America, Christianity, and Social Media

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 K.J. Reynolds is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator for Chalice Press.

Uncertainty

Few of us are fans of unbridled uncertainty.

Oh sure, there are exceptions. Game Seven. Jon Snow: Dead or aliveTonight’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.

"In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done." No uncertainty for Homer -- he knows what God wants, right?
“In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done.”
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?

A Publishing Company *and* a Ministry

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.

Flag_of_Georgia_(U.S._state)

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.

Gratefully,

Brad-signature

 

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.


 

Why I Wrote “Preaching Politics”

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.”

Stauffer: Civil dialogue & mutual respect are necessary if a united church is to have a future. Click To Tweet

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.

Download the full preview of Preaching Politics [PDF format]

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Odd ducks

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,

Brad-signature

(Here’s Publishers Weekly’s article on PubWest.)

“The weed of racism still grows”

“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.

Eric Law on The Gift

From chapter three, “The Gift,” in Holy Currency Exchange: 101 Stories, Songs, Actions, and Visions for Missional and Sustainable Ministries by Eric H.F. Law:

Holy_Currency_Exchange_cover_finalRE_400At the beginning of the new year, I often hear people say with a sigh of relief, “Thank God the holidays are over!” I recall seeing frantic shoppers before Christmas trying to find the right presents for people to whom they are obligated to give gifts. If gift giving is reduced to an obligation and is measured as a commodity, I can understand how it would be a relief to be done with it until the next birthday or anniversary or Christmas.

In his now-classic book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, author Lewis Hyde shares stories from different cultures around the concept of exchanging gifts. He writes

These stories present gift exchange as a companion to transformation, a sort of guardian or marker or catalyst. It is also the case that a gift may be the actual agent of change, the bearer of new life. In the simplest examples, gifts carry an identity with them, and to accept the gift amounts to incorporating the new identity.

According to Hyde, there are at least three obligations to gift economy—the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. In many of the cultural stories that Hyde examined, the reciprocation may not go directly back to the original giver but to a third party. Sometimes the gift is expected to keep flowing throughout the community and it may eventually return to the original giver in different forms. Hyde wrote, “[A] gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

For Christians, one of the greatest gifts that we receive is Jesus. To accept this gift is to incorporate a new identity embodied by the words and actions of Jesus. Continue reading Eric Law on The Gift

Rev. Jennifer Bailey on Daniel Holtzclaw and #StandWithBWG

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On December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, and other charges. Today, he was sentenced to 263 years in prison. Although little media attention has been given to this case, it is important to recognize the brave response of the victims, like Jannie Ligons. In an article for MoyoLiving.org, Rev. Jennifer Bailey reflects on how these events mirror the sexual exploitation of black women throughout history. Bailey shows that there have always been women like Ms. Jannie to resist the mistreatment. Her call is #StandWithBGW (Black Women and Girls).