A Theological Reflection for Labor Day

A few years ago, during a movie marathon weekend, I watched “The Long Walk Home” on one evening and “The Help” the next evening. The first movie is the story of a Black maid and her employers caught up in the events of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. the-help-davis-spencer_320_fb_smallThe second is the story of the Black maids (the help) who worked in the homes of well-to-do White families in Jackson, Mississippi just a few years before Civil Rights laws came into effect. It was an intriguing video study of American history, of American culture condensed into two evenings of storytelling. I recommend it. But I warn you, it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Past treatment of our Black citizens is part of the American family story that embarrasses us now. I daresay, many of us good-hearted people look back and wonder how on earth so many people could have been so blind for so many years.

Here’s the first irony: this country of liberty, justice and equality was built on the bloody backs of slaves.

Then the second paradox: the brutal war that was fought to end the ugly business of slavery was followed by a long “separate but equal” status quo that was considered to be the appropriate (and even godly) way to order our society.

Thank goodness our laws have evolved over these 200+ years to reflect a more just understanding of human relationships in this country. For example, consider our labor laws (since we are celebrating Labor Day this weekend). Thank goodness, we finally have laws that protect our children, protect our health, designate a minimum wage, regulate safety conditions in the workplace and ensure equal access to the workplace for women, people of color and people with disabilities.

Thank goodness our laws have evolved over these 200+ years to reflect a more authentic actuality of the founding visions of this nation. Even though the founders did not allow women to vote; even though they allowed slavery to be part of the DNA of this nation, still they implanted genius ideals of justice and equality that have enabled this country to grow and change and become better over the years.

The whole reason we have laws, I think, is because we don’t have enough love.

People tend to avoid doing the loving, giving thing for others. Authentic love is counter-cultural in our human cultures, and so societies have always had to legislate how people should treat one another. Governments must pass laws in order to make sure we treat each other right and act appropriately in our various human relationships.

Most of our major religious traditions call for us to treat other people in the same way we would want to be treated.

But where and when is that going to happen?

Even in my own Christian tradition, Christians all too often don’t manage to live up to this simple, profound practice.

An excellent book written by church historian Dr. Mark Toulouse identifies four different ways American Christians have, over the years, intersected faith and politics.

For example, in the earliest days, a significant stream of the church was pacifist. But then in America during World War One, preachers across the land, in both liberal and conservative congregations, pounded their pulpits and insisted it was a “Christian duty” to enlist and go kill the enemy.

Toulouse looks closely at the history of the American church’s relationship to its government and he describes several past and current approaches that are not helpful; ways that are not at all appropriate for mixing religion and politics.

But there are some intersections that are appropriate; some approaches  historian Toulouse recommends to Christians and churches that are healthy options for interactions of religion with secular government.

In his explanation, Toulouse describes what he calls “public Christian” and “public church.”

When Christians truly stand in a public Christian or a public church orientation to public life, they represent a strand of Christian understanding and theological concern not primarily rooted in cultural identities. They don’t speak or act as Republicans or Democrats or even as Presbyterians or Baptists. They do not speak as Christians who are primarily concerned with American or denominational politics.

Rather they speak as Christians who believe in the meaning of the gospel. They believe that the gospel carries with it implications for how human beings, in all their individual and social relationships, treat one another….

The public Christian desires to speak about God in public ways that influence how citizens – not just Christians – think about things.

It was in large part the voices of public Christians and the public church that worked together with a broad coalition of other activists gty_selma_montgomery_civil_rights_walk_mlk_thg_120130_wblogto abolish slavery, to demand the civil rights of Black citizens, to influence child labor laws, to advocate for workers’ compensation protections …and on and on and on. The Christian voice has made a huge difference in this land that we love. The church’s influence has helped change our world.

But there is another religious voice prominent in the public conversation of America. What concerns me about this voice is that it is lacking in the concept of a wider social community; it is dismissive of Christ’s demand that we “love our neighbors as we love ourselves;” that we should do whatever we can to care for God’s little ones; that we ought to go to some trouble and put ourselves at risk in order to care for those who are lost and struggling.

In this voice, instead of community, what we hear is insiders protecting their privilege.

Instead of compassion, we hear the voice of the powerful shouting down the whispers of the unemployed and the underemployed – neighbors who want a decent job and a decent wage and a little respect.

Instead of justice and equity, this is a voice of greed and privilege.

Jeffrey Stout has said:

Democracy … takes for granted that reasonable people will differ in their conceptions of piety, in their grounds for hope, in their ultimate concerns, and in their speculations about salvation.

Yet democracy holds that people who differ on such matters can still exchange reasons with one another intelligibly, cooperate in crafting political arrangements that promote justice and decency in their relations with one another, and do both of these things without compromising their integrity

Too much of our current national conversation is demeaning and divisive. Too many public people are not engaged in reasonable exchange of ideas or cooperative efforts. Too many public servants do not seem to be interested in promoting justice.

Where is the voice of the public prophet calling for love, justice, compassion and mercy?

Who will speak for the “little ones?”

Who will stand up for the vulnerable, the despised and disrespected?

Both the movies I watched on that marathon weekend give powerful examples of public Christians and a public church at work in society. The Black Church in America gives us insight into what it looks like to be “light and salt” in our society. Where did the Black maids go when they had been mistreated by their employers and their society? They didn’t have legal recourse back then so they went to church. Those whom the world had beat down, the church held up.

These brave and bold sisters and brothers remind us that the public Christian voice can be a voice of hope and welcome for all of God’s children; an advocate for every single American.

“We are not wrong,” the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. told the public Christians gathered at the Holt Street Baptist Church on the evening of December 5, 1955; because:

…if we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.

So let us fight until justice rolls down like waters.          

This Labor Day let us celebrate all those who have worked so hard to make America strong. But let’s not just wave our flags and mouth our platitudes. Rather let us be a people who get our hands dirty actually working for the ideals this flag and this country stand for.Unknown-1

Let us recommit ourselves to advocate on behalf of all those who want to be working right now but can’t find jobs; all those who have worked hard their whole life but now find themselves dismissed and disregarded; all those who do the really important work in our society but find they are disrespected and undervalued; all those who must work two and three jobs just to support their families.

Let us be bold to raise our voices and challenge our government to keep our nation’s promise for liberty and justice for all. But today, especially for those who are the most valuable and vulnerable among us.


You can blame Mark Toulouse for starting me on this journey of exploring intersections of faith and politics. I am grateful he was my teacher at Brite Divinity School and I am grateful he is my friend.

514s0WVZ0AL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Mark Toulouse, God in Public: Four Ways American Christianity and Public Life Relate. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (2004) quoted in God in Public, p. 193.

Martin Luther King Jr. sermon http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/civilrights03.htm

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe 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’s letter to Sen. Ted Cruz concerning Planned Parenthood

Dear Senator Cruz,

It’s all over the news that you recently sent 100,000 letters to ministers encouraging them to preach the scripted anti-abortion sermon generated by the infamous American Renewal Project. I notice you did not send me a letter, but that’s all right. If you have read any of my previous letters, you know I would never preach such a sermon. But I did find a copy.

Let’s talk about the theology of that sermon. Continue reading Charlotte’s letter to Sen. Ted Cruz concerning Planned Parenthood

Guest Post: Radical Black Christians in the New Civil Rights Movement

“This aint yo mama’s civil rights movement.”

Those were the words emblazoned on activist and public theologian Rahiel Tesfamariam’s T-shirt as she was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri during protests marking the 1-year anniversary of police killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the Ferguson Uprising that continues today.

In the three years since neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, black millenials across the country have taken to the streets, demanding justice for black men, women and children killed by police with impunity in what has become the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unlike the leaders of the 1960s, who dismissed victims like teenage mom Claudette Colvin in order to champion the cause of the more sympathetic victim Rosa Parks, the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight, defend and affirm all black lives. At the forefront of this movement, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, are radical activists at every intersection of blackness—including the two queer women and one Nigerian American woman who together founded #BlackLivesMatter, celebrities like singer Janelle Monáe and trans activist and MSNBC host Janet Mock.

Rahiel Tesfamariam arrested in Ferguson, Missouri wearing a Hands Up United shirt. Heather Wilson


Shunning the emphasis on the cisgender heterosexual “respectability” and perfection of victims and leaders of the past, this generation’s protests are loud, angry, rude and intentionally inconvenient for the beneficiaries of institutionalized racism, shutting down highways and interrupting everything from political rallies to brunch to demand that the humanity of black people be recognized and respected.

But at least one tie remains between the movements of the past and today—many protestors and movement leaders are Christians.

A far cry from the right-wing Coalition of African American Pastors that vowed civil disobedience in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of marriage equality in June, many Christians in the black liberation movement are informed by an understanding of Christ as a table-turning, women-empowering, government-overthrowing, freedom-loving, social justice radical.

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ and a self-described “queer ally” would certainly count himself among that number. Rev. Sekou—who was just arrested in Ferguson after storming a police barricade with Cornel West and many others during protests for Brown—tells NBCBLK that his decision to fight for black liberation begins with Christ’s example.

“God chose to become flesh in the body of an unwed, unimportant teenage mother in an unimportant part of the world. Then, after living a life dedicated to serving the least of these, He was killed by the State. That’s how I understand Jesus.”

Rev. Sekou also understands Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as far more radical than the sanitized and romanticized caricature he is often reduced to in death. But the idea of Christians as docile, forgiving and long-suffering in the face of oppression—i.e., respectable and moralistic—is pervasive.

Activist Marissa Johnson defies this idea. The evangelical Christian made national news when she led her Seattle chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization in a protest during a rally for popular democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, taking the mic from him and demanding he release a plan to reform policing.

Johnson, who was attacked by Sanders supporters with bottles and boos at the rally, tells NBCBLK that her radical activism is informed by Matthew 10:5-42, a passage where Christ speaks with aggressive urgency to his 12 disciples, instructing them to care for, heal, protect and lay down their lives for others.

She and the other organization members putting themselves in harms way at the rally sparked a nationwide discussion on racism within white democratic and progressive spaces. Sanders has since released a comprehensive criminal justice reform plan, has hired a Black press secretary and has reached out to the organization, as well as other leaders in the movement, to meet and discuss policy. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has done the same as the result of the protests—clear evidence that radical activism can demand the attention of policy makers.

Though Tesfamariam differentiates between Christian respectability and self-respect, she tells NBC BLK, “Respectability will not prevent us from becoming the next hashtag. There must always be a space in Christian theology, particularly for communities of color, for righteous anger and holy impatience.”

Bree Newsome displayed both when the courageous activist climbed the flagpole at the South Carolina State House and removed the confederate flag “in the name of God.”

In an interview with NBCBLK, Newsome describes her decision to remove the confederate flag as a “spiritual battle”:

“[When Dylann Roof killed 9 Black people at Mother Emanuel], it was an attack on the black community, on black organization, on the black church and on black faith, in a space where we have spiritual solace. So on that level, it was a spiritual battle to go up and take the flag down.”

She had intended to remove the flag in reflective silence and to wait and pray quietly until the police showed up to arrest her. However, the police arrived as she was halfway up the pole.

“A cop was talking to me, saying it was not the right thing to do, so I started quoting the Scripture I had been meditating on in the days leading up to the action, just to center myself. In the moment, it was the automatic thought that came to my mind just to say the Scripture out loud and stay focused on the task,” she says.

The words David spoke before he defeated Goliath inspired Newsome’s bold declaration as she clutched the flag in her right hand,

“You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God.”

Newsome, who quoted Psalm 27 as she climbed down the pole and Psalm 23 as she was being arrested, says that like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Christ’s day, Christians can miss the point of the Gospel if they only remain inside the church building while the community is being oppressed.

“Part of [Christ’s] whole message was not to become so fixated on religion that you lose the spirit of God. If you’re taking money from the community to build the church but you don’t feel like you have time or it’s within your purpose to liberate the people, what is this endless church building [fund] for?”

Rev. Sekou echoes this message to anyone who identifies as a Christian:

“For young, poor black single mothers, kids with tattoos sagging their pants—anything less than putting your body on the line for them and being willing to pick up your cross in the case of state violence against them is heresy. You betray Christ if you do anything less.”

Read the article at MSNBC:


Exploring Intersections of Faith, Culture and Politics

Some people wish religious faith would go away all together. A few of our atheist friends on the secular left wish religion didn’t influence the culture at all; that’s not going to happen.

Some people wish their way of being religious would be synonymous with the culture. A few of our Christian friends on the religious right think a theocracy defined by them would be a good thing for America; that’s not going to happen either.

Then there’s the vast messy middle. Most of us recognize there are countless influences that shape a society and form its multicultural culture – religion being one of them. Intersections of personal faith, culture and politics are inevitable. And they are legal. What those of us in the middle want to talk about is how to ensure those intersections are appropriate.

My one little contribution to our public conversation is to try to name some of those intersections and ponder ways faith influences our American culture for better or for worse. I want to stand in the middle with so many others of you and carry on reasonable and civil conversations about how those intersections can be helpful rather than harmful to our American society. Identifying crossroads and posting signs gives all of us greater ability and wisdom as we choose our communal path.

I’m not the only one. Numerous wise and thoughtful people have been doing this same work of pondering intersections for years. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King probably did it best in our recent memory. maxresdefaultFrom his deep Christian faith, he demonstrated how religious convictions can positively influence the life of a secular nation. His dream was the dream of the biblical prophets who called for “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Dalai Lama shows us again and again how faith can make us a wiser, kinder, more compassionate people. “My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizdalai20lama20and20desmoes others’ interests alongside our own.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Africa embodies peace and reconciliation. His efforts to end apartheid flowed naturally from his belief that the Creator has created a marvelously diverse creation and that all people in all our glorious variety reflect the very image, unity and harmony of God. “The God who existed before any religion counts on you to make the oneness of the human family known and celebrated.”

From her deep faith, Malala Yousafzai finds courage to live fearlessly and strength to work tirelessly for women’s education. B_lf-UTUwAAnZ3MFaith, for Malala (as for many religious people), requires a healthy critique of institutional religion; religious dogma must not contradict the fundamental value and dignity of every human. “In Pakistan when women say they want independence, people think this means we don’t want to obey our fathers, brothers or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves. We want to be free to go to school or to go to work. Nowhere is it written in the Quran that a woman should be dependent on a man.”

Pope Francis speaks audaciously from his bully pulpit and acts boldly to challenge environmental irresponsibility and rampant materialism. “Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but alsimageso by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”

The deep wisdom of deep faith transcends religious ideologies. It is this wisdom that provides a helpful intersection between faith, culture and politics and allows all of us to find common ground and a shared vocabulary.

For my atheist friends on the secular left who wish religion would just go away, I say in the kindest way possible: get over it. Religion will ever be a powerful force in the world. Instead of demeaning people of faith, I challenge you to let us be your allies so we can work together to accomplish greater justice and equity throughout our American society.

For my Christian friends on the religious right who wish your particular way of being religious would control our culture, I say in the kindest way possible: get over yourselves. Good and decent people who hold all kinds of beliefs are also children of God, your sisters and brothers. Instead of dismissing people whose faith is different from yours, I challenge you to be grateful for the wisdom inherent in this national diversity and work together with us to accomplish more kindness and compassion within our American culture.

Around dinner tables and over back fences, in community forums, Living Room Conversations and Coffee Party discussions, let’s explore the various intersections of our various perspectives with civil dialogue and reasonable debate. It is in these intersections that we will find our collective wisdom. It is in collaboration that we will be able to address our shared challenges with our shared strength.


P.S. Here is a great blog as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

Christians, MLK Day and Historical Amnesia by Rachel Held Evans


Charlotte’s Facebook Newsfeed

Public Religion Research


The Faith and Politics Institute


Corner of Church and State




The Christian Left


Unfundamentalist Christians


I Am Malala


Muslims for Progressive Values


Bend the Arc: a Jewish partnership for Justice



Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

Guest Post: 9 Arguments From the Bible Fundamentalists Should Have to Make

Word on the street has progressives engaged in a “war on freedom of religion.” Obviously, it’s the liberals’ fault. Liberals, socialists, feminists, and other traitors to the widely held conservative canard that America is a “Christian nation” have declared war on religious freedom. Several of the Republican candidates for president have once again linked arms with the leaders of the Religious Right to declare that the people most in danger of persecution in America are white, middle class, evangelicals, while progressive Christians, they charge, have bought into to a secular version of reality meant to silence conservative Christians.

Then they will add with a certain air of self-satisfaction, “That’s why liberal mainline churches are in decline.”

The tired charge that liberal mainline churches are dying because they are liberal is, ironically, itself difficult to kill off. This fact has caused many mainline churches over the last forty-five years to find themselves on the defensive. Underlying this indictment of liberal Christianity is the assumption that a progressive reading of scripture and its ethical conclusions are somehow an accommodation to a purely secular system of meaning, while conservative interpretation is self-evidently the gold standard of biblical faithfulness.

What I want to challenge is the persistent and difficult-to-kill assumption that conservatives occupy some kind of religious and ethical high ground, and that any deviation from a particular kind of conservative orthodoxy isn’t merely a matter of interpretation, but is tantamount to initiating hostilities against God, motherhood, and the flag–all of which, interestingly enough, are conflated in some people’s minds. But that’s another article.

The smug certainty with which some conservative religious and political types believe not just that they occupy the side of truth on every issue, but that they occupy the side of God’s truth is alarming–not because they believe these things of themselves so uncritically (self-righteousness is a time-honored religious and political posture on both sides of the ideological divide, after all), but because so many in the culture agree to cede them this authoritative land of milk and honey.

In fact, I not only want to challenge certain popularly held assumptions about the rightful place of the Right at the center of theological discussion, I want to suggest that if a war on religion is being waged, it’s main combatants aren’t progressive Christianity, Barack Obama, or left-leaning political types advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people and reminding us that #blacklivesmatter. I want to set down a more radical charge:

The real war on religion is being waged by those on the Right who read the Bible not as the story of God’s saving interaction with the world through the unfolding of God’s reign, but either as foundational for a conservative politics of self-interest or as a blueprint for a post-Enlightenment cult of individual piety.

There. I said it. The greatest damage to Christianity comes at the hands of those who display their piety with such practiced conspicuousness. Jesus spends the better part of the Gospels crossing rhetorical swords with those who have arrogated unto themselves the mantle of God’s special emissaries for a publicly muscular show of religious devotion. Ironically, Jesus, when faced with an opportunity to cash in on his religious popularity, always seems to strike out in the opposite direction.

I am weary of playing defense against fundamentalism, as if it holds some sort of privileged theological position that requires a special deference, as well as the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate.

It’s not that I resent having to come clean about my own hermeneutical presuppositions, to be required to set down the story I’m telling about how I interpret scripture. What makes me unutterably exhausted is the popular assumption that a fundamentalist reading of scripture is somehow the hermeneutical true north by which all interpretations are to be judged. The assertion that the Bible is to be read in a common sense fashion, as close to literally as possible, is not only itself merely one interpretative strategy among other strategies, it’s also a fairly recent development in the history of interpretation.

If, for example, one holds that LGBTQ people should be embraced and welcomed as full participants into the life and ministry of the church, the popular assumption among some is that one makes such moves in spite of rather than because of one’s reading of scripture. I have been asked on more than one occasion why I don’t “just quit pretending to be be a Christian,” since I “obviously don’t believe the Bible.”

Apart from the general incivility of such dismissiveness, claiming that Christians who don’t read the Bible as innerant are cynically attempting to circumvent taking scripture seriously is captive to its own set of prejudices, which are most often transparent to the speaker. That form of biblical interpretation (viz., “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it”) is–apart from being a fairly recent innovation–question-begging in its most basic sense.

My hunch is that much of what gets put forward as the practical policy implications of conservative politicians and their fundamentalist enablers have at least as much to do with conservative economic theories as with biblical interpretation. (How exactly, for instance, can supply-side economics be justified by reference to God’s reign of justice and peace found in scripture?)

If progressive Christians have merely uncritically baptized liberal ethical systems when it comes to issues like homosexuality–as is often suggested by our fundamentalist brothers and sisters–why is it not the case that the conservative embrace of tax breaks for the wealthy, the adoption of a do-it-yourself attitude toward healthcare, welfare, and unemployment benefits, the claim that racism and white privilege are manifestations of political correctness and not pressing theological questions, and the enthusiastic correlation of patriotism and militarism are merely a baptism of conservative (or worse, libertarian) ethical systems?

So, here’s what I’d like to see: A turning of the tables (or perhaps better, a “turning over” of the tables)–a rebalancing of the burden of proof.

    • I’d like to see a fundamentalist defense from scripture of such policies as cutting taxes for people who already have enough for several lifetimes. How does one “literally” read the prophets or the Gospels and come away thinking that protecting the ability to purchase another yacht or vacation home at the expense of those just struggling to feed their children is something Christians ought to have any stake in?
    • I’d like to see a biblical rationalization of the assertion that same-gender marriage is a more urgent danger to the institution of marriage than the pervasiveness of heterosexual divorce.
    • I’d like to see someone defend from scripture fighting for a healthcare system, the chief motivation of which is to figure out ever more ingenious ways to deny coverage to those who can least afford it.
    • I’d like to see the biblical case that “loving” our Muslim sisters and brothers can be accomplished by continually treating them as potential terrorists.
  • I’d like to see a scriptural justification for treating undocumented workers not with Christian hospitality–if not as potential friends and neighbors, then at least as fellow children of God–but as an insidious threat to “our way of life” (in which “our” refers to “American” and not to “Christian”).
  • I’d like to see a rationale from the Bible about how we can ignore the frustration and despair of African Americans whose lives are negatively affected by disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration, unemployment, under-resourced educational opportunities, and police violence.
  • I’d like to see how scripture works as a legitimator of arms stockpiling in the service of military adventurism in other countries (see, in particular, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan).
  • I’d like to see how the Bible comes to the aid of those who would stand idly by while LGBTQ kids endure the dehumanizing and often deadly effects of bullying–all the while protesting that the real issue isn’t the violence suffered by children, but the preservation of religious freedom for those who’ve suffered (let’s be honest) very little for their faith.
  • I’d like to see how the Bible can be put to use defending the belief that our ultimate loyalties to flag and faith are interchangeable, that to have invoked one is ipso facto to have named the other.

There are more, but I don’t see these arguments being made in convincing ways; and my fear is that this is so because these arguments don’t need making in our culture, since everyone already knows that if Franklin Graham, or Pat Robertson, or James Dobson, or Tony Perkins, or John Piper, or Albert Mohler say it, the burden of proof is on anyone who would disagree with them. But the thing is, if Evangelicalism and Christianity continue to exist in the popular mind as synonyms, somebody ought to have to make these arguments from scripture.

If Jesus’ experience is any indication, turning over tables in the temple is a necessary, if potentially perilous, practice.


Derek Penwell is an author, editor, speaker, and activist. He is the senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and a lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Louisville. He is the author of articles ranging from church history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions, as well as the forthcoming book from Chalice Press, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World, about how mainline denominations can avoid despair in an emerging world. He currently edits a blog on emergence Christianity, [D]mergent.org, and blogs at his own site. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Blog posted 8/24/2015 at Huffington Post



How One Christian Minister Justifies Same Sex Marriage

Some months ago, I posted a photo on my Facebook page of the living room wedding of Sean and Ron. Finally! A legal wedding in OKThere I am, saying the words that ministers always say at weddings; there they are, saying the words that couples always repeat to one another. But then the moment turned while we weren’t looking and before anyone knew it, we were all wiping tears from the corners of our eyes; the little living room had become holy ground.

After I posted the picture, a dear friend private messaged me and asked: How can I, a Christian minister, justify performing a same sex wedding? This is a long time friend (a friendship that goes back to college) and even though our lives have grown in different directions, we stay in touch and care deeply about each other. The question turned into an in depth theological, sociological and political email conversation over a period of several months. My short answer: I can justify it because it is just.

Here are some brief excerpts from my part of the conversation during our correspondence. Nothing definitive here; simply a part of my ongoing thinking. Continue reading How One Christian Minister Justifies Same Sex Marriage

Guest Post: Spiritual Practices For White Discomfort

Annie Gonzalez Milliken

August 17th 2015

So, lots of folks in the progressive world I inhabit on social media had a lot of opinions about the event that happened on August 8th in Seattle when the white leftie politician Bernie Sanders went to speak to a crowd about social security and medicare and was interrupted by two black women raising awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement the day before the first anniversary of Mike Brown’s death.

Bernie and BLM

And sure, as a white progressive who is pretty into Bernie Sanders’ political stances and who staunchly supports the Black Lives Matter movement, I have opinions too.

The opinion I wish to share here and now, however, is not about political analysis, history or strategy and it’s certainly not about the particular incident in Seattle. It is about spiritual practices. It’s about how as a person of faith, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and a middle class educated white woman who cares deeply about racial justice, I use spiritual practices to sit with my white discomfort.

What do I mean by white discomfort? I mean a social trend that I see repeatedly and an emotional reaction I’ve observed in myself. It goes something like this: The media breaks a story about something that Black Lives Matter activists did. Maybe somebody burned a building or blocked a freeway or shouted during a leisure event or interrupted a politician. White people react to such stories in a variety of ways. There’s everything from vocal and undaunted support to blatantly racist rants. west-and-sekou

Continue reading Guest Post: Spiritual Practices For White Discomfort

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Some Thoughts on Abortion

I have borrowed this title from Alexander Pope and his Essay on Criticism; he and I both know dangerous ground when we see it.

…fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks,
It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks.

Sense and Nonsense are as prevalent now as when Pope penned these words 300 years ago. And still we fools who comment on the world around us either use words  “with modest caution” or our words throw caution to the wind. Perhaps-im-rushing-in-where-angels-fear-to-treadIn this essay, I’m aiming to offer a tiny effort of “distrustful sense.” I want to be careful with my words rather than reckless in a public dialogue that too often rattles with rushing non-sense: our conversation about abortion. Where angels fear to tread.

Let me say clearly: I am pro life.

But let me also say: that may not mean what you think it means.

I love life: the goodness, the beauty, the resilience of it. I love the infinite variety, the unsearchable mystery, the faith-love-hope of it. And I hate whatever steals life, subverts or perverts life. I hate whatever sucks life out of us to make us fragile and fearful and small. “Pro Life” for me is much larger than a bumper sticker; it is a joyful passion that seeps into my religion and my politics and all my different relationships with all kinds of people.

Years ago, as a young mother shaped by a conservative Christian ethic, I volunteered in a crisis pregnancy center, encouraging women to continue their pregnancies instead of choosing abortion. As I came to understand the challenges they faced, I worked with a childbirth educator friend to create a prenatal clinic for uninsured women in our county. All of us – doctors, nurses, friends – volunteered to support these women as best we could as they carried this precious spark of life within them.

Years later, as the mother of a teen daughter, I saw the challenges women face from a wider angle. If my child became pregnant and if that pregnancy, for whatever reason, was a circumstance that stole her life away from her, then I realized I would choose the wholeness of her life over any other potential life. When my daughter was approaching adulthood, safe and legal abortions were widely available in our nation, and I was very grateful to know we could make that decision if we needed to without her being considered a criminal or without having distant politicians impose themselves into our personal situation. I would grieve, yes. We would struggle, yes. And we would choose life: her life.

A friend who made the choice for abortion years ago commented how grateful she was for the safety, the privacy and the freedom to make that decision. As a single mom with two small children on a tight budget, she knew well she was choosing the lives of these precious ones over the possibilities of another one. Was it a challenging choice? Yes. Does she regret it? No. She chose life: her family’s life.

Before I became a minister, I was a nurse. I listened to fetal heartbeats in our volunteer prenatal clinic. I watched babies emerge from the womb. I held them as they took some of their earliest breaths. I love life. I love the unsearchable mystery of it.

Since I’ve been a minister and a chaplain, I’ve stood by the bed of a new mother as she took her last breaths and said goodbye to her newborn. I’ve agonized with parents who struggled with their decision to end the spark of life in one fetus in order to choose life for the other. I’ve cried with women who lost the dream of a child they had desperately wanted and I’ve cried with women who found themselves responsible for a child they never wanted and were ill prepared to care for. I’ve seen what happens to these children when Child Protective Services removes them from parents who never should have had children in the first place.

Sometimes choosing life is deeply complicated. There is nothing black and white about the decisions women make, parents make; the choices go far beyond bumper sticker solutions made into laws. This is life: complex and good and resilient.

And I love what Sister Joan Chittister says:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

Amen Sister.

I believe abortions are sometimes pro-life.

I believe laws that appropriately regulate abortion providers and provide for contraception and education are pro-life.

I believe laws that appropriately regulate gun ownership and lessen gun violence are pro-life.

I believe laws that provide access to health care, good food, quality education and a safe environment are pro-life.

I believe dismantling the racism that is institutionalized in our laws and entrenched in our hearts is pro-life.

I believe loving, caring families (all sorts of families with all sorts of orientations) are pro-life.ACE_PEACE5

I believe peace accords are pro-life.

I believe it is possible for us to find our way in this messy abortion debate if we will seek a middle path beyond the “rattling nonsense” of extremes on all sides; if we will stop cramming profound discussions into small, black and white boxes; if we will embrace the wide wholeness of what it truly means to be “pro life.”

After all, life is what we all are after.

Life with its infinite variety.

Life with its ever present faith-love-hope.

Life with its unsearchable mystery…

Mystery “where angels fear to tread…

but where we find ourselves nonetheless.

So I say, let’s rush in like fools to live our lives with joy and passion and purpose. Sarai-Choose-LifeLet’s seek ways to help all our neighbors live with joy and purpose as well. Let’s stop our foolish rushing to define how other people should live their lives and pay attention instead to our own choices; to our own business of living well – living with grace and gratitude. Living with humility and hope.

I’m well prepared for the critiques that are bound to follow this essay and so if you think good sense is lacking, I beg patience based on good intentions. As our friend Alexander Pope reminds:

Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.


Find an interesting article in The Guardian analyzing Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism.

See here a blog by Ann Voskamp, another essay that raises some of the same issues, struggles with a middle way and comes to a different conclusion than I do. Healthy helpful conversation requires that we give each other a respectful, open minded hearing.

“An Honest Conversation About Abortion that Asks Us Not to Turn Away — from anyone”



cvclogo copyCharlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith and politics. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.






Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Immigration Reform

Dear Senator Cruz,

This is now my sixth letter, writing as a fellow Christian and considering some of the ways faith and politics intersect within our public life together. Faith can be a positive influence even within a secular society. Not religious dogma, certainly; religious doctrines can be divisive while spiritual, ethical and moral values can help us find common ground even with all our differences as Americans. In this letter, I want to address immigration from the perspective of our shared Christian faith.

Here is what puzzles me: your own family immigrated to America not that long ago. Even though your family came through legal channels, still your own personal o3D2u1.AuSt.76pportunities came to you because of the generosity of this good nation of ours. But now, even with this dream-come-true kind of experience, it seems you are committed to excluding many others who seek the American dream.

This attitude puzzles me on numerous levels. One, the simple incongruity of any person who has been given hope and help refusing to offer hope and help in turn to others. Is kindness to those who are less fortunate than we not a common decency? Is such grateful generosity not crucial to the healthy functioning of any society? We must not become a nation of takers; rather each of us must commit to give back from the grace and abundance we have received here in America. We must not become a nation of privilege; rather liberty and justice must truly be accessible to all. Continue reading Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Immigration Reform

A Letter to my Christian Friends who are Anxious about your Religious Liberty

Dear Christian Friends,

As I listen to your dismay over our nation’s rapid cultural shifts, I know this must be bringing up all sorts of fears. I’m hearing some of the discomfort and disorientation even articulated as anger; I get that. But what I truly don’t understand is why some Christians are claiming their religious liberties are at risk. I too am a Christian, a minister who has thought long and hard about this matter and so I offer what I hope will be a helpful perspective for those of you who are anxious about your religious liberty.

This nation has historically given us Christians remarkable privilege and extraordinary freedoms; that has not changed with recent court rulings.

People claiming their “deeply held religious beliefs” are already able to opt out of attending public schools, opt out of certain medical procedures, opt out of assisting with abortions, opt out of military service, opt out of reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag.

Some religious non-profit organizations (churches and some charities) have long been able to opt out of hiring people of whom they disapprove. Now even for-profit corporations have been allowed to opt out of providing contraception for their employees.

The Courts across America have bent over backwards to make exception for religious liberties.

This opt out option is one way our society seeks to walk a fine line in our effort to provide “liberty and justice for all.” LibertyAndJusticeForAllThe issues of religious freedom in a nation founded on a commitment to separation of church and state are complex, but I am happy to grant some of my fellow citizens the right to conscientiously object to participating in activities that offend their deeply held religious beliefs.

The problem then is not that Christians are losing religious liberty but rather that some Christians – in the name of religious freedom – are attempting to limit the civil liberties of their fellow Americans.

Just because other people have civil rights doesn’t mean your religious rights are being compromised.

Douglas Laylock has provided a thoughtful and helpful analysis of this current debate in an article he published last year: Religious Liberty and the Culture Wars. He explains his purpose in the introduction:

The Article argues that we can and should protect the liberty of both sides in the culture wars; that conservative churches would do well to concede the liberty of the other side, including on same-sex marriage, and concentrate on defending their own liberty as conscientious objectors; and similarly, that supporters of rights to abortion, contraception, gay rights, and same-sex marriage would do well to concentrate on securing their own rights and to concede that conscientious objectors should rarely be required to support or facilitate practices they view as evil.

I agree. If some people object to abortion, contraception or same-sex marriage then, by all means, they should opt out. And by all means, the rest of us should support their freedom to do so. If some people believe these particular social behaviors are “evil” or damaging then, by all means, they should pray for our nation and preach their conscience. And by all means, the rest of us should support their freedom to do so.

Conscientiously objecting and opting out is a religious liberty that has been protected again and again by our Courts. However, the practice of discriminating against other people has been struck down repeatedly by those same Courts.

A recent poll provided by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that even religious people who object to certain social practices also overwhelmingly object to discrimination. A Religion News Service article notes: “PRRI found that 69 percent of people overall — including a strong majority of all major religious groups — would support nondiscrimination laws.” Even many socially conservative African-American Christians do not agree that business owners operating in the public sphere should be able to refuse service. “Nonwhite Christians…nearly 2 in 3 (63 percent) oppose exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. [A PRRI analyst] said the idea of legal loopholes for refusing service may bring up ‘memories of past experience with segregated lunch counters and businesses refusing to serve them.’”

In a nation such as ours that purports to value both religious liberty and equal civil rights for all its citizens, surely we can find a way to actually enact those values within our public policy. Surely we are smart enough and good enough to find our middle way in this complex dilemma.

But aside from any legal or social argument, as a Christian pastor I have to ask my fellow Christians: why would you be more concerned about your own religious freedoms than about your fellow human beings?

Our entire Christian faith is grounded upon the One who “emptied himself,” sacrificing his own good for the good of all. Our Christian ethic is shaped by the One who taught us: “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Those of us who call ourselves “Christian” must never be guilty of putting our preferences, our opinions and even our own rights ahead of any other human being. No matter what they’ve done. No matter who they are. No matter how we feel.

Rachel Held Evans’ wrote an excellent blog that also speaks to fellow Christians who feel they are being persecuted; who believe their rights are being compromised because of the recent changes in our society. She too quotes Jesus’ words, spoken to a religious people who actually did live with governmental oppression; whose liberties truly were severely limited. According to the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, here is how a Christian should act when they find themselves at odds with their society:DSC_0090

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven….

I must say to my fellow Christians that lots of people are tired of hearing us whine and blame and squabble and demand our own way. People will be much more inclined to listen to us when they can actually see us:

partnering across divides to feed the hungry;

advocating for a hopeful future for all children;

demanding justice for the oppressed;

challenging the abuse of our planet;

working to include the marginalized;

and maybe even baking cakes for our neighbors’ weddings. canstockphoto9505469Maybe even “bake for them two.”

(Offering outrageous, amazing grace to others is never against our religion; it is the core of our religion.)

Dear Christian friends, as I listen to your dismay over our nation’s disorienting cultural shift, I know you must feel anxious. But we Christians know (at least in our heads) that fear and anxiety are contradictory to our faith in the One who is Grace and Peace. Today is a good day to open our hearts to that grace and peace as well.

Max Lucado, a wise conservative Christian pastor, wrote these words the day after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage:

Let’s replace our anxious thoughts with prayerful ones. “…in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known…” Now is the time for prayer and faith.

Something good will come out of this. Maybe now we can have this discussion where we need to have it. Face-to-face. In neighborhoods. Over dinner tables. Perhaps the hate-filled words will subside …

I agree. Something good can come out of this. So let’s meet around our dinner tables and within our communities, engaging one another in peace. Let’s do a better job of having civil conversations across cyberspace. Let’s learn to know and respect each other across our divides.

And let’s create a space where religious and humanist and right and left and right and wrong and red and blue and dark and light and gay and straight and male and female and rich and poor and young and old can all be grateful, gracious people together.

Surely this table is big enough.

Surely this is the way of the One whose name we wear.

Surely it is time.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.