Tag Archives: civility

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.

How to Talk to “Those People”

Civil conversation is hard.

Whenever people in a multifaceted, multicultural civilization try to have a civil discussion, things can get complicated very quickly. Our past experiences, our societal conditioning, our moral assumptions can place us in very different worlds when it comes to communicating. We talk to each other—sometimes using identical vocabulary—but we discover that words don’t necessarily mean the same things for people whose very lives function with an entirely different complex of meaning than our own. This happens in every day normal dialogue, so consider how challenging it is to carry on a meaningful conversation when deeply held values are at stake.

Civility is hard. These days, some people think it hardly matters. But it does.

As a pastor, I have done my share of marriage counseling, family counseling, congregational conflict counseling. Two things are particularly important when I help people find a peaceful way through painful differences: one is honesty and the other is respect.

Honesty demands that we speak clearly about the issues that spark our own passion.

Respect demands that we listen deeply in order to understand the issues that spark the passion of another.

Honestly does not mean saying whatever we think and feel and believe in a disrespectful manner. Respect does not mean hiding the truth of what we think or feel or believe just because we may offend. In a civil conversation, we say what we think with words that invite ongoing discussion and we respect the humanity of the other person enough to hear them out no matter how much we may disagree with what they say. ( I repeat: we respect the humanity of the person even when we disagree with their words and ideas.)

I found some helpful suggestions for civil conversation recently. David Gushee, an ethicist at Mercer University writing for the Baptist News Global, reflected on a recent lecture by Professor Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law and church-state expert—and a practicing Jew. That may sound like a joke (an ethicist, a Baptist and a Jew walk into a bar…) but Gushee loves to write (as I do) about intersections between faith, culture and politics and he thought Brownstein’s speech on Civility and Tolerance When Absolutes Clash was “riveting” and “brilliant.”

(David Gushee went on to reflect on the recent clashes concerning “religious freedom” laws using Brownstein’s guidelines of civility and tolerance. I think his essay is quite helpful. Read more here.)

How does one engage in civil conversation with honesty and respect when our core values seem to be dishonored by someone else’s deeply held beliefs? It’s hard. But Brownstein offers these guidelines:

Neither side may trivialize or dismiss the concerns of the other.

Neither side should define the “other” according to one single characteristic or identity marker.

Both sides should aim to help each other understand their own experience and perspective using a type of speech that can be heard by the other.

Both sides should accept the fundamental ground rule of life in a free society: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

That statement made me stop and read it again: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

Professor Brownstein went on to highlight the fundamental role of fear in situations of public conflict that we end up facing in our culture, politics, and law:

The fear of being excluded from full participation in public discourse or public life;

The fear that the other side is trying to coerce change of my side’s core identity;

The fear that the other side will use the power of law to force my side’s conformity with beliefs and practices that we find abhorrent.

The fear of losing or betraying deeply valued relationships of love, either with the Divine or with people, or both.

I find Brownstein’s guidelines helpful on several levels. His first suggestions are practical and workable. I’ve said for years that “communication is a skill to be learned.” Talk-To-Me-Image-300x233From the time we were babies, learning to speak, learning how to discern language, learning that some behaviors communicated an invitation to relationship while other behaviors alienated—from our earliest years, we have been learning how to communicate with others.

And we’re not done yet; we will never be done with learning and improving. Brownstein reminds us that there are many down-to-earth kinds of things we can do (and refrain from doing) that can help us speak and help us listen.

The other thing I like is Professor Brownstein’s insight about the covert power of fear. This rings true for me. When I think I am in danger in some way—my reputation, my ideas, my “truth,” my deeply held beliefs—then I am tempted to respond to another with defensiveness and attack. But whenever I step back and consider that the other person is struggling with their own fears—even if from a very different perspective than mine—then I am more inclined to work from the “honesty-respect” paradigm. Whenever I consider the very real possibility that I could be wrong (or at least partly wrong and only partly right) then I am more able to give others the liberty to be different and to act wrongly in my eyes. (I’ve written about this before in my blog: Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely.)

My volunteer work with the Coffee Party USA has reminded me how uncivil our communication patterns have become in America in this 21st century. Maybe it’s the political climate. Maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace. Maybe it’s a devaluing of common courtesy across the broad spectrum of our society. Maybe it’s our culture’s dualism that tends to categorize people and ideas into boxes marked: black or white, right or wrong. Maybe we all are living with too much fear. Whatever is going on, incivility is damaging us in deep ways and it’s time to turn this around.

Some people won’t care; they are in this to “win” by using speech as a weapon that destroys its opponents (as Dr. Brownstein points out.) 6a00d8341c500653ef012877186c7e970c-800wi

But lots of us do care; we want to find ways to employ honest, respectful civil dialogue as a tool for breaking down walls and building bridges. We who share this commitment are the ones who carry the greater responsibility to model civility and to persevere in actually acting like civilized people.

We’re not so far-gone that we can’t improve our skills of speaking and listening.

We’re not so hardened that we have lost our ability to respect our shared humanity—even for an adversary.

We’re not so inept that we can’t express our honest differences of opinion with courtesy and civility.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


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.