They Rise (guest post from Rev. Don Underwood)

“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.” (Cormac McCarthy, The Road)

Is it possible that something holy and profound might grow out of this moment?

The most extraordinary thing about the Christian faith is not that we believe in a transcendent God, or that life does not just end at the grave, or that failure and sin can be overcome by something we call grace (or love). It is the fact that all these beliefs are rooted in the dark moment of the Cross, in the deadly betrayal of a follower, in the cowardly lack of leadership by a politician, in the pitiful cheers of ordinary human beings who, for reasons inexplicable, cried “Crucify him!” Had we been there, we would surely have experienced the chaos and the hate and the cruelty as some kind of prelude to the end of times, or at least to some kind of dystopia that would not be worth enduring. Instead, we look back at that moment when all of humanity hung on the cross, and we proclaim it as a beginning rather than an ending. That is why we willingly descend into the season of Lent; ironically, it is our great affirmation that hope rises from the ashes.

I’ve been hearing the voices of children this week. I use that word carefully, because they are not children if judged by maturity or ability or even wisdom. The voices of some are stronger and more insightful than any of their parents, any of us. But they are children in the best sense of the word, undeterred by political and social realities, their sensibilities and love-for-life not yet tainted by the cynicism that has become pervasive in the world around them.

They rise. They speak. And they do so with the expectation that they will be heard.

Depending on where you stand, you may or may not like some of their policy ideas, but that really isn’t the point, is it? What is the point, you say? The point is that they stood at the Cross on that day, in the midst of the thunder and the bedlam and the death; they were witnesses to the cries and the agonies and the endings; they were schoolmates to the one who betrayed them.

And now they rise. And they say we can do better.

We can create a better world, and we will, for the simple reason that we breathe the same air and we need one another. Out of the grief and ashes, they remind us of grace and beauty and hope.

Reverend Don Underwood, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Plano TX




Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Florida; Photo credit CNN

Political Pastors

Martin Luther King Jr. changed America. His stirring sermons stirred the pot for revival that spilled out of churches and eventually swayed a nation. Voting rights. Workers rights. Civil rights. Equal rights. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was both a Baptist minister and a political game changer.

Clementa Pinckney stood tall for liberty and justice for all before his brutal murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina. State Senator/Reverend Pinckney was both a passionate pastor and a passionate politician.

William Barber continues the legacy of King. His leadership within the NAACP, his Moral Mondays efforts and now the renewed Poor Peoples Campaign are inspiring thousands upon thousands of people to become committed to a moral revolution in America. Reverend Barber is both a zealous pastor and a  political activist.

In an era when we frequently discuss and debate what it means for America to function within the parameters of the First Amendment, 2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3emany religious people continue to strike a healthy balance as they live out their faith in the public arena. In a time when our divided society argues about the separation of Church and State, many religious Americans – motivated by their faith – continue to make significant contributions to the shape and meaning of our national politics.

But some pastors are out of balance. They steal the spotlight with their unhealthy vision of religion and politics. Their perverted faith is shaping a perverse national politics.

Robert Jeffress leads the First Baptist mega Church in downtown Dallas and serves on the president’s religious advisory committee. He’s always one of the first voices to defend Mr. Trump’s outrageous words and actions because he believes this president is especially god-ordained. The way I see it, Jeffress’ acrobatic theology twists Scripture in heretical ways.

James Dobson used to be one of my favorites but he should have stuck to family counseling. The way he interprets the Bible and applies it to the political landscape is often thoughtless and careless. He convinced himself that Donald Trump is a born-again Christian and now that description allows him to justify supporting policies and practices that damage the most vulnerable in our society.

Jerry Falwell, president of the fundamentalist Liberty University, says that Evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Donald Trump. He is proud of the fact that over 80% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump because (evidently) he thinks God prefers that the world be “white” and “evangelical.

Six examples of religious people who understand well their First Amendment rights. They know America guarantees their ability to engage in the public conversation and participate in the political process.

But I would say, only three of these six understand the gospel.

MLK and Pinckney and Barber – in the bold tradition of the biblical prophets – have spoken on behalf of the lost, the lonely and the left out. They have proclaimed the good news that ALL people have value and deserve respect. They have lived the biblical conviction that the poor and the oppressed are the beloved of God.

There is nothing wrong with being a “political pastor.” But there is something very wrong with political approaches that manipulate public policy in favor of a select group of Christians. Public policy should be just that: for the public.

“Forming a more perfect union … Establishing justice … Promoting the general welfare.”

There is nothing wrong with being a political pastor. I am one.

But there is something very very wrong with religious approaches that marry secular politics and breed heresies.

What Jeffress, Dobson and Falwell are proclaiming is anti-gospel. It is small, smug and exclusive. It is judgmental, unjust and unkind. It is not at all “good news.”

On this Martin Luther King Day, I am grateful for all the political pastors who – motivated by faith – continue Dr. King’s work and cultivate the dream. I’m thankful for the political pastors who continue the work of Jesus: turning the tables of greed and corruption and standing firm for liberty and justice for all.

This is healthy politics. This is good news.

Thank you Oprah. I Feel Like I’ve Been to Church

The speech Oprah Winfrey gave at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards could be a tutorial for preachers stepping into a pulpit.

She began by sharing her personal story of epiphany.

Oprah was “a little girl watching from the cheap seats, as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses. ” But in a moment of bright hope, she watched a beautiful Black man applauded and celebrated by the world. She had no idea this could be any sort of reality until that moment of enlightenment.

It changed her forever. That experience opened up within her a space for dreaming and becoming that did not exist until that moment. She saw a light which darkness would never be able to overcome.

She named the evil…

Continue reading Thank you Oprah. I Feel Like I’ve Been to Church

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. Continue reading Responding to the Cues

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. Continue reading Truth Will Out

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. Continue reading When Women Were Objects

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 TX 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.

Continue reading How Long, O Lord?

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

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.