A Call to Give Up Christian Privilege for the Sake of Religious Liberty

Conversations about religious liberty continue to stir the pot of our public dialogue. Some presidential hopefuls and other public figures say Christianity is under attack and Christian freedoms are being threatened. Since I am a Christian minister in relationship with a wide range of Christians across this nation, I can say confidently: “Baloney.”

It’s not freedom that is being challenged; it is privilege.

Many other Christians across the Liberal to Conservative spectrum agree with me. Although the self-centered, tribal voices of privilege get more attention in news stories and news feeds, there are countless Christians who are speaking up in favor of an appropriate balance between Church and State. Many Christians are on front lines across America arguing that the religious and civil rights of all our citizens should be the undergirding principle of our public policies.

One of the more impressive, articulate voices speaking out to counter the hyperventilation of the Religious Right might be considered a poster boy for Conservative Christianity: dallin-h-oaks-largeElder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In a speech at a Court/Clergy Conference in Sacramento, Mr. Oaks laid out his premise:

I begin by speaking of the inevitable relationship between two different realms: the laws and institutions of government on the one hand and the principles (or “laws”) and institutions of religion on the other…

My thesis is that we all want to live together in happiness, harmony, and peace. To achieve that common goal, and for all contending parties to achieve their most important personal goals, we must learn and practice mutual respect for others whose beliefs, values, and behaviors differ from our own. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, the Constitution “is made for people of fundamentally differing views.”

Differences on precious fundamentals are with us forever … This does not anticipate that we will deny or abandon our differences but that we will learn to live with those laws, institutions, and persons who do not share them.

There should be no adversariness between believers and nonbelievers, and there should be no belligerence between religion and government. These two realms should have a mutually supportive relationship…

Two things stand out to me: 1) Government and Religion have an “inevitable relationship” and 2) “Differences on precious fundamentals are with us forever.” Two inevitabilities.

Some religious people wish that their own personal Religion should be established and privileged by the Government; some non-religious people wish Religion would go away altogether. Neither of these things will ever happen in a healthy USA. Religious faith will never go away as long as humans exist AND the Constitution presumes and guarantees the free exercise of religious faith within our society.

Our Constitution notes the “inevitable relationship” that has existed since our beginnings and outlines how Religion and Government should interact appropriately within American society. Thomas Jefferson (in a private letter) thought of it as a “wall” of separation; Mr. Oaks thinks it is more realistically a “curtain.”

Our current public discussion must continue to focus on the “hows” of the relationship. Certainly there is to be no “establishment” of religion by official forms of government, but how do we dismantle the historic societal privilege of one religion within this increasing multicultural, multi-religious culture? How do we work together to create a society where we can “live together in happiness, harmony, and peace?”

As a progressive Christian minister, I celebrate the diversity I experience within my Christian community, across my interfaith community and throughout my secular national community. coexistThat wasn’t always true. I was raised as a judgmental Fundamentalist, moved on to become a more generous Conservative and am grateful these days to be an inclusive, welcoming Progressive.

For many Christians, diversity is for celebrating but for others, diversity is intimidating. Nevertheless, these differences among us are “inevitable” and “with us forever.” As Justice Holmes noted: our Constitution “is made for people of fundamentally differing views.” I am very grateful for that truth.

Mr. Oaks’ voice is significant within this conversation about religious liberty for another reason besides his leadership within the Mormon faith community; he also understands this issue from a civil and legal angle. Oaks has served our country as a law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, as a prosecutor in the state courts in Illinois, and as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court. Therefore, I sit up and take notice when he says:

Believers should also acknowledge the validity of constitutional laws. Even where they have challenged laws or practices on constitutional grounds, once those laws or practices have been sustained by the highest available authority, believers should acknowledge their validity and submit to them. …

2dbb9186aaf3996a953dd8e78a9c1e3eFor religious citizens, a significant part of authentic religious freedom is our right to politic for public policy within the public arena.  But once laws are passed or when the Supreme Court rules on a law’s constitutionality, then all citizens are expected to obey the laws or suffer the consequences; religious citizens are not exempt.

Elder Oaks offers three wise suggestions, three general principles for walking (what he terms) the “center path:”

* First, parties with different views on the relationship between church and state should advocate and act with civility…

* Second, on the big issues that divide adversaries on these issues, both sides should seek a balance, not a total victory…

* Third, it will help if we are not led or unduly influenced by the extreme voices that are heard from contending positions…

Current day Christians would do well to remember our history: during the first three centuries of our movement, Christians mostly came from the under class and under belly of society, surrounded on every side by people whose beliefs, values, and behaviors differed from their own. It was in that decidedly unprivileged position that Christianity thrived. I say “thrived” not in a sense of power but in the sense of service: Christians went about the business of loving their neighbors, serving the poor, welcoming the stranger, caring for the least among them…

If we Christians continue to demand our Constitutional rights, then it seems to me we ought to be using those generous religious liberties to proclaim a faith that is actually authentic to the gospel and to actually practice a faith that is beneficial to our world.

Current day Christians would do well to remember (and to follow once again) the One whose name we wear: the Christ who abandoned privilege. The Christ who sought out relationship with “tax collectors and sinners.” The Christ who sacrificed his own personal freedoms out of self-giving love for others.


Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “The Boundary Between Church and State”
Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference
Sacramento, California
October 20, 2015


Intersections logoCharlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. 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.






Table Talk that can Feed our Souls

Some years ago, when I visited a friend who lived in a nursing home, she introduced me to her meal time table mates and then reminded everyone of the ground rules for their table conversations: “No talk about religion, politics or bowel movements.” I still smile every time I tell this story.

There are good reasons we don’t usually venture into conversation about religion and politics whenever we gather for Thanksgiving or family reunions. Deeply held beliefs can lead to deep divides if these conversations become battlegrounds. Families who care about each other may well decide that maintaining relationship is more valuable than winning arguments. I agree.

But there is another way to be in conversation together besides “winning”; a way that maintains and even cultivates relationship through the process of discussing our various opinions and perspectives DinnerWithFriendsabout religion and politics.

Listening to others who think differently than we, coming to understand what motivates them, respecting their voice, growing in awareness, even (maybe) changing our mind about some things … authentic conversation around controversial issues is not impossible. In fact, in our contentious society these days, it is crucial: we must figure out how to talk and listen to each other again.

A minister colleague blogged recently about this very dilemma within the context of the broad cyberspace Christian community. His wisdom also applies to civil conversation within any diverse community. John Pavlovitz recommends these two attitudes that can foster helpful dialogue:

First: each of us has made our own journey to where we are and no one can change that. We all have been shaped by the experiences and people in our lives and we are each “the product of our specific journey.” None of us speaks from an objective truth; we’re all sharing our best guess based on what we can see from where we’re standing.

And second: even if we come to vastly different conclusions, there’s a very good chance we are motivated by similar passions. Among people of faith, most of us truly want to serve and love God. Among citizens of our nation, most of us truly want to promote what is good for our country. How we live that out can be “vastly different,” but it helps to identify some of our common passions when we are making an effort to have a meaningful conversation.

Like Pavlovitz, I am a Christian minister who yearns to converse with people who see the world differently than I. My own story of moving away from my fundamentalist origins demonstrates how open, honest, welcoming conversations can help people grow and change.

Pavlovitz’s dream is my own:

It may be a pipe dream, but I want better for all of us as we wrestle with the deepest things of this life. I certainly want more for my writing and my efforts as a minister.

I don’t want to be the kind of Christian who only loves those who love me first, or those who appear most lovable from a distance. (Jesus was pretty clear about all that.)

I have no interest in being a pastor who preaches only to the applauding choir of those who agree with him. I want to speak to the greater congregation, even if it means getting shouted down sometimes.

I aspire to a faith that sets a wide open table and truly welcomes the full diversity of perspectives there, seeing it all as valid and beautiful. I’m hopeful for theological discussions where no one’s dignity is lost.

This is the only way forward for me that makes any sense. It’s the prayer I have for you and for me, even if we don’t align in any number of ways.

It may be a pipe dream that we can cultivate this kind of open table conversation whenever we talk about religion or politics in this contentious climate. But I refuse to give up on the dream of reclaiming a culture of civil dialogue.

Let’s all start where we are: One friend over coffee. Respectful posts on our Facebook pages and respectful disagreements in our comments. Listening deeply to identify our common passions and building honest dialogue from that common ground.


Let’s learn together how conversation can actually help build relationships instead of damaging them.

I’m not giving up. I hold on to hope. Maybe you do too.


John Pavlovitz.com “Stuff that Needs to be Said”

The Coffee Party USA is partnering with Living Room Conversations to get the ball rolling on our quest to encourage the use of civility and reason all across America.  Sign up on the website to host a Coffee Party Talk in your neighborhood…


Image credit: BALI

cvclogo copyCharlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. 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.








Human Rights Celebration at Church Women United

imagesYou probably noticed that Pope Francis came to visit recently. I found it fascinating to follow the news during his several days in the United States and to see live coverage of his several speeches: one to a joint session of Congress, another to the United Nations. It was lovely to see images of so many people moved with joy and hope and renewed conviction. This pope is a remarkable man who has captured the hearts of people – Catholic and Protestant, religious and non-religious – from across the globe.

But did you also notice the criticism? According to some, this pope is “socialist,” “communist,” “Marxist.” People use these caustic labels because of Francis’ advocacy for human rights and human dignity. Because of his insistence that societies should work together to care for the poor, the stranger, the prisoner, the environment.

More than one commentator has suggested that the Pope should stick to getting souls into heaven and stay out of politics.

But I’m thinking it’s not really that the pope is too political; rather it’s that his critics don’t like his politics.  Continue reading Human Rights Celebration at Church Women United

Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Marriage Equality

Dear Senator Cruz,

In my first letter, I offered the paradigm “love of neighbor” as an appropriate and helpful framework for creating laws and policies for our American society. Since I am a Christian pastor and since you are my Senator and have acknowledged your Christianity publicly, I am writing these letters to reflect pastorally on the values of Jesus Christ and how those values might inform your work in Congress. data-1

I received the most recent letter that you sent to your constituents and I must respond to say that your efforts to re-establish the Defense of Marriage Act is wrong on so many levels. I say this as a straight, middle-class woman; as a voter in your state; and as a Christian. Continue reading Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Marriage Equality