, more nuanced understandings AND to have gone through the process of questioning, growing, learning and changing.

I think of myself as bilingual. I can speak both Liberal and Conservative.

I’m one of countless humans who have made such journeys but it saddens me that many of my fellow Liberals seem to have forgotten their mother tongue. We are people who understand where Conservatives are coming from, not only because we have been there but also because many of our friends and family still live there. Our bilingual skills are desperately needed in these days of rancor and blame. We need to use our ability to understand their world and speak their language so that we can help build more bridges of communication.

Some years ago, I attended an ecumenical and interfaith retreat for seminary students from across Texas. Twice during each day of the retreat, we joined together in smaller groups for more personal conversation. We were assigned to one group that was designed to be intentionally diverse. The other group allowed us to self-select in order to be with people who came from similar backgrounds and shared our familiar ways of thinking and speaking.

Since I was still in my process, I existed in two worlds: Conservative Evangelical Christian and Liberal Mainline Christian. I self-selected for the Evangelical group and found myself serving as an interpreter and a buffer. These people were not arrogant or mean; rather they were thoughtful and good-hearted, and they were intentionally stretching themselves and pushing out of their bubble just by attending this ecumenical event. When they didn’t understand something our mainline friends or Catholic friends were saying, it wasn’t because they were stupid. It was because the concepts and the vocabulary were simply out of the realm of their experience.

I did the best I could to translate and interpret for my Conservative friends but maybe my most important work was to testify to the integrity and intent of my Liberal friends.

When I returned to my new world with my Liberal colleagues, I was surprised that I had to play the role of translator again. These folks were equally confounded by a worldview that was alien to them. These folks were also good-hearted and thoughtful. So I was especially disappointed that my open-minded, generous and tolerant liberal friends could be so intolerant and insulting. Once again, I was called to be witness: this time testifying to the integrity and intent of my Conservative friends.

Most of the people I know who have made a journey have moved from Conservative toward Liberal. But there are also plenty of people who have moved across the spectrum from Liberal toward Conservative. This orientation doesn’t have anything to do with our character or integrity; it has to do with the lens through which we see the world – and even how our brains are wired.

Our society is in desperate need of translators and interpreters. We need more bilingual people to be active in the public conversation, finding fresh ways to speak so others can hear. We need more optimistic people who believe in the basic goodness of humanity helping us break down barriers and build bridges.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who won’t want to join this bilingual effort. There are too many people who don’t want to listen or understand.

Those are not my conversation partners.

Instead, I’m on the search for conversation partners who want to keep questioning, growing, learning and changing. I’m convinced there are many.

I’m also on the search for other bilingual partners who are willing to use their skills of understanding the world of another and are willing to speak their language. This is how we can change the world: one conversation at a time, one friendship at a time, one bridge at a time.

Who’s in?

 

“Welcome” poster available for purchase at zazzle.com

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.

 

 

Charlotte and Janie Talk about Diversity, Unity and Assimilation

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They still maintain a good friendship even though Janie grew to the “Right” while Charlotte grew to the “Left” and now have some very different perspectives on politics, culture and theology. Charlotte and Janie have begun talking about their differences in a shared blog. You can find their earlier conversations here.

Janie: In our last conversation, we left off with a question from you: “Why does diversity cause such fear and anger in people? And how is unity possible when there is a fundamental rejection of our inherent diversity?” We also agreed to look further into a widely-discussed Atlantic article by Peter Beinart: “How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration.”

To address your first question: Diversity causes fear and anger in some people regardless. I do believe that the majority of Americans, both conservative and liberal, have no problem with diverse groups who come to America wishing to be Americans. It’s true that most of us are more comfortable hanging out with people who are like us, with common interests and goals, but that’s only human. By and large Americans take a live-and-let-live approach to other cultures as long as we perceive no threat. Most of us, I think, even get a little misty-eyed when a naturalization ceremony is televised, when new citizens of every shade and background express their joy at becoming part of this nation.

As for the second question, I’m not sure about your premises. I read your blog about Unity in Diversity and found some of it puzzling. You say, “Our unity has always, will always arrive out of our shared values and our common dreams: liberty and justice for all . . . a union the Founders conceived in the midst of the creative diversity of their day and . . . still being perfected here in the ethnic, religious, and intellectual diversity of our own day.” The stated shared values of the founders were “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but I would say liberty was the chief value that pulled all thirteen colonies together. That was in opposition of many of their own citizens who didn’t see the need to separate from the mother country. The “creative diversity” you mention wasn’t nearly what it is today—almost all the colonists were white, Christian (by identity if not practice), and of European descent. Their very real regional diversity was not a source of strength—it was a serious weakness that tore the nation apart in a mere fourscore and four years.

Over the last thirty years or so I’ve been hearing that American strength lies in its diversity. But that makes no sense on the face of it; strength lies in unity. Diversity is great for expanding our little worlds, learning generosity and humility, and trying lots of delicious new recipes! But diversity in itself is not strength. We are stronger when can come together in spite of our diversity, not because of it, and that means discovering our shared values and being willing to defend them.

That’s what makes some of us nervous. As Beinart says near the end of his article, “Americans know that liberals celebrate diversity. They’re less sure that liberals celebrate unity.” What are those shared values, exactly? What do we have to fear from immigrants and even native-born citizens who regard most of American history as a chronicle of injustice? How should we feel about undocumented immigrants waving Mexican flags at protest rallies? What about groups like LaRaza and the New Black Panthers, who don’t appear to have any interest in unity?

You asked about assimilation. To me, that does not mean giving up your culture, your special holidays and observances, or even your language. It does mean accepting the Constitution as the law of this land, obeying the laws, learning English (or at least encouraging your children to learn it), and pledging allegiance to the flag. What about you?

Charlotte: I said at the outset of these conversations that I believe you and I can find much to agree on and I think we are finding some of that agreement here. For example, I can certainly agree with your description of assimilation above and I appreciate that you don’t think assimilation demands giving up one’s culture. Of course all people who live here should accept and obey the laws. But I have to wonder if your statement implies that immigrants and newcomers disrespect and disobey laws more than natives do. You said before:

What some fear…is allowing in more immigrants, “legal” and not so much, who do not subscribe to American ideas and want to change it to something else. Or they’re coming for welfare benefits or criminal activity or outright subversion. These are the minority, I know, but there are significant numbers to cause concern.

Where is this coming from, this conviction that there are “significant numbers” of immigrants who do not subscribe to American ideas and want to change it to something else? I know it’s out there; I see it too. But I don’t believe it’s nearly as real as many Conservatives think it is.

Stereotyping is rampant and over the top these days: “Hispanics are all illegal and here to steal your jobs and rape your daughters. Muslims are all terrorists and secretly plotting to subvert the Constitution into sharia law.” A LOT of people actually believe this stuff! How do we combat such harmful prejudices?

You say you don’t understand the premise of this question of mine: “How is unity possible when there is a fundamental rejection of our inherent diversity?” Then you quote from my blog and say some things there “puzzle” you. I am puzzled why you are puzzled; it seems pretty straightforward to me. I have been a huge advocate for unity for years and I thought my blog portrayed that passion.

Old and Young. Rich and Poor. Gay and Straight. Religious and Humanist. Black and White and Brown. E pluribus unum. From many, one.

When we move out of our uniform, homogeneous tribes and recognize the shared humanity inherent within our wide-ranging diversity, that’s when we will discover a glimpse of a true unity that is far better than any sort of uniformity.

So I am agreeing with you that affirming our shared humanity and our common goals is an important source of our unity.

But then again, I have had experience talking to people who seem to believe even naming our differences is divisive. I’ve heard people say they are “color-blind” and they only see how we are alike. But that’s just not possible. We ARE different. Our diversity is a fact. And honoring each person’s uniqueness honors their humanity.

I do believe that both our variety AND our commonality provide strength for America. Tapping into people’s different perspectives, abilities, experiences, insights and then crafting all that varied wisdom into approaches that help us attain our common goals is what this nation has done again and again. Our variety gives us a broader base of resources. If my husband and I are unified in our desire to buy something we want but really can’t afford, then that unity is no strength. On the other hand, if one of us says: “Wait. Let’s look at if from another perspective,” then it’s our differences that make us stronger.

Our disagreement here is slight. (I would not say our strength is “in spite of our diversity.” That’s too negative a phrase.) But we both make the point that our strength lies in coming together from our diversity into unity. (But not uniformity, as I say in my blog.)

Here is a moving essay from Parker Palmer, wise Quaker. He too celebrates the strength of our American diversity and understands its valuable contributions to our efforts for unity.

I’m arguing from my perspective on the Left and I asked an honest question about “Why does diversity cause such fear and anger in some people” from the Right. And I have to say that all my reading and pondering and conversing brings me to this conclusion: White Christian America is being displaced and diluted and I believe much of the anxiety we see has to do with that loss of power and privilege. When we look closely, it’s pretty obvious that the immigration debate is primarily about Brown people.

Back to the Peter Beinart article in The Atlantic. He says this:

Studies by the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam…suggest that greater diversity doesn’t reduce trust and cooperation just among people of different races or ethnicities—it also reduces trust and cooperation among people of the same race and ethnicity.

Trump appears to sense this. His implicit message during the campaign was that if the government kept out Mexicans and Muslims, white, Christian Americans would not only grow richer and safer, they would also regain the sense of community that they identified with a bygone age…

This echoes my own diagnosis. And it repeats my question: why does greater diversity reduce trust and cooperation? Are we doomed to such a small practice of our shared humanity? Or can Conservatives and Liberals find our common ground and widen it into a great space?

Janie: Okay, I’ve been thinking about this. I do believe conservatives and liberals need to find common ground in order to make policy, but I’m afraid “shared humanity” is so broad as to be unworkable. Let me offer two examples.

In 1867 Karl Marx published Das Kapital. By the end of the decade hundreds of Eastern European immigrants to America were committed socialists. The years between 1878 and 1898 saw bloodiest labor wars the USA has ever experienced. There were lots of reasons for this, not just immigrants with bad ideas. But in most of those riots and shootouts, eastern Europeans were prominent players. There were some positive effects in focusing attention on severe labor abuses and gradually bringing change; I suppose you could say diversity helped bring about eventual unity. But it was at a great cost over an issue that could have been handled other ways, and made socialism seem like a viable alternative for the US, at least for some. I don’t want to debate the virtues of socialism just now (!), only to say that, in my opinion at least, socialism as a system is not compatible with the nation that was founded in 1776.

Another system incompatible with the US, and with the western tradition generally, is Sharia Law. I have no idea how widespread the notion of imposing Sharia Law in this country might be. In some areas of high Muslim concentration, such as Dearborn and Detroit, judges are trying to figure out how to balance practices connected with Sharia (such as female genital mutilation) against American civil law. But the huge influx of Muslim immigrants is becoming a significant problem in Europe. A couple of weeks ago I came across this article, which has also been referred to me by others. The title is alarming: “I’ve Worked with Refugees for Decades. Europe’s Afghan Crime Wave is Staggering.” The point is not that Muslims should not be admitted to safe havens in Europe, but that certain Muslims who subscribe to a radical form of Islam (which includes imposing Sharia Law) are wreaking havoc by their utter contempt for Western standards.

Could that happen here? The US is very different from Europe, culturally and geographically, so I don’t know. But I think that is what some are afraid of, and an example of what I meant by certain immigrants wanting to make this country into something else. What are we willing to allow? What are we prepared to defend? What principles of this nation must be protected at all cost, and (this is crucial) what policies will help protect them? “Liberty and justice for all” is not a policy; it’s an ideal. As we encountered before in our debates about health care: Nobody is arguing about the ideal, but how do we institute these noble goals without bankrupting ourselves or committing suicide? More to the case, what policies do we need to continue as a welcoming nation committed to liberty, free speech, and opportunity?

Charlotte: A lot of my liberal friends and I wonder if the agenda of far right white Christians is our own homegrown version of a kind of “sharia law.” I have to say some of the proposed policies of my Texas legislators are “alarming” and “wreaking havoc” in our communities. Here’s an article for you to consider with a fair number of comments that voice some of our anxieties. (Article from the Texas Observer exploring Dominion Theology: “The Fringe Theology That Could End Religious Freedom.”)

How ’bout I read your article and do some homework so I can respond to your concerns and you read mine and tell me how you would help allay my fears? Sounds like another challenging topic for our next conversation. I’ll start.

 

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.

American Civil Religion. Yes, It’s a Real Thing

It wasn’t until I was in seminary twenty years ago that I learned about our American civil religion. Like a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water, I had never seen all the ways our American patriotism has morphed into religious-like beliefs and behaviors. Now that I see it, I see it everywhere.

The concept of “civil religion” describes how a society marks as “sacred” some of its beliefs, symbols and rituals. It explains why we place our hands over our hearts, remove our hats and stand in reverence in the presence of our red white and blue sacred symbol and our holy hymns.

Civil religion explains why it is so important to us to determine who belongs; who is in and who is out. Continue reading American Civil Religion. Yes, It’s a Real Thing

The Rule of Law: A Challenge for my Conservative Friends

I read an article around Mothers Day about an effort in Philadelphia to raise bail for moms who had been incarcerated for quite a long time just because they were too poor to raise $500 for their bail money. Here they had been sitting in jail for several months, separated from their children, unable to work to support their families, awaiting their trial. These were people who had been accused of crimes, but not tried, convicted or sentenced. Because of this bail out effort, they were released to go be with their children for Mothers Day and await trial while taking care of their families.

As I read through the comments that some people made about the article and the Mothers Day effort, I found myself both sad and angry at the arrogance of these rule of law advocates who thought this crowd funding project was immoral or illegal. Why on God’s good earth would anyone object to that?! Continue reading The Rule of Law: A Challenge for my Conservative Friends