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”

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2015/08/an-honest-conversation-about-abortion-that-asks-us-not-to-turn-away-from-anyone-the-emmaus-option/

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Guest Post: The Next Culture War

in The New York Times June 30, 2015

Christianity is in decline in the United States. The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.

Christianity’s gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues. More and more Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture. Continue reading Guest Post: The Next Culture War

Pastors and Politics

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

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

William Barber is challenging North Carolina. His leadership within the NAACP and his Moral Mondays campaigns are gathering thousands upon thousands of protesters, most recently calling for the fortification of voting rights. Reverend Barber is both a zealous pastor and a  political activist.

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

However, as much as I admire the pastors I name here, there is another religious-political-pastors’ movement afoot that makes me very uncomfortable.

For years, David Lane has been quite successful at motivating social and religious conservatives to become more active in politics. His latest effort is a series of well-funded training sessions for conservative pastors recruiting them and equipping them to run for office. Lane’s goal is to muster an “army” of “politicized pastors.” The director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee, Chad Connelly, was quoted in a recent NPR article as saying: “[With] 5 percent more Christian evangelical people who are serious about the word of God and voting biblical values, we change the nation. We change the nation forever.”

I can’t justly criticize David Lane’s process since I applaud Rev. Pinckney for his political involvement; since I support Rev. Barber’s efforts to influence North Carolina and the nation; since I praise the prophetic voice of Rev. King. Every American has a right to choose their belief system and to live accordingly. Every citizen has a right to speak their mind and to argue their position in the public conversation. Just about any American has the right to run for city council or state school board or president of the United States. Religious people are not excluded from these freedoms and responsibilities.

But the part that makes me uncomfortable about Lane and Connelly and others is their presumption that it is only their values that are the quintessential “biblical values.” One, I disagree that their values are appropriate biblical values and Two, I disagree that their values ought to be the values of our nation.

I too am a Christian, a pastor, a serious student of the Bible. I too am one whose political views have been shaped by my understanding of Scripture. I too am one whose current “ministry” is blogging and speaking my mind from my own Christian faith into the larger public conversation. I too am taking advantage of the political process by writing my monthly letters to Senator Cruz and trying to influence his positions. (Yeah Yeah; I know; you don’t need to say it.)

David Lane and Chad Connelly and Ted Cruz and so many others in the conservative camp are motivated by the values of conservation and preservation of the traditions of a people. They believe that America’s strength lies in going back to an imagined halcyon way of being society together. They argue that America’s hope lies in remaining faithful to original visions. (I’m trying to state their position fairly and not argue a straw man here.) And yes, conservative religious people can argue their position from the Bible because there are definite strands of traditional, culture-bound, conservative thinking in Scripture.

But I see something different in that same Bible – a different, more appropriate way to envision what it means to be faithful people living together as a society of humans. I find in this Bible something that has created within me very different “biblical values” from the ones motivating Lane and Cruz.

Instead of a sectarian, exclusivist, judgmental reading; instead of going backwards, I emphasize Scripture’s prophetic vision of Shalom – where the lion lies down with the lamb; where all people live together in peace; where the widow and orphan are honored and the stranger among us is welcomed. It is because of my grounding in Scripture that I must emphasize Grace – where redemption and reconciliation trump revenge and retaliation. It is because of my biblical values that I am compelled not to seek my own good and the privilege of a few but rather the well being of the whole community.

Religious Conservatives emphasize individuality.

Religious Progressives emphasize community.

I listen to my conservative Christian friends and I hear the language of individuality: a “personal relationship with Jesus,” personal piety and personal responsibility. It is logical, therefore, that people who hold these kinds of religious values will hold comparable political values that emphasize individual freedoms, individual rights and private charity. (That is, of course, unless we are talking about personal decisions made by a woman with her doctor or the personal decision of a gay couple to marry. Yeah Yeah; I know; the topic for another blog another time.)

I listen to my progressive Christian friends and I hear the language of community: seeking unity within our diversity, not just tolerating but celebrating our differences, protecting the vulnerable, standing with the oppressed, advocating on behalf of “the least of these” (Jesus’ words). gty_selma_montgomery_civil_rights_walk_mlk_thg_120130_wblogThese are the “biblical values” that have motivated King and Pinckney and Barber and so many others to work tirelessly for the good of all. These are the values I hope will change the nation; change the nation forever.

David Lane knows his army of politicized pastors will probably begin locally: school boards and city councils and county commissioners courts. Since our laws protect against religious tests of elected officials, these pastors have every right to run for public office.

And the rest of us have the right – and more importantly the responsibility – to critique the values and motivations of candidates and elected representatives within our states and communities. Let us be alert, aware and active. Let us test the candidates, not for their religious associations, but rather for their values that will surely shape their positions and policies. Let us ask bold questions, challenge self-centered attitudes and advocate for the principles that can create among us gracious, welcoming, caring American communities.

 

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.

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Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Ted Cruz on Misunderstanding Religious Freedom

Dear Senator Cruz,

I have written numerous letters to you considering the nature of our shared Christian faith and its appropriate intersection with culture and politics. As one of your constituents and as a minister, I have concerns about the numerous ways you conflate religion and politics and how this confusion contributes to division and animosity within our society. I am especially bothered by your constant rhetoric about “religious liberty.” I believe your approach is wrong-headed.

2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3eDon’t misunderstand; I am a great supporter of the religious freedom of American citizens. I am ever so grateful for the First Amendment and for our nation’s efforts to abide by the remarkable principle that separates the State and the Church.

However, throughout our actual history, Christianity has enjoyed special privilege in America from its founding to this very day. Maybe not an “establishment” by government but certainly an advantage over other expressions of faith. The obvious result of this cultural advantage is that people of other faiths and people of no faith are often at a disadvantage.

Because I am a Christian, I am concerned about all our fellow citizens – equal not only in the eyes of the Creator but also in the eyes of the law. Since you say you too are a Christian, then it is right for you to treat each person as you would want to be treated. Since you are the elected representative of a wide array of citizens, it is your job to work for liberty and justice for all.

Why aren’t you concerned about the “religious freedom” of every American?

In my opinion, you have made a mountain out of a molehill by claiming that marriage equality threatens some people’s religious freedom.

I ask you: How does acknowledging the freedom of same sex couples to marry have anything at all to do with you and your freedom? I just don’t get it.

The SCOTUS ruling doesn’t require you to change your personal opinion; it doesn’t limit your right to express that opinion. Your tax dollars are not paying for these weddings. I can’t imagine a same sex couple asking you to officiate at their wedding ceremony, but if they did, you could just say “no.”

The SCOTUS ruling doesn’t require a County Clerk or a baker to change their religious beliefs. But the Supreme Court does require all elected officials to abide by the law. It requires merchants who operate within the public sphere to avoid discriminating against their fellow citizens.

Besides, I suspect clerks and bakers do business every day with people they dislike or disapprove of in some way or another. So what? We don’t have to approve of other people in order to treat them with respect and to do our own work with integrity.

Allowing for the greater freedom of our LGBT citizens in no way diminishes the freedom of straight citizens. IMG_0362So I just don’t understand: why does the marriage of my precious friends, Scott and Val, have anything whatsoever to do with you and your religious freedom?

Whenever I serve as minister of a local congregation, I must constantly take into consideration the broad range of beliefs inherent within such a diverse group of people. Shepherding, preserving, nurturing, deepening community in the midst of differing opinions is always a challenge but crucial to the work of a pastor.

If I let my personal opinions run rough shod over the concerns of another, I replace love with selfishness. If I allow the personal beliefs of one group to diminish the sincere beliefs of another group, I damage the health and vitality of the whole group. Finding ways to help a community grow together in love and grace in the very midst of its diversity is good and wise pastoral care. It is also good and wise politics.

Mr. Cruz, divisive rhetoric and intolerant policies are not wise and helpful politics. This is not even patriotic. And it is certainly not the way of Christ. I urge compromise and compassion instead. Our nation would be much stronger if our leaders and citizens practiced compromise and compassion. This is what true freedom requires. This is the real fruit of liberty.

Respectfully yours,

Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

 

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.

 

 

Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

My husband put up our flag for the Fourth of July and came back into the house singing the Star Spangled Banner. We both love our country. We both are grateful for this nation we call home. But, on that particular day, I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I feel about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.

Maybe it’s our checkered past.

I stood on the portico of our County Courthouse this weekend and took my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. It fell to me to read the paragraph complaining about the ways King George “excited domestic insurrections amoungst us, and endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontier the merciless Indian Savages…” Never mind the fact that Europeans mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as we took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even our war for our own independence.

It was timely that I had read Mark Charles’ blog just that morning, Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. A wise, bold Native American blogger, Charles calls us to remember our shared history with all its complexity. Even as we proclaim that “all men are created equal,” we must also acknowledge how many years it has taken this nation to grow toward the understanding that “all” means all.

Maybe it’s our blind practice of national religion.

Although I go to church most Sundays, I doubt I will ever again be in church on a July 4 weekend. As a minister, I am deeply troubled by the way authentic Christianity has been co-opted by an American civil religion. On this weekend, in sanctuaries across the nation, visitors will wonder who – or what – is actually being worshiped. flags-1024x508

 

I am happy to recite the pledge and sing our anthem at the fireworks show this Fourth of July; that’s an excellent and appropriate venue. But I believe absolutely that it is crucial for religious people to keep church and state separate.

Maybe it’s our checkered present.

Yes, America (finally) turned from our original sin of slavery, but I grieve the ways we continue to allow the underlying sin of racism to skew our society. White supremacy is still very much a thing all across America. Some people live out that value with brazen, dangerous animosity. Other people live out their belief in white privilege more politely. “Benevolent racism” I call it – feeling (and often expressing) discomfort and disdain whenever some people speak different languages, practice different religions, wear different clothing or celebrate different holidays.

So I understand why I am ambivalent about my patriotism. America is a mixed bag and many Americans are blind to that truth.

Even so, my good husband reminded me that the ideal is indeed beautiful. Our national anthem sings of the spirit of resilience among our people. Our national flag signals the unity inherent within the diversity of our people.

America is a dream, a hope, an aspiration.

Maybe not a dream come true – not yet. Maybe not ever. But it’s still worth believing in. And it’s absolutely worth working for.

I guess my challenge to myself is to get over my funky ambivalence and get to work. I will march with my NAACP friends in our local parade and then keep partnering together for our community. I will wFullSizeRender (1)rite letters to my local newspaper and to my elected officials. I will vote. I will do what I can to help my little piece of America live up to its ideals and grow into its dream. I will do what I can to nudge this nation to embody its stated values of equality and justice… I will do what I can; that’s all any of us can do.

 

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.

Flag Meme credits

Meme: David R. Henson
Text: Frederick Buechner
Original Photo: Frankileon

Guest Blog: How White Christians Used The Bible — And Confederate Flag — To Oppress Black People

 

On Jan. 4, 1861, a Catholic bishop named Rev. A. Verot ascended a pulpit in The Church of St. Augustine, Florida, and defended the right of white people to own slaves.

The apostle Paul, Verot claimed in his sermon, instructs slaves to obey their masters as a “necessary means of salvation.” Quoting Colossians 3:22, he said, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not serving to the eye, as pleasing men, but in simplicity of heart, fearing God.”

It’s no secret that hundreds of Christian pastors like Verot used the Bible during the Civil War to justify slavery. But the massacre last week of nine black people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has once again forced white Christians in America to re-examine the white church’s historical ties to racism — and how hateful rhetoric like Verot’s had more power because it came from the pulpit. Continue reading Guest Blog: How White Christians Used The Bible — And Confederate Flag — To Oppress Black People

Guest Blog: “Piss Christ” And Drawing Muhammad: On Not Being Offended

Reflection by Lindsey Paris-Lopez

June 11, 2015
I recoiled a little just typing the title to this article.

The title of the infamous photograph by Andres Serrano, “Piss Christ,” makes me bristle as much as the content of a crucifix submerged in blood and urine. I can’t get used to the language on a gut level, even as I have come to appreciate it on an intellectual and even spiritual level. My visceral repulsion to this juxtaposition of the filthy and the sacred is probably similar to the feeling Muslims get when they see the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) degraded in crass and crude caricatures. It can feel like a blow to the stomach, with anger and disgust rising up in response, to see or hear that which we hold most sacred defiled. Continue reading Guest Blog: “Piss Christ” And Drawing Muhammad: On Not Being Offended

Guest Blog: A Straight Christian Mom Responds to James Dobson’s Attack on Gays

blog by Susan Cottrell

Dobson

James Dobson doesn’t really “Focus on the Family”… he just focuses on SOME families. Marriage equality is only a matter of time—and Dobson’s newsletter attack, which includes a speech by Robert George, is basically a call-to-arms to resist “the homosexual activist movement” and its “master plan” of “destruction and redesign of the family.”

As I have written before, God does NOT define marriage as a man and a woman. My mentor pointed out years ago that Dobson would have been much more helpful all these years if he’d had a “Focus on Jesus” – instead of idolizing the nuclear family as he sees it. (Anyone who knows Jesus knows he is all about breaking down our boxes!)

Sarah Herndon is straight. She is a Christian and she and her husband have a one-year-old son. Sarah’s uncle, a conservative pastor, forwarded Dobson’s letter for his whole family to see, and he may have assumed that everyone was on board with his opinion. Instead of just deleting his email, Sarah spoke up with the response below to say that no, they’re not.

If you’ve been in this battle for any length of time, you’ve heard all the misleading, anti-gay rhetoric before. Sarah’s answer represents a broader Christian—and Christlike—perspective, the relevant perspective.

If you are being pummeled with panic-induced appeals to “fight gay marriage and the evil gay agenda,” let this letter encourage you.

Hi Uncle,

Normally, I would not respond to forwards of articles on religion, spirituality, faith, etc. However, I am compelled, for several reasons, to respond to you. Please know that I do so out of a desire not to attack you, but for you to hear something that needs to be heard by a great many more people in the Christian and Catholic community, especially those in positions of spiritual leadership.

Since you made the decision to share this, I made the decision to tell you what I think, and to let our family members know as well. And yes, I did read everything both men wrote before I wrote this.

You are a pastor. Your message is supposed to be that of love. What is sobering and disturbing to me is that you’re so wholeheartedly standing with these men who say that so many people out there, who just want to be loved and cared for equally, without fear of persecution, like everyone else, are less than you, less than me, less than anyone else who is straight.

What makes you think that condemning an entire group of people and claiming they will lead to the destruction of society has anything whatsoever to do with Christ’s teaching to love one another as we love ourselves?

Do you truly think that if a person is blessed to find a partner in life who will support them, love them as they are, without conditions, and they are able to affirm to each other, their families, friends, and community that they are committed to sharing both joys and sorrows for the rest of their lives, this will lead to the destruction of society? That love that expresses itself differently than yours is going to lead to the end times?

That way of thinking is dangerous. That way of thinking is destructive. That way of thinking has brought thousands of people to commit suicide every year, because they were rejected from the families who were supposed to love them the most. I have to wonder how that figures into your evaluation of the sanctity of life.

If you want to talk about the destruction of modern society being brought about by one group of people, I would point you in the direction of the people who have spent billions of dollars to control everything about our government and economy. Guess what? Those conservative politicians they prop up aren’t actually interested in who is gay, in who uses birth control, in who is a “good Christian” and who is “ungodly.” They are interested in making money.

Ungodly amounts of money, I would say. While they spend millions of our tax dollars trying to push through smokescreen “morality legislation,” they are hurting the very people they claim to represent, by failing to protect them from the powerful corporations that seek to subjugate us into an oligarchy where those who have money have 100% of the power.

I promise you, the people who shout the loudest about so-called family values do not care about them in the slightest. They’ve figured out that fear-mongering by claiming that your rights as a Christian will be infringed upon by giving someone else who is different than you the same rights has worked well for them. I can tell you something about these wild claims about businesses being forced to serve gay people: If some baker says they don’t want to make a gay couple a wedding cake, they aren’t going to demand that baker make it. They are going to find a baker who will. If a pastor doesn’t want to officiate at their wedding, they’ll find a different pastor. They’ll vote with their wallet. But I could go on about that all day, and that’s not the main thing I wanted to say to you.

It is not that long ago that, in this country, a mixed race couple’s marriage was considered to be an aberration and unlawful and not pleasing to God. It was thought to be a union that was less than a marriage between a white man and a white woman, and therefore, not deserving of equal protection.

It was not that long ago that, in this country, it was acceptable for people (including all of our founding fathers by the way, who keep getting trotted out as the ultimate Christians) to own people… slaves. Slaves were considered less than fully human and not worthy of equality. Our society, by and large, has realized this was terribly wrong.

For thousands of years, wars have been fought over who knows better how to worship God. On which people are the chosen ones, and which ones should be eradicated from the face of the earth. The concept of one group of people deciding who gets full privileges and membership to enjoying the love of God is a deadly one.

Christianity was never meant to be an exclusive club only straight people can join. Fortunately, millions of Christians, and thousands of churches in America, know that.

These human-imposed limits—of who is valuable and who is not, on who is worthy of God’s love and who is not, on who is going to heaven and who is going to hell—were not dictated by God or Christ. Our churches, Catholic and Protestant, are meant to be a welcoming body of Christ, a family where every member, though different, is equally valued, equally useful, equally loved, equally welcomed.

Robert George asks, “Do you believe, as I believe, that every member of the human family, irrespective of age or size or stage of development or condition of dependency, is the bearer of inherent dignity and an equal right to life?”

Absolutely I do. That’s why you’re wrong about gay people. That’s why James Dobson is wrong about gay people. That’s why Robert George is wrong about gay people. So so so so so so wrong.

Gay people just want to be treated with inherent dignity, and an equal right to life, a life without persecution. A life where people aren’t shouting from the pulpit that they don’t deserve the love that makes them happy. Gay people have much more to fear from you than you have to fear from them.

Lip service about “love the sinner, hate the sin” and all of that other hypocritical hogwash that tries to dress up condescending homophobia as a pious wish for people to get closer to God by rejecting a part of themselves will not fly with me.

Now, if saying these things makes me a “tame Christian” according to one man’s personal definition, frankly, I don’t give a damn. It doesn’t bother me what James Dobson or Robert George thinks, because I am 100% sure that after I die, no one is going to ask me why I didn’t hate more people. No one is going to ask me why I didn’t try harder to keep more people from being happy and loved and accepted by their community.

You’re wasting a lot of time and energy, a lot of opportunities to do good, by focusing on condemning some people. It is not courageous to hate people. It is courageous to love them. Love is always the answer. That is what Jesus wanted us to remember. How easily we can forget.

— Sarah

 

Read article on the Patheos website here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/freedhearts/2015/05/20/a-straight-christian-mom-responds-to-dobsons-attack-on-gays/