Last Friday night, Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer. On Sunday morning, we sat in worship. On Monday afternoon, there were press conferences and video. And questions, still: What if? Where was? Who should? Why don’t? When will?
And in between? Sitting there – at home, in worship, in my office – in between Friday and Monday, all I could think was: It’s really quiet.
And maybe it should be. Maybe … before we run the compassion gauntlet in an effort to be the first to speak, the definitive word, the declarative voice, the One Who Will Be Heard … maybe we should be quiet, at least for a minute.
Maybe, when it is not our experience, when we do not entirely know, when we cannot even imagine, maybe sitting and being quiet and listening to the voices that need to rise, that come in pain, that wail in agony, that cry out for understanding – from every direction and every place … maybe THAT is where God’s voice can be most clearly heard.
… something is very, very wrong: And if it’s wrong for one of us, then it’s wrong for all of us. – says the pastor
… This beautiful child just told me that he skips and smiles while he is walking home so that he will look less threatening to [white] people. – says the mother
… It hurts my heart more than yours when you accuse me of anything less than simply wanting to make sure my words are articulate, and accurate when using them. – says the officer
… There is simply no easy fix to be found here; there is just challenging and uncomfortable and deeply important work that we must engage in to build a better Tulsa for ourselves and for our children. I believe in Tulsa. – says the educator
And after Friday night, and Sunday morning, and Monday afternoon: On Wednesday evening, sitting in between colleagues and friends and strangers of every tradition, and neighborhood, and hue … maybe it was good to listen some more to the songs sung and prayers prayed and challenges issued and laments shouted and mourned. Sitting in between those hundreds of people, in the beautiful worship center at Metropolitan Baptist Church, it was not hard to hear: but it was terribly hard to listen. And painful to listen. And heartbreaking to listen. And for many, it has probably been heart-hardening to listen.
It is not, as some have suggested (particularly in comparison to Charlotte this week), that Tulsa is ‘better’ or ‘doing it right.” We are doing it how we do it. We build relationships in between so that when the time comes – even when the time comes too often, and far more often than we would like – when the time comes to sit and be together, we can sit and be together. We hate to have to keep showing up to mourn, but we are honored to keep showing up for our friends and our neighbors and our leaders and our children and our communities. To advocate for change; to commit again (and again and again and as many agains as we need) to be new and renewed in our hope; to mourn with those who mourn and to let that mourning come. Maybe that seems too little, but it can never be too late.
Maybe it is wise for us to practice the discipline of a Holy Saturday … that sitting, and waiting, in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is NOT inaction. It is active listening. It is intently considering what WE are NOT saying. Maybe it is in that silence … when we don’t know what to say, and when we shouldn’t be the ones saying it anyway … maybe that is where God is most readily heard: in the cries of God’s people, in the stones crying out: That we might hear, and listen, and THEN act, and be most faithful.
Twenty-something years ago I was a police and fire reporter. Fresh out of college, I worked for two Oklahoma newspapers: first in a mostly rural county of about 30,000 residents and then in Edmond, my upper-class suburban hometown. I spent mornings reading police and fire reports, talking to the police department spokesperson, occasionally calling the families of those who had died or who clung to life. I got to know the officers I met each morning, and we built a cordial, professional relationship. We never went out for drinks after work, but I never feared being pulled over by one of them during a traffic stop.
During my time in Edmond, I had the misfortune of covering two fatal shootings by police in the course of about a month. I forget which came first, but one involved two police officers in the woods firing 13 shots at a naked, intoxicated suspect. I think he was Hispanic. The other shooting resulted when a suspect, high on inhalants carrying a baseball bat, charged the officer. I think he was white. 1
After the second shooting, I had the so-called audacity to ask publicly if the police department had a shoot-first-ask-questions-later problem. In a time before tasers became standard-issue, I asked whether pepper spray should have been used instead. This challenge of authority didn’t sit well with the spokesperson I talked to each morning. He and the police chief thoroughly lectured me that the cardinal rule of use-of-force is to keep the upper hand on suspects. To an extent, I understand why police are trained to use necessary force before somebody uses it on them. When dealing with people consciously breaking the law or who are mentally ill or chemically altered, they are not making good decisions. Police officers, more than anyone else, know lives are on the line, especially theirs. We thank them for their courage, for doing what we cannot.
But goodness gracious, these are hard times to be a cop in America. Not only because American policing is so militarized. Not only because training is outdated. Not only because mental health services for police are insufficient for the demands of the job and using mental health services is scorned by an uber-tough culture. Not only because there are more guns on the streets. Not only because violence is gaining tacit, silent approval from the powers that be. Not only because racism is getting bolder and more aggressive in its violent manifestations. Not only because the income disparity makes the poor poorer and more willing to take desperate measures. Not only because politicians want to look tough on crime so they overprosecute the financially vulnerable to feed the prison-industrial complex. Not only because politicians knowingly drive wedges between races and classes as a way to mobilize their base.
I can’t help but think that in 2016, the hardest factor for any socially conscious police officer has to be how race figures into law enforcement – and the worst-case scenario of having to fire shots. Over the past two years, since the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, the relationship between police and people of color is under tremendous scrutiny – as it should be.
Let’s be perfectly clear here: People of color in this country are living – and dying – under undeclared martial law.
People of color – not whites like me – are living and dying under undeclared martial law. I know it’s highly unlikely that I, a middle-aged suburban white guy, will have to deal with a police officer drawing a gun on me, due only to the fact that I’m a middle-aged suburban white guy. White privilege is on full display right here.
Cops know that people of color are justifiably angry. Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, a million other injustices – who can blame people of color for being scared of law enforcement? The lack of trust makes both the officer and the citizen even edgier when engaged in a law-enforcement situation. The odds of an altercation rise immediately.
Our Wild West mentality toward guns only makes it worse for both the cop and for people of color when their paths cross. Loosening gun laws means police are now far more likely to assume people are carrying guns (and they probably are) and instinctively react based on that assumption. Lawmakers do police officers no favors by loosening gun laws despite opposition from the law enforcement community. If politicians support law and order, why are they betraying the people entrusted by our society to carry it out?
How do we break this horrific cycle? How do we reduce violence, build trust, and find common ground?
Fact of the matter is, fewer and fewer people know how to do it – and the so-called leaders in American society don’t appear to give a damn. That means politicians, and that means the voices of faith as well. Across the political and theological spectrum, the increasing polarization of American society portrays compromise as a vice, and listening to the opinions of others a weakness. That trickles down into the way we treat each other each day. We don’t listen to each other, our relationships crumble, we hurt each other and ourselves. We allow the love for our fellow humans and the world around us to decay. We quit thinking, we shut down emotionally, and we live hollow lives. Yes, we are physically safer for it, but are we morally or ethically better for our isolation and emptiness?
Clearly there is not an easy answer. But it is our duty as followers of Christ, of a man who called for us to reconcile a broken world, to turn the other cheek, to seek justice, to represent the oppressed – it is our God-given duty to try. We are called to be reconcilers, to hear others, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and then to put the best ideas to the test. And if we have to try one hundred thousand different ways, and all but one of them fails, it will have been worth the effort.
Where shall we start?
Introducing a 25-part series on how to reduce police brutality following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile by Shaun King, New York Daily News
Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines by Sandhya Rani Jha
Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis
Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation by William J. Barber II and Barbara Zelter
Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter by Chris Crass
Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
1 The articles I wrote for the Edmond Sun are no longer online, so forgive me if I misremember a specific detail.
Brad Lyons’ opinions are not necessarily those of the Christian Board of Publication, its imprints, authors, or other affiliates.
I urge Christians and all people of good will to stand in deep solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, their First Nation allies, and the many others who have joined them in their effort to permanently block the North Dakota Access Pipeline. The decision of the Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior to temporarily stop construction is a direct result of the actions of these “stewards of the earth” who have taken a courageous stand to protect the sovereignty of Native Americans and our environment.
Many Protestant denominations have apologized to Native Americans for their participation in the long history of our nation’s efforts to assimilate or exterminate Indigenous Peoples. Some denominations have renounced the Doctrine of Discovery—a legal fiction couched in quasi-religious sentiments that gave European kings a right to conquer foreign lands and is now the basis for U.S. control of Native lands. Most denominations have called for an end to the public use of images and logos that demean and degrade tribal people. Now is the time to take the next step and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
David Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, addressed a letter to “all Native American Tribes in the U.S. and to all Indigenous Peoples of the world,” on August 25, 2016, in which he wrote: “We all have a responsibility to speak for a vision of the future that is safe and productive for our grandchildren.” In this same letter he quoted Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota, who once said: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” When President Obama spoke to the 20th Annual Environmental Summit on August 31, 2016, he quoted a Washoe tribal leader: “What happens to the land also happens to the people.” The president has invited tribes to a formal government-to-government consultation on infrastructure.
If completed, the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline will carry nearly a half million barrels of crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Illinois, where it will be linked to another pipeline. Proponents of the pipeline promise that during the construction phase it will create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs. Craig Stevens, a spokesperson for MAIN Coalition, a group supporting the pipeline, is quoted as saying that a delay in construction could have “a long-lasting and chilling effect on private infrastructure development in the United States.” Other advocates for the pipeline suggest that the actions of the Obama administration are a “temporary halt” to the project, which may be completed under a new administration.
The National Congress of American Indians put the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline in a historical context when they called it “another chapter in a long history of constructing hazardous pipeline routes through tribal lands without respecting tribal sovereignty.”
The immediate concern for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is protection of Lake Oahe, a primary source of water for the tribe and people and communities downstream who rely on the Missouri River. The larger but no less important concern is respect of the rights and sovereignty of Native Peoples. Deep solidarity, a phrase coined by Joerg Rieger, is rooted in an understanding that we are all in the same boat. We share the same earth and water. Given that many Protestant denominations have already renounced past efforts to assimilate or exterminate Native Peoples and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, it is time for us to stand in deep solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”
We’re in publishing. We believe in words. By basis of location, we are an American publisher, and we believe freedom of speech is a fundamental right. By basis of mission, we are also a Christian publisher. Our mission is to invite all people into deeper relationship with God. We want to allow people to comment on our social media posts, but lately some of those post have been personal attacks more than constructive criticism or reasoned arguments.
Last week, in the wake of the horrific shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, we posted a link to an interview with one of our authors who helped organize the Dallas protest. Suddenly we saw comments like we’d never seen before—angry, accusatory words that attacked the author and Chalice Press. We’ve had pushback, criticism, and even a little hate before, but these comments seemed incendiary.
Censorship is not our style. We publish provocative works—works to stir and maybe make the reader uncomfortable with their current mindset—that we believe will fulfill the great commission. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” We are careful with our editing because we don’t want to censor the writer’s voice.
So what does an American, Christian publisher do about divisive, angry comments on its Facebook page or Twitter feed? We have a bottom line. We need to sell books in order to continue our ministry. It would be easy to assuage those folks by allowing their comments to remain, to assure them their comments are valid and that we’ve heard/read them. To “save the sale,” as it were.
But our ministry is publishing books to call people to greater knowledge of God, which we believe to be bringing justice and peace to all God’s children. We would not publish a book with the vitriol and hatred espoused in some of the comments on our posts. Why allow it on our social media feeds?
One of our upcoming books is Better: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, by Melvin Bray. Better’s premise is, what if we could change the world by telling better stories? That is what Better, and Executing God, and Available Hope, and Unified We Are a Force, and (we believe) all our books are attempting to do—to change the world by telling stories of faith to create a more just world for all of God’s creation. They are provocative and progressive and prophetic.
To those posting comments which are really personal attacks: We know you believe you walk in the righteous path. Freedom of speech makes that righteous path wide and varied. Freedom of religion — as well as Jesus’ words as a call to love our God and our neighbors — means we work to ensure there is room for everyone on that path, and that we are all welcome to join in the journey.
K.J. Reynolds is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator for Chalice Press.
“This book is an invitation for us to listen, with God, to the cries of those who labor.” —Shane Claiborne, Author and Activist
Few of us are fans of unbridled uncertainty.
Oh sure, there are exceptions. Game Seven. Jon Snow: Dead or alive?¹ Tonight’s winning numbers.² But the impact of those gambles on our own lives are generally quite limited. Whether a team wins or loses, whether a fictional character lives or dies, most likely won’t impact the next days. It’s manageable chaos. Most of us appreciate having our affairs in order, know how the day will probably turn out, and look forward to that bit of manageable chaos with our kids’ sports or binge-watching.
Chaos, uncertainty, and I have had a rough relationship over the last few years, and this week was marked by an hour of horrific uncertainty. At 10:50 Wednesday morning, my cellphone rang with a call from the school district my kids attend. It was a robocall, but it was flagged as an emergency phone call. They were informing us the high school was in lockdown and that the other schools had locked the doors and weren’t letting anybody in. That was all they could tell us. Uncertainty.
I quickly texted my sophomore son, “You guys are on lockdown?” An uncomfortable amount of time passed before he responded, “Yup.” I read that as nonchalant. I read that as “can’t say much right now.” I read that in the mindset of a parent in the post-Columbine days, and my pulse shot up. Uncertainty.
Once a journalist, always a journalist. I understood why the school district couldn’t tell us more — they believed they had an active threat and were working the problem, and sometimes too much information can be problematic in an investigation. But I immediately jumped on social media to see what the scuttlebutt was, knowing full well that the information had a high chance of being unreliable. What was true? Unknowable.
Damn the uncertainty.
For an hour I sat at my desk, reloading the district’s social media feeds, looking at local news websites, hoping for the best. Two more calls came from the district telling us they didn’t have much to tell us. Finally, almost an hour later, they tweeted that the lockdown was over and that the school day was resuming as usual. I exhaled, a bit, relieved that whatever had triggered the lockdown hadn’t come to a violent manifestations. My son and I talked about it that evening, and his biggest complaint was the boredom of being in a dark classroom for an hour. May he never feel the anxiety I felt this morning.
The uncertainty in life. It kills us slowly sometimes, and we want it to end as quickly as possible. Rip off the bandage. Tell me the bad news first. Text me when you get there so I know you’re OK. A terrible side effect of the Information Age is when we find ourselves cut off from information. We are alone, abandoned, forgotten.
Here’s the catch: As a Progressive Christian, my faith lives in the uncertainty. Living this life means accepting ambiguity, appreciating the gray patches that fills our lives, and frequently admitting to ourselves and those with the courage to ask that we don’t know the answer — and that we may never know the answer.
Yet despite which choice we make, there’s always somebody saying there’s only one way to read scripture. Funny how that person usually disagrees with us, isn’t it? Chaos versus order, ambiguity versus certain, my way or the highway.
Must be nice, having the answers to the quiz. Except there’s not necessarily one answer.
At Chalice Press, we get our fair share of criticism from the conservative side of the church. Despite our feisty tendencies, usually we let it roll off our backs, chuckle amongst ourselves “he didn’t read our Company Profile,” and move on. But we approach our books and our ministry this way: We strive to ask the right question, then to give our response an option, a suggestion — but not an answer. We don’t dare claim we speak for God.
We Progressive Christians look at scripture and read between the lines, discovering the layers of interpretations in the words translated over the centuries and presented to us in the writing style we find most engaging. We see the morals established by Jesus and try to apply those to our own lives and our own society. We try to live out those morals even when there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity. God is very good most of the time at not giving us any firm signs whether we’re making the right choice or the wrong choice, at letting us make our own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Sometimes, uncertainty is the correct choice. Sometimes, it’s the only choice.
¹ Re Jon Snow: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?
² Re the lottery: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?
Chalice Press is a publishing company, but Chalice Press is also a ministry. Other corporate publishers are in the Christian publishing business to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as a publisher founded on Christian principles that is an active part of a Christian community and faith tradition, when our authors are those called to be 21st-century prophets for justice and equality, we feel called to speak up when lawmakers consider or approve discriminatory legislation.
Our company is incorporated in Missouri, but we also have a physical presence in Georgia, where our warehouse is, and North Carolina, where an employee lives. All three states have engaged in legislation recently that has compelled us to raise our corporate voice as a Christian ministry.
First, Missouri, where the legislature is currently considering a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 39 (see the Update below). Here’s how the Associated Press describes SJR 39:
The proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution would prohibit government penalties against those who cite “a sincere religious belief” while declining to provide goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex marriage ceremonies or celebrations. The measure cites photographers and florists as examples of those who could be covered.
Businesses would be protected if they deny services for a wedding or a reception that happens around the time of the wedding.
The measure also would shield clergy and worship places that decline to participate in such weddings.
Here’s how we describe it: Deeply incompatible with our religious beliefs. SJR 39 would enshrine discrimination against the LGBTQIA community in the Missouri Constitution. It is also bad social policy in a country that should set the world standard for equality.
We also see SJR 39 as harmful to the Missouri economy, which will impact our employees and our communities, as well as our own business should boycotts be implemented.
We’ve sent letters of protests to leaders of the Missouri Senate, which saw an epic 37-hour filibuster broken by a procedural vote earlier this month, and the Missouri House of Representatives, which hasn’t yet taken up the bill as of this writing. Time and the Missouri House will determine whether this discriminatory legislation appears on our November ballot.
Next, Georgia. In the past week we’ve written to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal urging him to veto House Bill 757, which has much in common with Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment. We’re pleased that our letter won’t arrive in time to influence the decision; on Monday, Gov. Deal vetoed the bill, saying Georgia is a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people” who “work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to.” Preach, Governor Deal, preach!
No such luck in North Carolina. In the past week we’ve also protested to leaders in that state, which passed House Bill 2, overturning local LGBT equality legislation allowing transgender individuals to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as and banning cities from passing such legislation. This hideous legislation was reportedly written behind closed doors, raced through the legislature during a special session, and signed into law in an incredulously quick pace usually reserved for disaster declarations. Our hope is that legislators will do an about-face; our expectation is that the courts will overturn this legislation. Either way, everything about this legislation and the process leading to its passage is deeply troubling.
It would be easy to turn away from this legislation, to hope legislators will come to their senses, quit pandering to their bases, and forever swear off legislation that unambiguously and unabashedly discriminates in an effort to get more of “their people” to the polls on Election Day. It would be easy to hope the judiciary will right the wrongs, and soon. It would be easy to hope these laws go unenforced or ignored. But in today’s hyper-polarized world, who knows?
If lawmakers won’t come around, then it’s time for the activists to rise up. I’m proud Chalice Press supports the activists who oppose these laws and that we are able to join the chorus in some way, even if we can’t protest in person. Let’s hope common sense returns to statehouses and that we can turn our focus back to the work and ministry we love.
P.S. Chalice Press is an imprint of the Christian Board of Publication, which is a 501c3 non-profit corporation. That legislation allows companies to be involved in political activity as long as specific candidates are not being endorsed. We respect that line and don’t cross it.
Update: On April 27, the Emerging Issues Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives split 6-6 on this bill, which most likely killed the bill for the session.
From the introduction to Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship by Clay Stauffer:
Shortly before this book went to press, I sat down at a coffee shop close to my church with a seasoned politician whom I respect despite the fact that we don’t always see eye to eye on every issue. He is older than I am and has seen more than his share of stump speeches, sermons, elections, political pandering, and partisan games. He also seems to respect me regardless of my relative youth and our differences on politics, faith, social policy, and the like. But we each share a love of this great nation, our home state of Tennessee, and the city of Nashville. And we each love our coffee, prepared differently, of course. On this occasion we had another civil conversation—one that included the purpose and intent of this book.
“Clay, I don’t know why you would want to write a book about preaching politics,” he said. “I’ve always considered what you do to be above the political fray, a much more noble profession than mine. Why would you want to dive into the swamp? It doesn’t seem necessary. I just don’t want you to regret this later in your life.”
His observation caught me off guard at 6:45 in the morning. I was still waking up. And to be honest, what he said rattled me. Why do I want to talk about the potential pitfalls of preaching politics? Why do I want to “dirty myself” in the realm of politicians who have low-digit approval ratings? Why would I want to open Pandora’s Box and unleash the howls of those who say politics has no place in the pulpit? Shouldn’t ministers of the gospel play it safe and stay as far away from politics as possible? Aren’t millennials staying away from the church because they believe it is too political? Haven’t preachers on both ends of the spectrum managed to offend enough people and do enough damage already?
My response to these questions has its roots in the denominational ethos that I grew up in and in which I now minister. At thirty-five years of age, I am in my ninth year as senior minister of Woodmont Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am also a fourth-generation pastor, following my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In the StoneCampbell tradition that gave birth to my denomination, we say that we “agree to disagree” when it comes to controversial issues that tend to divide Christians. We stress the unity of Christ’s church and seek to maintain it. “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; but in all things love.” That’s our mantra. This is what we strive to live out in our local churches.
And yet, throughout my adult life, I have watched the church argue, fight, and, in many cases, tear itself apart over a variety of issues. How many issues are there in American society that can be debated eternally without either side conceding an inch of moral high ground? As we prepare for another heated presidential race, many theologians and preachers will endorse a variety of candidates and stake their partisan positions. …
This book is not about any single political issue but rather about how we debate any political issue, and the potential divisions and stressors that pastors and preachers face on a regular basis. Our congregations are split along political, social, and moral lines. Often the moral is wrapped up in the political, and the politics lead to certain perceptions of one another’s theological and biblical beliefs. Some people and churches feel that their version of Christianity is superior. Furthermore, obvious divisions related to socioeconomic class and lifestyle differences are also a reality for many churches. Growing materialism, the glorification of money, rampant consumerism, the constant quest for more, and a false sense of security present real challenges to our spiritual lives and the church of the future. As I will contend, Jesus still speaks to all these things.
Civil dialogue and mutual respect are absolutely necessary if a united church is to have a future.
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ON THE WAY HOME FROM SANTA FE – I’ve spent the past few days at PubWest, an annual meeting of the publishing industry based in the western part of the U.S. and Canada. Western is interpreted loosely as “west of the Hudson River.” Name a genre, and you could probably find at least one publisher. Chalice was one of only two Christian publishers at the event; the other was Ave Maria Press out of Notre Dame, Indiana. (Indiana is, after all, west of the Hudson.)
As a PubWest first-timer, I enjoyed the diverse nature of this group. Introductions typically contained statements like, “we publish literary and children’s fiction” or “we publish outdoor guides” or “we publish books about national parks,” and it was easy to see their mission. Then I would explain Chalice Press’ mission, but then, because we’re a faith-related publisher, I was asked to go a step further and explain our ministry, because clearly among this crowd, faith-based publishers are odd ducks.
“We’re 105 years old, based in St. Louis, we’re affiliated with a Protestant denomination blah blah blah,” I’d say quickly before seguing to, “but we know faith is changing, so Chalice Press plans to be the go-to publisher for Progressive Christians.”
The phrase Progressive Christians generally elicited one of two different looks:
- confusion, because they could guess what that meant but weren’t entirely sure they were correct, or
- a blank stare, meaning they couldn’t even begin to process what I’d just said.
At least nobody just turned and walked away. And better yet, nobody slugged me.
Then I would unpack the meaning of Progressive Christians: We’re inclusive and welcoming of anybody who wants to have a personal relationship with God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, and we know there are as many ways to relate to God as there are snowflakes in an avalanche. We support the LGBT community. We’re broadening our offerings on social justice in areas such as gender equality, the environment, education, criminal justice reform, a living wage, and voting rights. In everything we do, we want to empower our readers to change their world in ways that make it a better, more caring place. Once I finished that definition, I got a lot of smiles and “cool!” and “that’s really great!”
What stuck with me, though, is that time after time, I had to defend Christianity while at the same time critiquing it. It’s a fine line we Progressive Christians walk, isn’t it? You know the conversation: The divisive, nasty, incendiary garbage cloaked as faith drives people to be blasé about religion in general but, even more so, hostile specifically to Christianity. And I don’t blame them.
Try this exercise to view the world like a publisher: When you look at bookstore shelves, you see what readers are most likely to buy. Most of the time, the books you see represent the market pretty well. Now, in that bookstore you’re envisioning, walk over to the Religion and Spirituality section. The books you’re likely to notice first are from conservative pastors, often proclaiming social-morality agendas, or megachurch pastors powered by multi-million-dollar marketing budgets. When publishers see which books represent Christianity, no wonder they think Christians are all so ridiculously conservative!
The great thing about publishers and editors and marketers and designers and others who work in the publishing industry is that they are all, at heart, curious. They gave me the opportunity to explain Chalice Press’s work and mission, and then they asked thoughtful, challenging, but respectful questions. And in the end, I didn’t meet a single person who criticized what we do. My favorite response was “I knew there were some good Christians out there!”
I cannot report any baptisms or conversions or speaking in tongues at PubWest, but I can report that a good number of people may go home from Santa Fe remembering that there is at least one Christian publisher doing things differently, working to tell the world that our diversity can unify instead of divide. I return to St. Louis with new friends, new counterparts, and new insights, but also knowing that what we are doing — and by we, I mean not just our crew at Chalice Press and our authors, but also our readers, so that includes you — is holy work, and it is making a difference in the world. Progressive Christianity in 2016 is a challenge, no question about it, but know that there are people you will never meet who are thankful for the work we all do.
Grateful to be your partner in ministry,
(Here’s Publishers Weekly’s article on PubWest.)
“Racism is real; racism is sin; and racism is really, really tough. If we’re going to get beyond it, none of us gets to sit on the sidelines.”
Sharon Watkins, author of Whole: A Call to Unity in Our Fragmented World, gave an unflinching sermon on racism in 2016 and the church’s role in eradicating racism but also in creating an environment that will lead to reconciliation. A summary of her remarks at Phillips Theological Seminary’s Remind and Renew are posted on Disciples.org, and a link to an audio recording is available here. Take the time not only to hear the words but to understand the message.