Cynthia Vacca Davis’s ‘Intersexion’ explores the traumas and the hopes of Christian community

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Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

Yes, as the cover of Cynthia Vacca Davis’s memoir proclaims, “sex” is a major theme in this book.

But if you read her title—Intersexion, A Story of Faith, Identity and Authenticity—all the way to the end, you’ll find another major theme of this book: Authenticy. And, beyond that, there’s a third major theme that matters deeply to millions of American people of faith these days: Community. The larger story within these 234 pages is about the fulfillment so many Americans are seeking in warmly embracing communities of faith.

The main narrative in this book describes the dramatic changes in Cynthia’s life through a close friendship at her church with Dani/Danny—who is part of a largely misunderstood gender minority and was going through even more titanic changes at the same time. As Dani moved toward embracing an authentic life as Danny, both Cynthia and Danny met the harshness of Evangelical exclusion. However, both of them refused to hide their own true stories in the shadows. Danny was experiencing physical and emotional changes as an intersex person and Cynthia was discovering the buzzsaws that friends of LGBTQ+ folks can face, as well.

Ultimately, that’s the reason millions of Americans should read this new book. Cynthia’s memoir tells us what it feels like inside the daily lives of both her friend and herself and their families—when faced with the harsh reality of Evangelical judgment. And, even though this particular book is about exclusion due to gender and sexuality, this echoes stories about exclusion due to race or ethnicity or simply an openness to questioning the almost fundamentalist doctrines held by many Evangelicals in America.

The most compelling reason to read this book—for most readers nationwide—is to learn what it feels like when people find themselves exiled from the iron gates of such rigid religious communities. There are millions of these refugees all across America, as we know from Pew Research. And, if you are not one of those refugees yourself, Cynthia’s book explains to the rest of us—including active members in the many churches that welcome minorities—that some of our Christian neighbors may be carrying profound wounds as they try to find new homes. Even as we extend a welcoming hand to these exiles, years may pass before those wounds heal, if ever.

Cynthia herself makes this case in the opening two paragraphs of a free downloadable-PDF she offers to folks who visit her website— The PDF is a check list that she calls “5 Ways to Find Community after Leaving Church.” She writes in those opening paragraphs:

One of the biggest fears I had about walking away from church was losing my community. Church for me was never something I did halfway: It was a way of life. I was involved in church happenings multiple days each week. My social circle was derived almost entirely of people from our congregation. My emergency contacts? Church friends. Surrogate family for holidays? Again, church people. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to rebuild community from scratch by myself. It was terrifying.

But the reality was way different than I feared. My social circle expanded exponentially after I stopped attending church. And the relationships I developed were deeper, richer, and more authentic than many of my Christian friendships had been. Although the process seemed organic and fairly effortless, in hindsight I can identify several shifts in my thinking and behavior that opened me to new and unexpected friendships.

These two paragraphs tell us a lot about Cynthia’s life and also the themes she explores in her new memoir. Among the details to note in these paragraphs: She’s still among the walking wounded. And, Cynthia assumes that the terms “church” and “Christian” refer to a kind of razor-edged, almost-fundamentalist Evangelical community. The fact is that, today, lots of mainline churches—and millions of Christians—fully welcome racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Her definition of “church” and “Christian” refer to claustrophobic circles in which she lived a lot of her life—and that will shape her worldview of those two terms for the rest of her life.

In an interview with Cynthia about her book, this week, she said, “As I began working with Danny on writing this book, I realized—and Danny realized—that writing our stories could be a gift to the larger community, giving people an authentic sense of what so many of us are going through. Of course, I realize there are other kinds of churches out there, but this book describes our church and our experience—because we know that so many others have had these experiences.”

The Lonely Curiosity of the Exiles

Cynthia Vacca Davis. (Photograph used with permission of the author.)

In our interview, I said to Cynthia: “You know one ray of sunshine related to your story is that, by and large, the battle for gender inclusion is all but over across America. There are still very active battlegrounds in states where conservatives are trying to chip away at civil rights. But overall, for example, a solid majority of Americans now support legal recognition of same-sex marriage and majorities also support a range of other LGBTQ rights. I live in Michigan, where our legislature finally voted, this month, to include LGBTQ rights in the state’s civil rights code. Yes, there are millions of former Evangelicals who are exiles precisely because of their concern for either their own gender identity or that of relatives, friends, coworkers and neighbors. It’s heartbreaking to think of so many people adrift because of religious bias. And, yes, there will continue to be heart-breaking battles for years to come—but that hard-edged Evangelical minority in America keeps shrinking each year.”

I said, “That’s a bit of a long-winded summary of the state of these issues—but the basic point I’m making is: Hopefully, the loneliness of the Evangelical exiles will be increasingly greeted by congregations with open doors and open arms. Do you think you might return to some kind of church?”

“I do think about this a lot,” Cynthia said. “I know there are churches out there right now who have very solid allies. But, because of what I’ve been through and what Danny’s been through, I don’t know if attending a brick-and-mortar church is in the future for me. I still don’t know if that will be possible for me in the future.

“Once we had made it through the kinds of experiences with church that we describe in this book, I think there’s a natural hesitancy about accepting the constant filter of a church again,” she said. “And, with this new freedom, I’m discovering new things to do with my Sunday mornings. I love my Sunday morning yoga, now, and I love meeting different people and trying different practices that are both meditative and are connected to community—just not inside a brick-and-mortar church.

“After my experiences, living outside those old boxes and walls is giving me something I’ve never experienced before and, right now, I want to explore that,” she said and paused for a moment before adding, “I do not want to say that I will never go back to church. But I am saying: Not now.”

She paused. Then, she added. “But ever? Church? For me? I do get curious.”

A Helpful Book for Caring Congregations

That is why, in my Amazon-book-page review of Cynthia’s book, I write:

This story does not end on a down note. The book’s concluding chapters describe the happier path these friends have charted beyond that insular world they once thought of as home. Although their story is grounded in the specifics of their own lives, their story mirrors that of millions of Americans who have walked away from Evangelical churches for a wide range of reasons, including racial, cultural and political biases that have become litmus tests in many churches.

This book is a great choice for individual reading or small-group discussion. At the moment, Cynthia is working on a discussion guide that she plans to post on her own website in coming months. Even if you are not part of the Evangelical world from which this book springs—this is an intimate and caring look at how lives are turned upside down by these all-too-common biases. That means this is a very helpful book for readers from more caring congregations, so they might be better prepared to welcome these battle-scarred folks into a healthier form of spiritual community.

I was pleased to hear from Cynthia’s publisher, David Morris of Lake Drive Books, that he agrees with my overall “take” on this book. That’s why he wanted to publish Cynthia’s memoir and that’s what he hopes readers will discover in these pages, he told me.

Here’s what David Morris said about the book: “As Cynthia went through all of these experiences she describes in her book, she realized that her community was at risk—and in some ways it was. She experienced some rejection and hard choices. But, through this process of deciding to be fully authentic and open, she found more connections, more community, than she had expected. What she discovered is that, once we are living authentically, our community may not look like what we thought it was going to look like. Our community can expand and change. And that’s true for so many of us these days—because our sense of community itself is growing and developing in this changing world.”

In my interview with Cynthia, I promised I would give her the last word in this story. Together, we chose the final paragraph of her new book as that last word:

“Danny taught me that being known is worth fighting for. It’s worth betting everything on. It’s risky. It’s terrifying. But it’s the only thing that matters. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is, for the rest of my life, anyplace I go—church, job or otherwise—it will be as me, authentically: insides and outsides all in alignment.”


Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK—Cynthia’s Intersexion is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and audio versions. 

VISIT CYNTHIA ONLNE—Visit her website,

MORE LAKE DRIVE BOOKS—Find books on similar themes at David Morris’s website for Lake Drive Books.

EXPLORE TWO LANDMARK BOOKS—These two books are landmarks in the effort to welcome LGBTQ Christians:

MEET THE BIAS BUSTERSCheck out the 20 guidebooks to overcoming bigotry produced by the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters. Those books are available in Kindle and paperback editions. Volumes 12 and 14 in this series specifically explore sexuality and gender.



Dr. David Gushee on the Importance of ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ in an era of ‘Global Killers’

Q&A: How does ‘Christian Ethics’ translate into a ‘guide for daily living’?

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A year ago this week, only four days after Russia invaded Ukraine with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox church, our publishing house released Dr. David Gushee’s magnum opus: Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today, which currently is available with a striking new blue cover via Amazon in Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle and Audible audio.

Our magazine headline that week, one year ago, was: With Christianity in crisis, Dr. David Gushee’s ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ lays out a faithful path forward.

Soon, Russia began rattling its nuclear sabers, millions of new refugees were moving across Europe, global fears rose and many of us became more aware than we were before of threats that Gushee describes as “global killers”—threats to our future as a planet.

To mark the one-year anniversary of this timely book, Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm sat down with Dr. Gushee for this Question and Answer session.

QUESTION: What feedback have you heard from readers of Introducing Christian Ethics over the past year?

ANSWER: I continue to hear very encouraging things from readers. For example, Shane Claiborne sent me a new endorsement as we reached the one-year anniversary of the book.

QUESTION: We got a copy of Shane’s endorsement at the publishing house and we’ll add it to our conversation right here. He wrote:

Honestly, David Gushee is one of the most important voices on morality in our generation. I keep this book on my top bookshelf and it never gathers dust. David is one of the most wise, comprehensive, kind people I know. I could not more highly recommend Introducing Christian Ethics, especially in this current age where morality, truth, history and the future are all in jeopardy. It’s gold—actually, it’s even better than gold.

In relatively few words, Shane managed to hit on several of the key points readers are making about this book, didn’t he?

ANSWER: Yes, he did and that was very kind of Shane. He sums up a lot of the things we’re hearing from readers around the world.

First, readers tell us that this book is accessible and readable in a way that they’re not used to seeing in academic writing. I’ve also heard a lot of appreciation for the balanced presentation of the field as a whole—readers are pleased that they do not find just one perspective on these questions. And, I’ve heard from readers who appreciate learning more about Howard Thurman’s approach to the teachings of Jesus.

A Deep Dive into the Nature of Truth

QUESTION: We’re hearing those same things at the publishing house, but I would say that one of the most urgent questions readers are raising concerns the nature of truth itself. Did you expect to have to write about that so prominently in this book?

ANSWER: You’re right, this book takes a deep dive into the meaning and importance of truth. People realize that we are living in an era when truth is challenged, threatened, contested in ways that are new to those of us who have been around for a while. We have not seen this kind of manipulation of words, disinformation, misinformation—and now we have fewer if any agreed-upon arbiters of what is true. When I first began working in Christian ethics years ago, these were not the kinds of central issues they are now.

I also have heard from readers who appreciate the way I name Donald trump as having abused the truth in his presidency—and he continues to do so even now. I do not hold back or try to write in generalities about this. I feel strongly that his name needs to be named if we are going to be at all honest about what we’re dealing with right now.

The value of the truth, the significance of the truth, matters if we are going to maintain truthfulness as a laudatory character quality that we want to inculcate in our children and in our churches. That used to be taken for granted, but now people boldly tell bald-faced lies if they feel it can benefit them—and there do not appear to be substantial consequences for doing so.

In this new book, I get deeply into the question of truth—in fact more deeply than anything I have written before.

A ‘Magnum Opus’ with the emphasis of audio and video

QUESTION: We also are hearing from readers who are impressed that this is a uniquely multi-media book with options to read the text—or to listen to the audio or watch the video version with the click of a QR code. That’s something new for you, isn’t it?

ANSWER: Yes, and I am so pleased that we were able to put all of that content, including the audio and video, into the book without jacking up the price until it’s not affordable to most readers.

People tell me that they like to hear me read the book or to see me on video, if they choose to use those links. Hearing me or seeing me that way gives readers a better sense of my convictions, my passions, as I was writing these chapters. Most readers still want an ink-on-paper version of a book like this, so they can mark it up and add notes and so on. But, in this case, they also have those multimedia options.

It’s been fun, even in my own family. My grandson Jonah thinks it’s wonderful that he can click on a code and hear me, or see me.

QUESTION: Those multi-media options seemed important to all of us as we worked with you in developing this book. After all, this book has been described as your magnum opus—a major work summing up your decades of teaching. Do you agree?

ANSWER: Yes, but it’s more than a summation. One way to think about this book is that it represents an extended meditation on my own prior thought, including my earlier book Kingdom Ethics, which many readers also have on their shelves, as well as my other books.

If people already know my work, they will find in these pages a fresh engagement with that work over the decades. I graduated 30 years ago with my phD, which is a nice round number as a point to think back on three decades of work. So, it’s not just a summation. There’s fresh reflection here on all that has come before.

The Centrality of the Holocaust in Christian Ethics

QUESTION: Some of your reflections have changed, over time. But some of the major themes in your life’s work remain constant. For example, you continue to lift up the importance of minority voices. And you continue to emphasize the remembrance of past crimes and injustices—the Holocaust comes to mind. That’s central to your own life story, right?

ANSWER: I was born in Germany in 1962. There were war criminals and survivors walking the streets of Frankfurt when I was a baby. The centrality of the Holocaust to understanding Christianity and God’s relationship to the world is so clear to me that it surprises me to see how students I am working with today do not see the Holocaust as such a central issue in their studies. It’s as if the salience of the Holocaust is fading in our culture and in academia. I feel my generation has a sacred responsibility to keep this memory alive.

My dissertation was on Christians who rescued Jews in the Holocaust and that was significant in setting a trajectory for me. The Holocaust comes up in this book periodically because it’s a feature of all of my work.

QUESTION: You also emphasize the importance of our individual points of view—the lenses of our individual lives—even as we try to reach out to build bridges with minority communities. You’re talking about the importance of Black scholars like Howard Thurman and the importance of remembering Christian guilt in the Holocaust, but we’re well aware as readers that you are neither Black nor Jewish yourself.

Why is that question of personal perspective so important?

ANSWER: I am increasingly aware of the white Christian-centered world in which I was educated and into which I emerged. Now, I’m much more aware than I was years ago at the structural problems that European-American-colonial-White Christianity has caused. I’m more aware of the sins and the damage caused by this community out of which I come. The only hope for redemption, I think, lies in consciously trying to move outside of that world so we can listen to those who have been trampled on by our forebears. We must listen to those who have been on the margins and whose lives and voices have not mattered to the dominant groups. By situating Howard Thurman early in this new book, for example, I’m saying: I want us to read and think about Christian ethics through the experiences of people like Howard.

Why is ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ a ‘guide for life’?

QUESTION: You have described Introducing Christian Ethics as a “guide for life.” At first glance, this looks more like a textbook than what we might think of as a daily “guide.” How are you hoping this book can guide everyday readers?

ANSWER: I think that we live in a time of a great deal of moral confusion and moral conflict. We are less and less clear about even the most basic things that have helped to structure Christian moral thinking—and that’s true whether we are “Christian,” “ex-Christian,” “Evangelical” or “ex-Evangelical.”

In this book, I take the reader on a journey through a series of questions: What is ethics? What is morality? Why is morality important? Is there any substance and solidity to our moral beliefs? How do we know what we know? How do we deal with the inevitable moral differences between people?

Confronting an Aggressive and Unjust War

QUESTION: Let’s talk about differences between Christians. Right now, for example, the head of a major branch of Christianity—the Russian Orthodox Church—has aligned himself completely with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The global consensus on Christian ethics clearly is divided, isn’t it?

ANSWER: That question illustrates the importance of thinking about differences we may encounter in Christian ethics, but I do not think the Christian world really is divided on the question of the Russian invasion. What this example illustrates is the problem of leaders who sometimes are not trustworthy. My reading of the Patriarch of Russia is that his loyalty to his country and to his president is outweighing his clarity of thought that ought to be there when he thinks about this war. This is an aggressive war against a country that the world recognizes as an independent nation. I would say that 99.99 percent of all Christian ethicists and Christian leaders in the world understand this to be an aggressive and unjust war.

One of the things my colleague Glen Stassen helped me to see—and this point is included in Introducing Christian Ethics—is that it’s quite a struggle to think clearly faithfully and biblically in a Jesus kind of way when our own interests are at stake and our own loyalties are implicated. If our own family members are involved in something, we’re not going to think about it in the same way as someone whose family is not at the heart of it.

What are ‘Global Killers’?

QUESTION: Considering all the ethical issues you cover in this book, which ones would you place at the top of a list of “Most Urgent” issues today?

ANSWER: That’s a difficult question to answer because so many of these issues relate to daily headlines we all are reading from around the world.

So, I’m going to answer that question by grouping some issues together under what I would call “Global Killers.” By that I mean that “most urgent” are threats to the survival of human life—and planetary life as a whole. So, that puts global environmental challenges at the top of my list and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction from nuclear to chemical and biological weapons. There are more weapons of mass destruction now in the hands of dangerous leaders than ever before.

In responding to these “Global Killers,” we must affirm that life is God’s gift. This planet is God’s—and we humans have been entrusted with stewardship responsibilities.

Right now, we are wondering: Will our positive and creative potential prevail over our negative and destructive potential? A lot of pessimistic scholars today are saying that humanity is suicidal and even homicidal in terms of our treatment of God’s creation.

QUESTION: And yet you remain optimistic. This ultimately is a hope-filled book, isn’t it?

ANSWER: As a Christian, I have to believe that God is alive, that Jesus is not finished with us, that the Holy Spirit still moves—and that humanity and the church can continue to learn new things.

In fact, a good example of that is the way I describe how our tradition can be open to new insights in my earlier book, Changing Our Mind.

Care to Read More?

FOLLOW DR. GUSHEE’S WORK through our ongoing coverage at Read the Spirit weekly magazine. Click on the “get updates” link in the upper-right corner of our website to sign up for free weekly email updates. Don’t worry—you also can cancel those emails anytime. When Dr. Gushee has important new columns, new public appearances and even new books, our magazine will let you know.

ORDER YOU OWN COPY of Introducing Christian Ethics from Amazon now.

ON AMAZON, you’ll also find Dr. Gushee’s earlier best seller, Changing Our Mind.



In a world of conflict, Dr. Gustavo Parajón shows us a better way to live

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Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

In an era when a Russian dictator can declare a war that kills thousands—and when angry political factions around the world routinely touch off deadly violence—millions of us are wondering:

Is there a better way to live?

Indeed, there is: We can look to the life of Gustavo Parajón (1935-2011), a Nicaraguan doctor and pastor who became so well known around the world for his peacemaking efforts that U2’s Bono once disguised himself so that he could quietly slip into a gathering of people listening to one of Parajón’s talks in the UK.

The distinctive nature of Parajón’s message transcended any particular political issue or public health challenge he was facing, say the co-authors of a new biography Healing the World—Gustavo Parajón, Public Health and Peacemaking PioneerWhat drew other global peacemakers to Parajón’s circle—from Bono to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter—was the deep well of faith-based compassion they found in Parajón. As he worked on public health and peacemaking projects, Parajón unfailingly found hope in each person he met—even when those people were men pointing guns at him.

“Dr. Parajón always saw the possibilities in each person he met,” said Damaris Albuquerque, co-author of the new biographyShe spoke with us for this article by Zoom from Nicaragua, where she carries on Dr. Parajón’s nonprofit work. “It was when he looked into the lives of the people he met that he started to find the ways that each person could join with him in service.

“When he met a person, he always began with questions about them, their families and the work that they did. He had a phenomenal memory for people and he cared about them so deeply that, when he met them again, he could immediately begin asking about their families and their work. As he talked with people about their lives, he would make connections—connections with other people and connections with the stories he loved from the Bible. As he talked with people, he knew the Bible so well that he could draw on the wisdom from so many different stories! Soon, the people he was talking with found themselves agreeing to do things in service to the community that they never expected they could do.

“When others saw this happening, they were inspired, too. Even people who at first seemed to be enemies—they saw he was showing them a different way to work with others, a different way of living. His calm voice and the way he cared for each person—even his enemies—won them over.”

Daniel Buttry, who served for many years as the international peace trainer for American Baptist Churches, said that he partnered with Damaris on researching and writing this book because Parajón was one of his most influential mentors.

“I did not know him as well as Damaris, because she worked with him on a daily basis for years, but the moment I did encounter him, he became my mentor, too. There was so much he taught me from the way he lived his life, the way he talked about his faith and the way he worked with others. When I took on this new global role for American Baptist Churches in 2003, I came to this new challenge after years of working in more traditional approaches to peacemaking: from writing letters, organizing petitions and lobbying Congress to protesting in the streets.

“Gustavo showed me possibilities that we were not really seeing in the world, where civilian initiatives like the ones Gustavo undertook had not been viewed as an effective way of pursuing change,” Dan said. “When I took on this new work for American Baptist Churches, Gustavo was a mentor to me in the possibilities of nongovernmental players opening avenues for peace talks that had not existed before.”

Leadership Lessons from the life of Dr. Gustavo Parajón

One of he major take-aways in the new biography is this leadership model that Dan and Damaris describe of an ordinary person—who is not an official governmental leader—stepping up as a community leader or even, in Parajón’s case, as a national catalyst for change.  Throughout his life, Parajón worked as a local pastor and a physician on a mission to pioneer public health outreach to the neediest corners of his country—doing all of that despite warring factions that more than once endangered his life.

To illustrate some of the leadership lessons readers will find as they explore Parajón’s life in Healing the World, Damaris summarizes just a few of them this way:

  • Treating each new challenge as one might examine a medical case: first describing the situation and the desired outcome, then the action plan and carefully observing what happens as this plan unfolds.
  • Never giving people advice without, first, helping the person to look for the solution.
  • Starting meetings by asking the participants to help describe the situation and the desired outcome.
  • Paying attention to personal details, including knowing each person’s name and something about their family or personal situation.
  • Remembering people, their names and their relationships.
  • Reminding people of our shared sources of wisdom, as he did when talking about stories from the Bible that illustrated a key message.

And those are just a few of the dozens of take-aways in this inspiring story of Parajón’s life.

“The best words I can think of to describe him are: pioneer and visionary,” said Damaris. “He saw potential in people who he knew could carry on this mission he had started. He was a connector and an enabler, but he also had this way of seeing what was possible in the world—even in the worst of times.”

That’s why all of us can benefit from reading about Parajón’s life, Dan said. One of the greatest lessons from his remarkable life is that “he was not full of himself—he was full of what God was doing in the world and he always was trying to share the possibilities that he could see so clearly. And, right now, that certainly is something we all could use in our world.”


Care to Learn More?

GET THE BOOK—Visit Amazon and buy your own copy of Healing the World—Gustavo Parajón, Public Health and Peacemaking PioneerThe book also is available from Barnes & Noble, from and from many other online retailers.

ENJOY THESE VIDEOS (and share them with friends)—To spark interest among your friends, congregation, nonprofit or small group, consider sharing the link to this story, as well as some of the following short videos:

READ A REVIEW BY BILL TAMMEUSVeteran journalist Bill Tammeus published an early review of Healing the World and said, in part:

Gustavo Parajón’s life can serve as a reminder to many of us citizens of the U.S. that there’s a bigger world beyond our borders and that throughout that world we can find amazing people doing amazing things. … And his story can encourage others to devote their lives to being a healing presence in the world, whether or not they are physicians. … This is a story that needed to be told, and one that can help shape young lives today.



In an era when hateful lies parade as truths, we need to read Lewis Baldwin’s ‘The Arc of Truth—The Thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.’

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking against the Vietnam War, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. Photo is used courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society and Wikimedia Commons.

Marking the Meaning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

In a world where flat-out lies are celebrated as “alternative truths” and a rising tide of racist and antisemitic myths are paraded as “a matter of opinion” by certain celebrities—we all should read and share with friends: The Arc of Truth—The Thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Lewis V. Baldwin.

In an interview about this new book with Dr. Baldwin—Vanderbilt University professor emeritus of religious studies—he said, “Most of us know that Dr. King is a towering figure, a complex figure, who expressed ideas and translated them into a movement to empower and liberate humanity. For 40-some years, I have been researching, teaching and writing on Dr. King’s roots, his message, his work and his legacy. Through those years, I have become ever more convinced of the need for all rational and moral humans to be involved in this human struggle to empower people that he worked so hard to develop. Even now, so long after his passing, he can serve as a resource for all of us who are trying to reclaim a truth-telling culture.”

In the powerfully prophetic concluding section of his new book, Dr. Baldwin zeroes in on the urgency he feels in sharing King’s message as an antidote to social and political conservatives “with a callous disregard to truth and and humanity itself.”

Here’s just one passage from his book’s final chapter, describing Donald Trump’s four years as president:

Trump’s America encouraged an absence of concern for the weak, the destitute, and the vulnerable that we we have not seen since the King years—a spirit of sheer heartlessness and lack of empathy that is seemingly limitless, inexcusable in modern times, and really unfathomable. This became painfully real in policies aimed at immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, and especially the children among them.

What outrages Dr. Baldwin even more than these attitudes and policies themselves is the effort by Trump himself and many other conservative political activists to claim King’s legacy as their own.

In our interview, I asked him about the pointed attack he wages in that section of his book. Dr. Baldwin said, “You are reading me correctly about that. The main thing I’m concerned about is how Dr. King’s legacy is being hijacked by forces on the Right in the service of a conservative social agenda that the Right wants to impose on America. For example, voices on the Right have been claiming for years that Dr. King would be opposed to Affirmative Action.

“Some voices on the Right are even claiming that, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be a Republican. And that’s problematic. This distorts Dr. King’s legacy and what he means for America today. This falls into the pattern of lies that are toxic as we seek to operate in a functioning democracy. It’s part of an anti-truth-telling culture that is dangerous because, as Dr. King tells us: Truth is foundational to the workings of democracy.”

‘Speaking Truth To Us In the Here and Now’

That final prophetic section of Dr. Baldwin’s book builds on the first five chapters that examine King’s life-long passion to see, understand and speak the truth about injustice in America—and eventually about injustice in communities around the world. In those five chapters, Dr. Baldwin’s scholarly case about Dr. King’s passion for Truth—with a capital T—is what adds such urgency to his application of King’s principles in today’s world. It’s that deeply researched effort “to speak truth to power” in this new book that has drawn so many powerful endorsements.

One of them comes from Susannah Heschel, the award-winning scholar and author who is the daughter of Dr. King’s ally Abraham Joshua Heschel. About Dr. Baldwin’s new book, she writes:

Dr. King was a prophet who came to save our country, and Baldwin captures his spirit and his voice, ringing loud and clear, to arouse, inspire, and unite us. He brings Dr. King to our present era, speaking truth to us in the here and now, as we face rising white nationalism and cope with ongoing systemic racism and government mendacity. This book is extraordinary!

Racism as a Worldwide Phenomenon

Dr. Baldwin’s message in this new book is as broad as Dr. King’s vision became over the four decades he had before he was cut down at age 39 in 1968.

In a final passage in his book, Dr. Baldwin writes in a cadence that recalls the crescendos of some of Dr. King’s own sermons:

Truth marches on because nothing can stop or defeat it. It marches on because it is imbued with the power and spirit of no surrender. It marches on because it has a date with destiny. It marches on in this post-truth era with the people of all races who raise the banner of Black Lives Matter, with women who comprise the Me Too crusade, with youngsters involved in the March for Our Lives against gun violence, with those who struggle against voter suppression and intimidation, and with those who refuse to bow to Trumpism, post-truthism, or any other form of spiritual and moral perversion and anti-democracy. It marches on with those who honor and celebrate King’s legacy not simply with words but also with deeds that change lives, structures, and institutions for the better. Truth marches on because only truth can have the last word in history.

As our interview drew to a close, I asked Dr. Baldwin how he hopes his new book will affect the lives of readers.

“First, I hope they would come away from this book with a better understanding of Dr. King because, right now, so much is being said about him that is untrue,” he said. “I am very concerned about this effort to hijack his memory by people on the Right trying to promote a conservative social agenda.

“Second, I hope that readers agree that Dr. King is meaningful for our time. There is a timelessness to the messages he brought us about truth telling. As we recognize him as a celebrated national hero, we need to listen to his message. We all need to join in an effort to reclaim a culture of truth if we hope to preserve our best moral and spiritual foundations.”


Care to read more about Dr. King from Dr. Baldwin?

After our main interview, Dr. Baldwin agreed to talk about the central themes in some of his other books about Dr. King.

There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King Jr.

To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“These two books together are foundational in the trajectory of my scholarship on Dr. King,” Dr. Baldwin said. “I began in The Roots to establish that he was first and foremost a man of the Black South and was shaped by the religion and other aspects of culture in the South. Then, To Make the Wounded Whole is a companion to that first book—looking at how his cultural legacy has been passed down to subsequent generations of activists in the Black community.”

The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Then, if you want to fully understand Dr. King, you have to understand his churchmanship,” Dr. Baldwin said. “He was first and foremost a clergyman with deep roots in the church. He talked more about the church in the 1950s and 1960s than any other subject. Throughout that period of his life, the church was the primary topic of his essays, his books and his talks. He had a vision that the church should lead in bringing about the fulness of the beloved community that he talked so much about.”

Dr. Baldwin also helped to produce two volumes in the Beacon Press 11-volume King Legacy series:

“Thou, Dear God”—Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits

“In a Single Garment of Destiny”—A Global Vision of Justice  

Thou Dear God is a collection of 68 prayers by Dr. King falling into different categories,” Dr. Baldwin said. “Overall, that book falls into the spirituality genre in King studies. It’s an important book because we need to be clear that he was first a spiritual leader. I tried to convey that through my commentaries on these prayers.

“Then A Single Garment falls into the globalization genre in King studies. This book makes it clear that Dr. King was a global figure as well. He called himself a citizen of the world. He spoke as a citizen of the world who felt he had to talk about Vietnam and South Africa and antisemitism. If you don’t understand how he understood himself as a global figure, then you don’t understand Dr. King.”




The Rev. Dr. John Harnish, author of ’30 Days with E. Stanley Jones,’ is honored with a global award in Christian outreach

“At the beginning of my ministry,” says the Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish, “I never intended to be connected with colleges, seminaries and campus ministry, but looking back over 50 years, I realize what an important part it has played in my life.”

Education has played a large part in the work of the Methodist Church around the world as well. Methodism had its birth when John Wesley was a student at Oxford and his “Holy Club” was mockingly called “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their disciplined life. When Frances Asbury came to the American colonies as the first Methodist Bishop, he said he believed there should a school beside every church. Wherever Methodists have gone in the world they have established schools and colleges as well as churches.

Annually, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the church’s program of higher education and campus ministry with the “Frances Asbury Award.”

In 2022, the Michigan recipient is author Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish, who has just published 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones—Global Preacher, Social Justice Prophet. Jones himself counted education as one of his own primary goals in global evangelism.

How did Harnish find himself focusing on education? He says, “It started in my early years in ministry when my District Superintendent made it possible for me as a young preacher to serve on the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.”  That led to his connection with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry where he eventually serving for seven years as the Associate General Secretary.

Two events during his time with the General Board book-end United Methodism’s commitment to education—the grand opening of Africa University and the 250th Anniversary of Kingswood College. His first international trip on behalf of the board took him to the new university in Zimbabwe and on a trip to England he shared in the anniversary of Kingswood, John Wesley’s first school. Today there are 107 United Methodist colleges, universities and seminaries in the USA and over 1,000 Methodist-related institutions across the globe.

Dr. Harnish is a graduate of Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary and received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  He has served on the Boards of Trustees for the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Adrian College in Michigan. As the pastor of Ann Arbor First United Methodist Church, he worked with the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan and when he pastored First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, MI, the church was linked with four seminaries–Garrett-Evangelical, Duke, Costa Rica and Estonia.

Harnish says, “I am grateful for the Frances Asbury Award and I give thanks for the opportunities to be involved in this facet of the global work of United Methodism.”

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn for Kingswood College which includes the line: “Unite the pair so long dis-joined–knowledge and vital piety. 

Over the centuries,” Harnish says, “that has been the commitment of Methodism, and looking back, I am glad I’ve been able to share in it.”


Can the prophetic voice of E. Stanley Jones revive a life-giving love of Jesus?


A Prophet for These Times, When Christianity is in Crisis

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

One of the most widespread Christian movements of the 20th Century is in deep trouble. Don’t take my word for it. Search the word “evangelical” in Google-News and you will shake your head wearily at the tragic headlines—from angry public confrontations to rampant bigotry, mud slinging and sexual abuse. In his February 2022 analysis of this crisis for The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

“There have been three big issues that have profoundly divided evangelicals: the white evangelical embrace of Donald Trump, sex abuse scandals in evangelical churches and parachurch organizations, and attitudes about race relations, especially after the killing of George Floyd.”

For most of American history, the word “evangelical” was proudly claimed by Christians who loved Jesus and wanted to make the world a better place. So, this truly is a historic turning point when so many religious leaders across America—including many Christian leaders themselves—are arguing that it’s time to retire the explosive term “evangelical” altogether.

But then, they ask: Where does that leave Christians who still want to follow Jesus’s teachings and do good in our world? Is there a life-giving pathway forward for Christians who deeply love Jesus and see in Christ a welcoming, inclusive and socially just calling for our world?

Meet E. Stanley Jones and Discover His Embrace of the World

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. Amazon will begin shipping copies of this book on February 15, 2022. The book also is available from Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other online retailers.

Meet E. Stanley Jones. Take a moment to click on the book cover and order a copy from Amazon. You will find yourself surprised—and inspired.

In his heyday, Jones was a global Christian teacher who most Americans considered as important as Billy Graham in spreading the message of Jesus around the world. He was a prophetic voice against racism within Christianity and also had an enormous impact in worldwide interfaith relationships. As we reported earlier, Jones was the catalytic figure who connected the message of Mahatma Gandhi with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Right now, there is a small but growing worldwide movement to revive the message of this humble and deeply compassionate teacher by lifting up the many treasures from this once-best-selling author. Our publishing house is part of this movement. This week, we are publishing 30 Days with E. Stanley Jonesan inspiring introduction to his life and teachings designed for a month of inspirational reading and for small-group discussion. We are launching our book just as the E. Stanley Jones Foundation, which has maintained his literary legacy, closes in on its effort to bring complete editions of the 27 inspirational books Jones wrote during his lifetime into contemporary paperback editions. The year 2025 will mark 100 years since Jones’ first books began circulating around the world. Both our publishing house and the Jones Foundation hope that Jones’ message may once again help to call Christians toward a more compassionate embrace of the world.

“It is our good fortune that a person like E. Stanley Jones came into our world,” said Anne Mathews-Younes, who is Jones’ granddaughter and the president of the Foundation. “What was so powerful about his message and the reason so many people around the world wanted to see him, to hear him and to read his books was that he truly was in love with the whole world. He knew Jesus was his best friend—and, as a result, he saw everyone around the world as a friend.”

“He wanted to put his arms around the whole world,” said John Harnish, the author of the new 30-day reader of inspiring stories drawn from Jones’ life.

“Yes, he did,” said Mathews-Younes as the two spoke by Zoom in an interview about the release of Harnish’s new book. “And that’s what you’ve done in your new book. You’ve put your arms around dozens of stories from throughout his life that show his spirit and his message.”

In the Preface that Mathews-Younes wrote for Harnish’s new book, she puts it this way: “My grandfather was recognized as an evangelist who did not ask you to leave your intellect at the door. Rather, his messages engage the mind as well as the heart with the deeper and eternal matters for our world. … His words brought hope and refreshment to millions of people from every walk of life and I hope that these passages—skillfully chosen by John E. Harnish—do the same for you.”

‘If Protestants had saints, E. Stanley Jones would be one.’

The book’s Foreword was written by Dr. W. Stephen Gunter, one of the leading scholars of evangelism today who is active in the movement to lift up Jones’ teachings for a new generation. In that Foreword, Gunter writes in part:

Shaped in the womb of holiness Methodism, E. Stanley Jones’s writings exemplify this foundational Wesleyan principle: his stories (and his own personal biography) warm the heart, but they are without fail informed by sound scriptural principles. In their very essence, Jones’ writings are theological lessons to live by. That is why I love Jones’s writings, and that is why I enthusiastically accepted the invitation from the Rev. John E. Harnish to write a commendation and foreword for this book. This book is unlike most every devotional book I have ever seen: it both warms the heart and instructs the mind—a unique contribution to the genre of devotional literature.

In these pages you will get to know the heart and mind of E. Stanley Jones. Each of these devotionals stands on its own with the following characteristics:

  1. You look through a window of insight into the mind of Jones.
  2. You read a life vignette that illustrates a foundational concept that informed his ministry.
  3. You discover a pivotal principle that has application to the current context.
  4. You “meet Jesus again for the first time.” And this Jesus challenges your vested assumptions about what it means to be a Jesus-follower. …

If Protestants had saints, E. Stanley Jones would be one. …

E. Stanley Jones would like this book, and I think you will too.


Care to learn more?

Order a copy from Amazon. You will find yourself surprised—and inspired. As of February 15, 2022, the book will be available in paperback as well as a sturdy hardcover edition. Soon, it will be available on Kindle as well. The book also will be on sale this week at Barnes & Noble, including in the Nook version—plus at Walmart and other online retailers.

LEARN ABOUTHow E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Are Connected

LEARN ABOUT the ongoing work of author, pastor and teacher John E. Harnish by visiting his website. Known as “Jack” to friends and colleagues, you also can learn about upcoming events and classes Jack is leading about the legacy of E. Stanley Jones. If you are interested in inviting Jack to share with your community, it’s easy to contact him through his website.

LEARN ABOUT how the news of this book launch is moving from American communities to a global audience in this Front Edge Publishing column about the book’s reception.

LEARN ABOUT Anne Mathews-Younes and the work of the E. Stanley Jones Foundation by visiting the foundation’s website.

LEARN ABOUT another Christian author and teacher who has been influenced by the message of E. Stanley Jones: Ken Whitt’s own book is appropriately called God Is Just Loveand tells readers about the many ways families can develop a healthy love of Jesus and the world.

And, please come back next week to ReadTheSpirit online magazine for a column by Ken about the experience of meeting E. Stanley Jones, when Ken was a young man and Jones was nearing the end of his life.

In ‘From Dry Bones to Living Hope,’ Missy Buchanan brings spiritual solace to families as we age

Clicking on this top photo will take you to Missy Buchanan’s Facebook page called “Aging and Faith.” She is active on that Facebook page every day and likes to post inspirational texts, images and stories that might brighten your day—and that you can easily share with your own friends and family.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Missy Buchanan knows that many of the people who purchase her books aren’t the ones who ultimately read them. Frequently, men and women buy her books for older friends and loved ones—often because those older folks already love Missy’s writing and are eager to get her latest book.

In other words: Missy’s new book, From Dry Bones to Living Hope might make a perfect gift for an older person on your holiday gift list—perhaps someone who is otherwise hard to shop for. The paperback edition of her book is printed in “enlarged type,” so it’s easy for everyone to read, even people with visual challenges. And, her book also is available via Kindle from Amazon, because lots of older men and women enjoy reading on Kindles (or other tablet-style devices) that are easy to hold, to transport and to adjust to various type sizes.

Depending on your own age, and the ages of your friends and family members, you may recognize Missy as the nation’s leading author specializing in bringing spiritual solace to men and women who are in their mid-70s or older.

Yes, that’s a very specific niche within the genre of inspirational writing. It’s an audience that Missy understands from her many years of work as an educator, a small-group teacher for older adults and as a speaker at countless events, classes, retreats and conferences.

That national reputation is why, a decade ago, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts recruited Missy to help her elderly mother Lucimarian Roberts write her own memoir. Roberts contacted Missy because she learned that Missy was her mother’s favorite author. Lucimarian kept a well-read copy of one of Missy’s inspirational readers in her bedroom. The result of this collaboration was the best-selling My Story, My Song, Lucimarian’s autobiography “as told to Missy Buchanan.”

(Back in 2012, ReadTheSpirit published a story about that project, based on a heart-felt column Missy wrote after the book was published and she learned that Lucimarian had passed away.)

“I’m in a niche where the people I’m writing for—my main readers—often are receiving my books from adult children, a friend, a caregiver or someone at church,” Missy said. “Once they find my books, they connect with the honest voice I use when I’m writing—and they sometimes will read my books over and over again. I remember hearing from a daughter that she didn’t like my books, then two weeks later I got a letter from her mother—who actually read the book—saying, ‘Finally! Someone understands what I’m going through.'”

“These older readers understand what I’m writing about and they love my books—but many of these men and women in their 80s and 90s don’t have active Amazon accounts themselves,” Missy said. “So, they often are getting my books from their adult children, their church or their younger friends. It is a little bit of a challenge for me as a writer that a lot of my books aren’t bought by my readers—they’re bought for my readers by someone else.”

In fact, that situation can lead to some occasional misunderstandings. From the debut of her very first book in 2008, some younger adults are unsettled by her writing.

Missy told me, “I’ve even heard from some younger adults who tell me, ‘Your books are depressing!’ But,  they’re not depressing for the people who I’m writing for. I’ve found that my readers—people who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s—are completely honest about the hard challenges of aging. It’s usually their adult children who are more nervous about honestly discussing these issues. I’ve learned that from the very first book I published.”

That first book in 2008 was titled, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults.

As editor of this online magazine, I have to admit that my own first reaction to Missy’s title was: That’s depressing! When I interviewed Missy the very first time about that book, I was honest in admitting my reaction. I told her, “Stop and think about this for a moment: Who would buy a gift for an older friend or loved one with a title that says the person has a Worn-out Body?

She laughed at my reaction. In fact, her book already was flying off bookstore shelves. In fact, that very first book was Lucimarian’s favorite and led to Missy’s work on Lucimarian’s best-selling memoir.

Over the years, I have chuckled with Missy about that initial reaction—and how wrong I was. Missy has proven that she has a pitch-perfect genius for wording her inspirational stories and her spiritual advice so that they directly connect with her target audience. At this point, she has thousands of loyal readers waiting for her next new book—although they sometimes do rely on younger family members or friends to actually purchase these new books for them.

What’s in Missy Buchanan’s new book?

In 144 pages, Missy gives us 21 chapters with titles, such as: Life in the Valley of Dry Bones, When Praise Will Not Come, Digital Divide, The Path to Purpose, Persistently Patient, Divine Interruptions and Standing on the Promises.

Each chapter begins with a brief Bible passage, ranging from Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and of course Ezekiel’s story of dry bones springing to life—to the New Testament’s I Corinthians and Philippians. Then, after the short scripture, there is a “prayerful lament,” describing common challenges as we age. Readers who are familiar with Psalms will recognize many of these “laments” as contemporary Psalms, calling out to God for help. Throughout her body of work, Missy clearly loves Psalms. She even devotes one entire chapter in this new book to wisdom from the life of David, who is credited as the author of many Psalms.

“The fact that there is a lament in each chapter goes back to what we were talking about earlier,” Missy said. “My goal always is honesty about what older adults are going through. One of the things I hear from older people wherever I go is: ‘Don’t sugar coat it! If you do sugar coat it, we wont believe you.’ But, I don’t stop with the lament. After expressing honestly those feelings on our hearts, then we must ask: What are we going to do about that today? Those action steps are hugely important.”

Missy’s ultimate destination in each chapter is the third section, which she calls “Cultivating Hope.” These are very practical ideas for spiritual reflection, including many pages where readers may want to jot down their responses to her questions.

“Upper Room should sell a pen along with your book,” I told Missy. “Readers will need a pen or perhaps a pencil to jot down their thoughts.”

“Oh, yes, we hope people will write in this book,” she said. “Got to have a pen or pencil handy when you’re reading this book!”

Of course, that also means Missy’s new book is essentially a self-contained study guide that’s perfect for individual reflection, small-group discussions, men’s or women’s circles in congregations or Sunday School classes.

And one important note for our magazine’s readers who are not Christian: Missy herself is Christian and this new book does draw occasionally on inspirational passages from the Christian New Testament. But Missy also is a nondenominational writer and the majority of her chapters spring from “Abrahamic” roots, drawing heavily from Hebrew scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). Plus, her preferred style of addressing God is simply as “God”—so that her loyal audience already extends far behind specifically Christian readers.

Missy Buchanan’s Practical Spiritual Advice

Missy’s new book springs from the inspiration of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, the famous Bible passage in which God’s spirit moves through dry bones and brings them to new life. It’s a dramatic and very concrete image that has inspired many writers and artists down through the centuries, including the great hymn writer James Weldon Johnson, who composed the spiritual Dem Bones and first recorded it with Jubilee Singers in 1928.

The advice in Missy’s Cultivating Hope sections is similarly concrete. Her questions are direct and varied. In a single paragraph, she might suggest four or five ideas to light up your day. Reading her book reminded me immediately of Ken Whitt’s God Is Just Love, written for multi-generational families and spilling over with so many practical ideas that Ken closes with a section called, “100 Things Families Can Do to Find Hope and Be Love.” This style of writing turns these books into spiritual toolboxes!

“Missy, I’ve got to credit you with some ideas in this book that I’ve never heard before—and that’s really saying something because I’ve been looking at new inspirational books for decades, now,” I told her in our interview. “My favorite new idea in your book is: Praying during the commercial breaks in TV shows. I love it! Great spiritual leaders have recommended fixed-hour prayer for thousands of years. But, now you’ve added a truly new twist! Mute the TV during commercial breaks and pray for several minutes.”

Missy laughed. “Well, I’ve got to tell you that idea comes from the fact that I see sooo many older people who spend their days sitting in a chair with the TV going. They may have the remote right there, so they could turn off that TV and do something else, but a lot of them never touch the remote. A major first step to help a lot of these men and women is to get them to turn off that TV and do something else. So, I thought: Hmmm, a first step just might be asking them to grab that remote, mute the commercials and spend that time in prayer.”

She chuckled again. “I mean, it may sound like a crazy idea for prayer, but if you think about it—getting away from that TV is the real goal.”

“What makes you keep writing these books?” I asked her as we closed our interview. “What do you hope your writing accomplishes in the world?”

“I want to be a companion to my readers,” she said. “One of the sweetest photos I ever was sent came from a woman whose mother had died. When she went in to take care of her mother’s things, after the funeral, she looked at the stack of books on her mother’s nightstand. Several of my books were there with bookmarks sticking out of them at various pages she loved. It was obvious her mother had read these books many times. In her note with the photo the woman wrote one of the best things I could have received. She wrote: ‘Mom almost wore out our books!’ ”


Care to Read More?

ReadTheSpirit has been recommending Missy’s books for many years. 

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Missy also wrote the Foreword for our own 2021 book, Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.

In that Foreword, she wrote in part: “It is true that every person’s journey of aging is unique. That’s why this book offers such a vast array of information on the most vital topics of aging. Drawing on the expertise and experiences of professionals involved in eldercare, this book will truly guide families through the uneven landscape of late life—and will point readers toward helpful answers for the question we all share, at some point in life: Now what?”