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?



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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

Charlotte and Janie Talk about Rule of Law and Immigration

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.


I mentioned recently that I often hear Conservatives talk about “rule of law” and I asked you to help me understand what that means to you. I appreciate what you said in our last conversation about “rule of law” and “rule of men.” I can see we have a lot to talk about here (especially your reference to “making law from the bench…” I’m chomping at the bit to get to that one!)

But here is your statement as it concerns our topic of rule and law and immigration: “Sidestepping or ignoring the law altogether, as when immigration laws are not enforced, leads to confusion, suspicion, and cynicism…” I get this. But what about discretion when it comes to applying the law? That is and always has been common practice. How does one negotiate the grey areas? Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk about Rule of Law and Immigration

All You Need is Love

June 25, 1967. It was fifty years ago that the Beatles recorded this iconic song. I was 16 at the time and I can still sing all the words and croon my way through all the musical transitions.

1967 was the ‘Summer of Love.’ The chaos of 1968 was building but it had not erupted yet; we still held on to some innocence and hope.

All you need is love. Love is all you need.

In 2017, it’s tempting to add love to our list of fantasy thinking from our childhood, right up there with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Love seems a flimsy response to the shock and political chaos we are enduring. It sure doesn’t seem like love is all we need to deal with the terror, violence and never-ending war of this 21st century.

But I’m going to argue that the Beatles were on to something.

Often when I officiate a wedding, I read the famous biblical passage about love from 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient. Love is kind.

Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude.

Love it is not irritable or resentful and does not seek its own way.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

These words don’t describe how love feels. These words tell us how love acts.

Warm fuzzy feelings are fine and good. Hot pulsing emotions are part of what makes us human. And of course, all that is part of the love-spectrum.

But when it comes down to the core, the center, the foundation – love is a verb, not an emotion. And it’s a really strong verb: persistent, resistant, insistent action on behalf of another.

A few months ago, in an On Being interview, Congressman John Lewis talked about how the Civil Rights Movement was a movement of love.

In that interview, Rep. Lewis said these amazing words:

The [Civil Rights] movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ‘em.”

Just love the hell out of them.

We need more people to love like this in 2017. We’re not going to turn this climate of vitriol and violence around by spewing more vitriol and doing more violence to one another. We need the yeast of love to work in all sorts of hidden ways so that this powerful force can eventually overcome the darkness of our days.

Wherever you’re coming from, whether you are a believer in the Beatles or in the Bible or in the bold tenets of nonviolent revolution, I still will argue that love is all we need.

So let’s start loving the hell out of this crazy societal chaos. I’ll give it a go. Who’s with me?


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 Immigration

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: So here’s what happened: I threw you a short list of topics, and you chose this one. Thanks a lot!

Seriously, I haven’t said a lot about this subject because I don’t keep the figures and stats on hand (figures and stats tend to fall out of my head anyway). But it strikes me that a lot of people who debate this question do so on the grounds of broad principles, not precise numbers, and broad principle is where it starts anyway. So I can do that.

As you suggested, we may have area of broad agreement here. So let’s see—as a way of opening the discussion, which of these statements would you agree with?

  1. No nation in the history of the world has been more open to immigration than the United States.
  2. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes the mission of the U.S. to offer a home to the homeless, a new start for the destitute, and a shelter for the oppressed.
  3. Legal immigration is not a problem, but illegal immigration is, and can become an even bigger problem.
  4. Sanctuary cities are in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
  5. The rule of law is a casualty of our incoherent immigration policies.

I realize some of these statements can be interpreted different ways, and some of them can be qualified on a scale of 1 to 10. Feel free to throw some statements and/or questions my way, too, and we might choose the most contentious as a way to start.

Charlotte: This is what you get for letting me choose the topic. Ha! You are very welcome! Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk About Immigration

Jesus Wept

Just so you know, these words are from the shortest verse in the Bible. From the story of Jesus grieving at the graveside of his good friend Lazarus.

But there is another moving story about this passionate man that comes to mind as I read the news these days. As that story goes, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, not on a prancing war steed, but rather on the back of a humble donkey. The crowd cheered, hoping he would be the one who would overturn the Roman occupiers. Instead Jesus carried a Roman cross to his own execution just a few days later while this same crowd jeered. In the days between the two processions, it is said that Jesus looked across at his beloved city and wept.

When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day … the things which make for peace!

If only.

A bomb ripped apart the diplomatic district in Kabul, Afghanistan. They say over 90 people died and more than 400 are wounded. Many are women and children.

Another bomb blasted a concert hall in Manchester, England. 22 people died and over 100 are wounded, many of them teenagers with their moms.

Three Good Samaritans were slashed by a white supremacist on a Portland Oregon commuter train. Two died and the terrorist railed on defiantly about his patriotism.

Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body slammed a reporter to the ground and then lied about it. He won his election the next day.

Texas Legislators brawled in the final hours of the 2017 regular session, threatening to shoot each other in the head.

And this morning we watch in shock as reports continue to come in from Las Vegas about the worst mass shooting in America’s history. And gun stocks are becoming more profitable on Wall Street.

And Jesus weeps.

If only we knew the things that make for peace.

A certain Christianist has been applauding the violence recently by calling for a “more violent Christianity.” I refuse to even mention his name and relate the ugly things he has said except that he claims body slamming, bullying and violence is what biblical, godly authority is supposed to look like.

Even more recently, a famous (infamous) megachurch pastor in Dallas applauded Trump’s bellicose rantings against North Korea. Robert Jeffress way of interpreting Scripture led him to proclaim that a biblical passage in the book of Romans endowed “rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.”

I call BS on such heresy.

Jesus has shown us that non-violence is the only way to peace. Mahatma Gandhi has shown us. Martin Luther King Jr. has shown us. Non-violence is the only power that can reverse our adverse cycles of violence. It is only non-violence that stands tall with its unique ability to demonstrate true authority by virtue of its integrity.

But somehow we still don’t get it. Our human thirst for war and violence keeps us spiraling down into vicious cycles of hopelessness and we can’t figure out how to rise above this baseness.

And Jesus weeps.

Philosopher Rene Girard has written extensively about patterns of human violence. “Redemptive violence,” he calls this thing we do. We make ourselves feel better by convincing ourselves that violence is necessary retribution. Someone ought to pay. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” seems logical and needful to us in our human ways of making sense.

But violence never makes sense. It is a foolish, childish, non-sense response to the challenges of our humanity.

What does make sense – if we are willing to see its wisdom – is Jesus carrying his cross into the worst hell his enemies could muster. It is Gandhi fasting and resisting the colonial might of all England. It is King dedicating his life, and giving his life, for The Beloved Community. It is Imams and Rabbis and Priests marching and praying together in solidarity in Manchester. It is Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best stepping up to defend two frightened girls and resisting the hatred of their attacker even at the cost of their lives.

These are some of the people who have understood what makes for peace. And people like these are the ones who understand that peace is not wimpy, fragile acquiescence. It is not holding hands and singing KumBaYa.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict; rather peace is the active presence of justice.

Non-violence demands a strong and sturdy courage. As ― Shane Claiborne has said in his wonderful book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity.
It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice,
the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer,
the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight
but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressor free.

Don’t tell me love is not enough; I know better. And Taliesin knew and Martin knew and Mahatma knew and Jesus knew.

May we all weep for the cycles of violence that continue to rend the fabric of our world.

May we weep at the hardness and the smallness of our hearts.

And may we find the sturdy courage to walk boldly into the revolution of love.


Sculpture weeping man 1 by R.O. Flynn

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche // Noelwah Netusil

Please read this powerful essay by Taliesin’s professor at Reed College. Professor GhaneaBassiri speaks to the love that motivated this remarkable young man.


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 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.

I Once Was Blind But Now I See

These words, of course, come from the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace. Most of us have heard its famous melody, either in church or in a funeral chapel. Or maybe your favorite version comes from Willie Nelson or The Three Tenors or Mahalia Jackson or Judy Collins or Aretha Franklin or Elvis.

Remember back in 2015, when we were grieving the horrific murder of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his little Wednesday night Bible study group at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston? And then remember how we took comfort at President Obama’s moving eulogy, wiping tears as our Pastor in Chief broke into song:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!

You also may have heard the story behind the poem. It’s a story that will “preach” (as we preachers like to say), but it’s also a story that has captured the imagination of cinema and Broadway.

John Newton, as the story goes, was raised in England by a devout mother but in his youth he chose a life of drinking and brawling and then as crew on slaving ships between West Africa and England. Once, while carrying its horrific human cargo, Newton’s ship sank and his near death experience drove him to faith. He eventually became an Anglican priest and wrote the words of this poem for his New Year’s Day sermon in 1773.

The powerful themes of repentance and redemption and grace remain as crucial to us now as they were to John Newton.

America’s original sin of white supremacy and racism still haunts us, hinders us and holds us back from true greatness.

Continue reading I Once Was Blind But Now I See

Counterproductive Progressivism

Some time ago, I blogged an apology to Conservatives, admitting we Liberals all too often do not live up to our stated ideals of tolerance, open mindedness and generosity. The push back was immense. Quite a few of my fellow Progressives disagreed and disagreed strongly; however, their conversation was civil and reasonable. However several other Liberal readers made my point for me: their comments were filled with childish name calling, profanity, and ridicule.

More than a few Conservative commenters thanked me for the blog since they have been blasted by some of this “progressive” regression simply by stating their opinions in cyberspace discussion threads.

Disagreement is not our problem.

In the face of an opposing viewpoint,  I’m forced to rethink and articulate my argument; this process makes me much smarter. So disagreements are not a problem. But insults are always a problem. We Progressives don’t like it when the name calling comes from the Right; so we absolutely ought to disavow it whenever it comes from the Left.

Such Liberal intolerance is counterproductive.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot.

I read an intriguing op-ed by playwright and lawyer Wajahat Ali in which he asks where he and his fellow Muslims fit into the current American political landscape.

Ali quotes Hussein Rashid, a professor of religion at Barnard College, who concedes that he’s a tad bitter about his political options.

“As a Muslim, I’d vote for Jesus, but the Republicans won’t let him in, and the Democrats don’t believe in him.”

Many American Muslims…support progressive policies, like affordable health care and a living wage. But privately, they adhere to traditional values, believe in God and think gay marriage is a sin, even though an increasing number support marriage equality…

American Muslims portray the gamut of beliefs and practices inherent within any typical cultural or religious group. Like many of us, Muslims hold a variety of opinions about a range of issues. Like most of us, Muslims demonstrate how individuals can hold both progressive and traditional ideals within a healthy tension.

While our Muslim sisters and brothers are being profiled and threatened from this current administration and the Right, many of them who practice their faith with deep piety experience suspicion and disrespect from the Left.

Our Liberal narrow mindedness is counterproductive.

Vice President Pence was ridiculed unmercifully for his personal practice of avoiding private meetings with women. He and his wife made this commitment to each other when he entered politics and it has served him well. I daresay Bill Clinton would have benefited from such steadfastness – as would have John Edwards, Gary Hart, and too many other Liberal politicians to name.

Why in God’s green earth would any of us disdain this kind of integrity? Mike Pence has more than enough policy positions with which we can argue, confront and resist. How about we stand together against Pence’s policy positions? Stand where it matters? We Progressives ought to be choosing our battles more wisely.

Such Liberal disdain is counterproductive.

When millions of women marched in Washington D.C. the day after the inauguration, march organizers rescinded their invitation to one of the march sponsors: the New Wave Feminists. This is a group of women who oppose the anti-woman policies of the Trump Republicans; they also stand against abortion. “Pro-life feminist” rings like an oxymoron to many Progressives and so it must have made sense to march leaders to un-invite the group.

But an opinion piece in U.S. News and World Report points out the irony inherent in the exclusion of this organization:

The mission [of the Women’s March] decries the intolerance in the rhetoric throughout the past election cycle, yet they fail to see the intolerance in their actions. Instead of finding commonality with women of different perspectives the left has once again shown its intolerant hand: They are only tolerant of their own platform and politics…

Instead of celebrating differences and the right to express those differences, progressive feminists would rather shut out women who don’t think like them.

The 2018 Women’s March was phenomenal, wonderful, exciting. But this particular issue has not yet been resolved. Can Progressives make room for pro-life Democrats?

If not, this doesn’t sound much like a “big tent” to me.

Such Liberal judgmentalism is counterproductive.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Intolerance, narrow mindedness, disdain, disgust, exclusivism and judgmentalism are not progressive values. American Progressives need much less finger pointing and much more soul searching. We’ve made plenty of political blunders and it’s high time we own up to our mistakes so that we can correct them and move forward.

As David Gushee penned his own op-ed voicing similar concerns: “There is plenty wrong on the right. But there is plenty wrong on the left, too. Each side needs to get its act together. If there is a sensible, grown-up center to American public life, it’s about time it showed up…”

And as Wajahat Ali commented:

One positive thing emerging from this political moment is that our respective communities are forced to confront issues…that have always existed but have been hidden under toothless slogans promoting progress. Now we have to actually do the hard work to achieve it.

It is hard work indeed. Let’s keep our focus on the real work at hand and get to it. Come on, Grown Ups. Step up.