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We are thrilled to have author, speaker, perpetual theology student, and co-host of The Holy Post Podcast, Kaitlyn Schiess join the Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison for an episode all about this American political life as followers of Jesus. They discuss Kaitlyn’s new book, The Ballot and the Bible: How Scripture Has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and Where We Go from Here, which gives historical context for where we are now.

They talk about how looking to see what people in history missed in their ethics and Bible reading can help us not miss the same, the Bible in the Civil War and in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the importance of seeing how Black Americans used Scripture in our history.

They offer both practical and hopeful words to our community as we navigate this presidential election year.

Join in the conversation on our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn to let us know your thoughts on this episode! 

“So much of my work is centered around the idea that our political lives and our spiritual lives are not separate things. Our spiritual lives are shaping our political lives. And very importantly, our political lives are shaping our spiritual lives.” -Kaitlyn Schiess

“If it was true so often in our history that we have missed the call of God, that we have misinterpreted passages that we have prioritized what we wanted to believe politically over what the Word of God said, could it also be true now? I also have blind spots of things I can’t see. Could I also have passages I’m misinterpreting? And can these tangible examples from history give me something to hold on to to start wrestling with?” -Kaitlyn Schiess

“My story of the American church is not the center of the story.” -Kaitlyn Schiess

“Repentance is a gift. It’s a true gift to be able to see…Hopefully our words, videos, things can be used as a vessel, but ultimately, it is God who convicts.” -Latasha Morrison

Host & Executive Producer – Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer – Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor, & Music – Travon Potts with Integrated Entertainment Studios
Assistant Producer & Transcriber – Sarah Connatser


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Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.

Narrator
You are listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison.

Latasha Morrison
[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!

Narrator
Each week, Be the Bridge Podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.

Latasha Morrison
[intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.

Narrator
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.

Latasha Morrison
Be the Bridge community, I am so honored to have Kaitlyn Schiess on our podcast today. So some of you may not know her, but you’re going to know her by the end of this podcast. She is an author, a speaker. She is a perpetual theology student. Many know her from being the Co-Host and Senior Editor of The Holy Post Podcast. She also released her second book this fall and it’s titled, The Ballot – so we’re gonna get into that – and the Bible, The Ballot and the Bible: How Scripture has Been Used and Abused in American Politics and Where We Go From Here. Let’s welcome Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Thank you.

Latasha Morrison
So I’m so glad to have you here. I can, we were talking about this. I was like we got to have you on. You know, you’re educating us. I mean, just to look at some of the titles of your chapters is just…I’m telling you guys. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And so I just tell us a little bit, I just read a little bit about you. What would you want the Be the Bridge community to know about you?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, so I’m so thankful that you’re having me on. Thank you. And yeah, I’m currently a doctoral student in Political Theology at Duke University. So full time, like day job right now is being a student, but love going to places to speak and talk and help, you know, churches and Christian communities think well about our political lives. So I’ve been doing that for a few years now. Published my first book in 2020 called The Liturgy of Politics, which kind of started my interest in all of this. And then kept studying and felt like, “I need more resources, I need to be doing more school.” I wrote that first book while I was in seminary, and then thought, “I’m just not done, I need some more help. I need to read some more books.” And so applied to PhD programs. And I’m now in a wonderful one here. And yeah, grew up all over the country, that might be good for people to know, too. My dad is still in the military. And so growing up, it was like, you know, every few years moving to a new spot. And so don’t really feel like rooted in a particular part of the US, but do feel rooted in a really strong family that I grew up in. Two parents who loved the Lord, and not only taught me a lot about Jesus, but over the last, especially 10ish years, have taught me what it means to change your mind about a lot of things. You know, we grew up in pretty conservative, predominantly white churches. And I’ve watched myself wrestled with a lot of questions about justice and race and politics. But I’ve watched my parents really faithfully wrestle with those questions, too, and change their minds and examine some of their own biases and things they grew up believing about all sorts of things. And that’s been a real witness and gift to me, as I have come into this work of figuring out how we live well together, including in our political lives. To have two parents and extended family who have modeled for me what it looks like to do that really well, while being really focused on hearing the Holy Spirit and listening to what Jesus leads, but still holding the secondary things secondarily, and being willing to say, “I was really wrong about what I thought Jesus wanted, I was really wrong, but I thought the Holy Spirit was leading.” So that’s been a big part of my growing up in my family in a way that I think has shaped me in some really positive ways.

Latasha Morrison
Wow, thanks for sharing that. I mean, your first book, The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of our Neighbor, which is incredible. I mean just where we find ourselves, like, I mean, a part of it…you know, a lot of times when we delve into this, you know, we always tell people that politics are about people. And, you know, and as we talk about racial injustice, everything that was done to marginalize oppressed community was done politically, and it was upheld politically. So therefore, those things have to be done, you know, undone politically, but there’s a difference between politics and partisanships. You know? And at one point, a lot of these things that we see like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, all those things were bipartisan type things that we just continually pass. I still don’t, I don’t know enough about all of the politics to know why those things were not etched in stone, like, why we have to, why they were axed and voted on every so many years. But you’re writing about this. And there’s so much, there’s so many historical layers that I think you Have a lot of insight on. And as we’re in 2024, like, I mean, some of us are already losing sleep over this, like, It’s a scary world out there. Because one of the things that I’m realizing, Kaitlyn, is I truly, if I didn’t understand it before, I truly understand what spiritual blindness is. You know, like, where people can’t see. Those are some things that you didn’t, you didn’t understand, but now you see it. Because, you know, I used to wonder, thinking as a kid, when you think about segregation or you think about all these hard histories we’ve had, I used to wonder, like, “Okay, so I like, I can’t believe this happened in our history that people were okay with it.” And now, as you grow up, you see, and you realize, and you’re like, “Wow, like, now I understand why people were enslaved for over 200 years in our country, and over, you know, 100 years of Jim Crow. I can see it and understand it now like never before.” And it’s one of those things when people want to erase history, it makes me think they want to repeat it. You know? And that’s something like as an African American woman that I lose sleep over. And there’s a lot of people who are not thinking about it that way. They’re thinking like, “Oh, it’s not, you know, it’s not that serious.” You know? Please help us. You say The Ballot and the Bible: How Scripture has Been Used and Abuse in American Politics and Where Do We Go From Here? We see it just about, we see it happening like every week. So just tell us a little bit about your heart and passion, and educating. And there’s a couple of chapters that I want to talk about. Because chapter three, chapter three, y’all, chapter three. We’ll talk, we’re gonna get to that. But just tell us a little bit. And we’ll talk a little bit about just the prayer that you have for just the Kingdom of God in us right now.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, I appreciate so much what you just said, because so much of my work is centered around the idea that our political lives and our spiritual lives are not separate things. Our spiritual lives are shaping our political lives. And very importantly, our political lives are shaping our spiritual lives. I graduated college and started seminary during the 2016 election. And part of what initially sparked my interest in all of this was being around people training for ministry, who were saying, “Look, I would prefer to stay out of politics, I would prefer to believe it’s a separate sphere, and I’m a minister of the gospel, and I just don’t deal with that. I am seeing politics shape not just how my people vote, it’s shaping how they see their neighbors. It’s shaping how they view God and themselves. It’s shaping their theology and their spiritual formation. And so those are not separate spheres that we can kind of ignore the one that feels uncomfortable, they really are related.” And part of the reason, like you said, I care so much about the history of this was in part because I wanted to write something…you know, the first book that I wrote was much more focused on what are spiritual formation practices that we can adopt to help us live healthier political lives. The second one is so much more focused on how we read scripture, in part because I spent the years in between the two books, going and talking to churches and groups of Christians. And the top two questions they would ask me, the second most common question was, “Here’s a Bible verse. Help me understand Romans 13. Help me understand when Jesus says, ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Help me understand the book of Revelation.” Something like that. Or the number one most common question people would ask was, “How do I have a relationship with my aunt or the person who sits across from me in small group or sits across the pew for me, who I believe we share this desire for scripture to shape our public life, but we come to very different conclusions about what that should mean.” So I wanted to write something that would, drawing on the first book on spiritual formation and how our spiritual and our political lives are not separate, write something that helped us think well about how scripture could shape our political life. But that, I thought, needed two components. One was we need the history just to understand what are the habits we’re inheriting? We don’t come to Scripture as blank slates, we come with particular questions and habits. There’s reasons why, when you read certain passages, you might go, “Oh, goodness, I’ve heard people say that before.” When you get to the part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “You are to be a city upon a hill,” you’re going, “I’ve heard politicians say that a bunch, like, what does that mean? What history am I inheriting about that language?” But secondly, I think the history is important, because trying to figure out right here and now how scripture should shape our responses to political issues, sometimes it’s so impossible to have that conversation if we start with the here and now. Because the temperature is already so high. I mean, I’ve done this before, where a pastor of a church will say, “Come help us. Fix something here.” And they’ll say, “Okay, what we’ll do is we’ll do a Tuesday night. Kaitlyn will come. We’ll tell everyone to come. And we’ll say we’re going to hash it out with politics.” Which is terrible, because people come ready to fight. They come ready, not just defend their own position. They go, “I already know what you think. I’ve seen your Facebook posts. I know the kind of car you drive or the t shirt you wore that one time. I have this whole idea of what you are and everything you believe.” And the Tuesday night politics talk. Generally, we’re not in the right context, our bodies aren’t prepared well. We’re anxious and stressed and defensive. And so what I wanted to do was say, let’s look to some historical examples. Because they’re things that still matter deeply to us. All of the stories in this book, for Americans to varying degrees, some will matter more to other people than then certain other ones. But they all feel like our history. So we feel connected to it doesn’t feel like a completely abstract example, and yet, there’s a little bit of distance. So hopefully, you can go in and say, “I’m not dealing with like the issue I might vote on this year. So maybe I can look not with objectivity, that’s impossible, but with some sense of distance to say…” I’ve had people tell me who’ve read the book, though, they’ll come and be like, “I couldn’t believe that this person couldn’t see what was so obviously true. I couldn’t believe that they so misinterpreted this scripture, or that they emphasized this one and totally forgot this other one.” And I think that can actually be helpful for us to go, “If it’s not just about me, I can feel a little less defensive. I can read this and go, ‘Okay, if it was true so often in our history that we have missed the call of God, that we have misinterpreted passages that we have prioritized what we wanted to believe politically over what the Word of God said, could it also be true now? I also have blind spots of things I can’t see. Could I also have passages I’m misinterpreting? And can these tangible examples from history give me something to hold on to to start wrestling with?” The example that kind of started the whole book off was Romans 13, which gets thrown around in our political conversations a lot. For people who aren’t familiar Romans 13 starts, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” And we’re quite selective. You know, if it’s a policy I like run by the government, you know, if it’s not, then I might go to Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than human beings.” So we just kind of pick a verse depending on what we like or don’t like. And I thought, okay, when I first was thinking about this, a lot of people were using this verse against Black Lives Matter protests against some other protests, but it was like, essentially “Stop protesting because you’re supposed to obey the government.” And I thought, “Well, during the Revolutionary War, I wonder how this passage was used.” And it turns out, it was used a lot by people who said, “Stop trying to overthrow the government, and because actually the government is instituted by God.” And so it’s a good example to go, “Okay, I have an idea of what this verse means. When I see it used in this other context, it makes me really uncomfortable. Is that a good starting place to examine what do I really think this means? What kind of biases in myself are brought to the surface by how I feel about this? And can I, hopefully in community,” you know, we wrote a small group guide for this, because we hope that people in community could not only read the history, but then go, “Okay, let’s sit down and read Romans 13 together, the whole context of Romans 13. And understand it in the context of Scripture and think well together, about what it means because it does mean something for our public life. But maybe some of the history helps us see where we characteristically go wrong.”

Latasha Morrison
Right, right. That’s so good. And I think it’s really important, because I’m like, so many verses taken out of context. You know? And used to abuse, marginalize, and oppress. And you talk about that in chapter three. But one of the things I wanted, in your book dedication, it’s really profound. You said, “To the people who picked me up and put me back together, when people I trusted abused the Bible,” and then you named a few people. There are many people in our community that can relate to that there are people who Have walked away from not necessarily God, but church as we know it. There are people who are, you know, just feeling like they have no place. What words of encouragement or hope would you give them as they grieve, as they heal, and look to be picked up and put back together?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah. I appreciate you, Latasha, pointing that out because it was important to me to start out the book that way. In part, because a big part of the book is saying, let’s not abandon scripture, including scripture in our public life. But I wanted to start out if I was going to make that argument with a recognition that I know what it’s like to have people use scripture against you. And I know what it’s like to feel really disoriented after that. Like I loved the Bible growing up. I was an AWANA kid. I memorized lots of verses. Like, this was the good book. You know? And then I watched people take this good book and use it like a weapon against me and against vulnerable people in our community. And it is really challenging. So I just wanted to name from the beginning, it is really challenging to go back to Scripture when it has been used that way. I think the word of encouragement I would give people is one, to seek out those relationships. I named those people in the dedication because I am just genuinely thankful that I can continue doing the work I’m doing because they were willing to say, “We’re gonna bring you meals, we’re gonna take care of you.” This was during COVID. So it was like, sit outside in the cold with a mask on and like it’s not comfortable or doesn’t feel good. But it also is important to care for this person who’s hurting. So I would say, seek out those people. And sometimes you’ll find them in surprising places. They might not be the people that you would necessarily expect. The other thing though, I would say, that’s been a real comfort to me. And this is a different story than the story I referenced in the dedication. But the you know, the morning after the 2016 election, I was a first semester seminary student. And I was sitting in a Starbucks translating a passage from the New Testament for my Greek homework. And I was just distraught. I really was like I don’t it wasn’t just about the election results. It was about people I had trusted, using scripture to defend unrighteous behavior, evil behavior, watching people say, “You got to do what you got to do to get your man in office, even if you have to excuse a lot of bad behavior, especially against vulnerable people.” And feeling distraught over that and sitting and trying to translate Greek and thinking, “Why am I even bothering learning Greek? It’s an ancient language, no one speaks any more, ancient Greek. Like, why am I learning this? What am I even going to do with this skill? Like, do I have a place in the church? Like, why am I learning to do this thing when I don’t feel confident about the church as an institution.” And suddenly, in the midst of translating it, I was translating Acts 1:8 where Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” And it suddenly hit me, me in Dallas, Texas, in a Starbucks, that is truly the ends of the earth from the disciples perspective. I could not be farther from their picture of what being Jesus’s witnesses would look like. And it was weirdly comforting to realize that while my world was falling apart to my senses, like the failures of my corner of the church were not the whole church. I was the ends of the earth. My story of the American church is not the center of the story. And that was weirdly comforting. And it did really push me into learning more, reading people vary widely from other parts of church history and other parts of the world and other parts of my community. I ended up learning a lot about the history of race in Dallas, because my own seminary was implicated in that history. So it pushed me to say, just because the leaders I trusted or the particular expression of the faith that I was holding on to, it was revealed had some serious flaws, was truly unfaithful to Christ in some serious ways, that didn’t mean the whole thing was broken. And for me to actually think that was to put my faith and my expression of faith at the center of the story, when it really isn’t. And that’s what I would encourage people to realize, read widely, look beyond the place that you’re in, and see if there are signs of faithfulness and goodness outside of the expression of faith that you have been in. Because we’re not the center of the story. And that’s actually really good news in a really significant way.

Latasha Morrison
Yeah, I always tell people that God always uses a remnant. So sometimes we think about it’s all, but there’s always a remnant that God has, you know, that have a heart turned towards him. And I think I’m thinking back to 2016. I was in Austin, Texas at that time. And you were in Dallas, you know, and I just remember, I was grieving a lot too. Like, I was crying, it took me several months to get over it. Because it felt like this, as a you know, and I know that probably looks different for you as a white woman than me as an African American woman, but it felt like betrayal. You know? And then you didn’t know, like you just like, wow, like, and so I do know that there has been a shift within the church that I don’t even think people will understand and be able to explain, you know, maybe until 10, 15, 25 years from now, where we won’t see the impact of it. You know, I tell the story where most of the people that doing that 2015 year, most of people I knew, they were in either a multi-ethnic, multicultural, or predominately white churches, a lot of them had transitioned out of predominately African American churches. Now today in 2024, majority of those people are either not in church or either back in predominately African American church. And so, you know, and this is something as we play this out, what is this going to look like, you know, 10 or 15 years from now? You know, I think that’s something that’s really important. So I think there’s this kind of duality in, you know, seeing, hearing your response, in which, you know, you were saying and holding on to, and then kind of like for me, one of the things that I was holding on to is just how do I remain steadfast in this? You know? How do I abide in Christ? Like looking to Christ and not looking and being moved by everything that was going on around me. And I heard, Andrew, I can’t even think of his name right now. The Civil Rights leader, I can not think of his name right now. But Sarah, if you hear me give it to me in a second. (laughter) Oh, Andrew Young, Andrew Young, sorry. I heard Andrew Young. And I remember just, I was grieved for several months, because I don’t know, I couldn’t even put it into words. But Be the Bridge helped me put it more into words, because I wrote that book after that time. And I remember hearing him just talk about just being led by the Spirit. And the things that they faced and trials that they faced and beatings that they faced. And he talked about being steadfast. And that spoke to me, and it was really able, that scripture was able to kind of pull me out of what people say the miry clay. You know? It was able to kind of gird me. You know, and you begin, you know, your introduction with the scene that many of us can’t forget your first words you write, “In June 2020, during the nationwide protests of the killing of George Floyd, President Donald Trump posed with the Bible outside of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC. The police used to riot control tactics to clear protesters from Lafayette Square to prepare him for a photo op. Trump bounced the Bible in his hands for a few moments before holding it up for the reporters photograph.” This is such a clear example of how the Bible has been used in abused in our country. What did that moment reveal to you?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, I felt like it was the scene that I had to start the book with, because it is a recent image a lot of people have in their minds of the Bible and American politics. And the New York Times at the time, New York Times writer Elizabeth Breunig talked about this of just like, it’s fully just a prop. The Bible is just held up as a symbol. And you know that that’s true, because Trump doesn’t open it. He doesn’t read from it. He doesn’t go in to St. John’s Episcopal Church and hear a sermon based on it. He doesn’t really comment much on the Bible other than the fact that a reporter asks him, “Is that your Bible?” and he says, “It’s a Bible.” I’ve actually since writing the book, learned from people who were, you know, proximate to the White House at that point, and have told me like, “There was a scramble in the White House to like find a Bible somewhere because he wants to have a Bible to hold up.” It’s, I think, a good illustration of something that is true even when it’s not this explicit, which is that people still want to use scripture, both as kind of a weapon and a tool and not submit themselves to Scripture, but actually use scripture for their own purposes.

Latasha Morrison
Amen. Yeah.

Kaitlyn Schiess
But also use it as a symbol to just kind of show people, “I’m your guy, I’m a good person. I’m one of your people. I’m in your community. And if I have done something wrong, that makes you think I might not be a good Christian or not very Christian in my action, here’s a surefire way to fix that. I’ll just hold the Bible up, and it’ll tell you everything you need to know.” And while that is a pretty explicit example of that it’s been true throughout American history, that leaders of all kinds, and not just politicians, but pastors have used scripture to say, “Trust me, I’m one of your people. You can vote for me or you can support my policies.” There’s a pretty good example of this actually, in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. There’s a note that we have that I’m sure historians were just thrilled to find, because it’s a pretty good description of his presidency. There’s a note where one of his speech writers wrote to the rest of the campaign and said, “Look, there’s a lot of biblical references in this speech, you probably won’t understand them. He won’t understand them, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the audience understands it. They’ll know what we’re saying when they say those references.” So I wanted to start off partially to say this is the reality that this is how scripture has been used in our history. But I also wanted to forward just at the beginning to say, this is how a lot of us feel. We probably feel exhausted; we probably feel like, “Get the Bible out of hands of these Christians using it this way.” Which is something David Walker says, “Like and the Bible is in your hands? You’re doing this to us with the Bible in your hands?” And I understand the impulse to say, and Stanley Hauerwas, the theologian actually has a book where he basically says, “Get the Bible out of the hands of American Christians. They don’t know how to use it, they’re really mistreating people because of it. Let’s just get it out their hands.” And I wanted to start off that way to say I’m going to give you some reasons throughout the rest of the book, why I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t think the answer is the Bible needs to get out of politics. Let’s stop quoting scripture ever. Let’s stop having scripture inform our politics. In part because we have some other historical examples. We have real examples of faithfulness, where scripture motivated, really faithful, positive political work.

Latasha Morrison
Yeah.

Kaitlyn Schiess
And I don’t want us to forget that. I mean, a lot of the kind of pushback I have received have mostly been from more progressive white people who say, “Get the Bible out completely.” And I wanted to show some examples historically, where we don’t want that to happen. The Bible played a really positive role. But I want to forward I understand why we feel that way. I understand why we think maybe we should get the Bible out of politics. But let’s go to our history, not only to see examples of great misuse, but to see really positive examples too, not to say, just to kind of sanitized the history but to say what can we learn? What do we need to lament and grieve? And repent some of us over? And then what do we need to celebrate and say, “How can this witness shape our work and life today,” instead of saying, “The history is just so bad, we can’t learn anything from it. We have to lament and grieve it.” Instead, maybe say, “We’re focusing on the wrong people. Maybe there are some really faithful examples we’ve ignored that need to shape our life today.” And sitting at their feet historically is a good way to start.

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[Latasha Morrison sharing about the heart of the Be the Bridge Podcast] Hello, listeners. Welcome to the Be the Bridge community! This is Latasha Morrison, and I am the Founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Be the Bridge and the author of the book entitled Be the Bridge, and the host of this wonderful podcast. I am so glad that you are here. You see, Be the Bridge responds to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world, and believes understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial reconciliation. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by racialized society. But we are grounded in truth. We have provided this podcast as a resource to help cultivate courageous conversations and equip all to flourish. You will find interviews from a variety of thought leaders, faith leaders, and business leaders, as well as authors, artists, activists and athletes. You will be encouraged, you will be challenged, but most of all, you will be changed. So go ahead and subscribe to the Be the Bridge Podcast on your favorite podcast player so you don’t miss out on any of these helpful and hopeful conversations.

Latasha Morrison
As we talked about this duality, I think about American history as African American history, it’s important to even remember that those who were, you know, enslaved and those who were witnesses, you know, like a Frederick Douglass who used the Bible to correct and to denounce. And Harriet Tubman, you know, a majority of her work and her commitment to freeing the captives was because of her faith and because she was being spirit led. I mean, her nickname was Moses. But yet and still, there were so called Christians, white Christians, that were trying to kill Moses. You know? And that was her nickname. And so there’s this thing where I know as it relates, like to the Civil Rights Movement, it was a faith movement. It was our revival. And so like, those are some examples in how the Bible historically and politically has been used to help set the captives free and to to bring about truth and correction. But then how, you know, you talk a little bit in chapter three, I wanted to read you guys the title of chapter three. She says “The Bible through Slave Holding Spectacles: the Bible in the Civil War.” And some of you who are listening to this, you, you know, I, there was such thing as a slave Bible. And so this is a Bible that was missing half of its context. I mean, like removing scriptures. Whoa to whoever did that. I’m like, whew! God gonna get you. I’m just keeping it very childish. (laughter) But just tell me a little bit about, you know, that particular chapter. Oh, and but before you do that, I think about back to when we had 9/11. And I don’t know, if you remember this Kaitlyn, or if you could, if I don’t remember reading it. But you know, that night, I mean, just so much fear happening. We didn’t know what was gonna happen. And, you know, I lost a relative in the towers. But I remember George Bush getting on TV. And just when we didn’t know what was happening, I remember my little brother coming home. And he was like, almost in tears, and he was running. And he thought something was gonna drop out the sky. Like he was so afraid. But I remember him standing up there. And he used the Bible. And he used scripture to calm us in that moment. You know, I can’t remember what Scripture he used.

Kaitlyn Schiess
It was the darkness will not overcome the light, or the light will overcome the darkness. Yes.

Latasha Morrison
Yeah. Yeah, look at you. (laughter) But it was just something about how the Bible speaks to our heart. And in that moment, I remember hearing that. And just remembering that even in the midst of this chaos, that God is ultimately in control, where it doesn’t feel like it, doesn’t seem like it. But it was a reminder to me. And maybe other people that feel that, but I’m just saying for me at that time, it was a reminder. Yeah.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, that’s a great example. Because it is, again, there have been positive uses. There have been uses that help us see that there is something beyond the challenges of our particular moment. And often, that’s been true, where it’s been verses like that, that give us perspective of like what is eschatologically true. What is true of the end of all things? That’s like, really can be helpful in our political lives. But I love that you pointed out the title of that chapter. Because this comes from Jonathan Blanchard, who was involved in a really famous debate in Cincinnati about the Bible and slavery. And he said that the people in the South were reading the Bible through slaveholding spectacles, which is, I think, a good description, not only of what was clearly happening, I mean, sometimes even historians today can kind of write as if the South had the Bible on their side. They can kind of say, “Oh, well, of course, they have these straightforward commands.” Right? “Like Paul says, ‘Slaves obey your masters. Abraham owned slaves. God said it, I believe it, that settles that, we’re done.” Whereas the North had to do, and especially white abolitionists, had to do really complicated hermeneutical gymnastics to make the Bible be against slavery. And a lot of even historians today who write about this, they’ll tell that story of the Civil War era, which most crucially, just ignores enslaved and free Black Americans and what they were doing with scripture; it makes the whole debate about white people in the South and white people in the North. And it also, if you’re doing that, then the debate is kind of neat and tidy. “One of you gets these direct biblical commands, one of you has to do these really complicated…” and historically, it’s true that a lot of white abolitionists were using new, more liberal theology from Europe and kind of saying, “Let’s ignore the particularities of Scripture. Let’s just remember that the whole story is a story of love. And so love is against slavery, but like, let’s not get bogged down in the details.” And they were, this was an era where people were starting to doubt miracles in Scripture. And so they were like, “Let’s just get away from all the particulars. Don’t get into the details of the story. The main picture is, Jesus Christ died for our sins and love is the overall story.” And neither of those approaches characterized enslaved and free Black interpreters in this period who got into the details. Who said like, “We’re gonna go to particular stories and see ourselves in the stories and see what was God doing in the Exodus. What was God doing in Revelation?” One of my favorite interpreters I talked about in this chapter, Mariah W. Stewart, beautifully talks about Revelation in terms that I’m sure made people very uncomfortable at the time. I mean, really not just uncomfortable, really violently angry. But that is a very different approach to Scripture than even people today who might say, “Let’s get away from all the details. Like some of this stuff is sort of scary and violent. And let’s get over with the judgment.” And she said, “I find great comfort in seeing that God cares about injustice on Earth and has this kind of response to it.” Whereas what actually characterized a lot of interpreters in the South was not, “Oh we’re just taking the Bible seriously, we’re reading it literally. That’s the plain reading.” They were reading through slaveholding spectacles. They weren’t, when they talked about these passages, they weren’t just saying, “Look, here’s what Paul says, or here’s what happened to Abraham.” They took those stories and placed them in a larger context of their own kind of plantation ethic of this certain kind of hierarchy, this certain understanding of how God relates to different creatures, and the kind of order of creation, all of this stuff that was not in the text. It was their own story they told about themselves, and they took scripture and read it through that lens. And for us, to even today tell a version of the story that makes it sound like they had the Bible in their side, I think is not only for Christians grievously wrong, but ignores who really was most clinging to Scripture. It was very often enslaved and free Black Americans who were saying, “I see something in here,” that to your point earlier, was so dangerous in its liberatory potential that people wanted to give them a Bible that pulled huge chunks of it out because they recognized the part of the story of Scripture is God’s liberating power and control and sovereignty and care for especially oppressed and marginalized people. So I kind of wanted to make clear for a lot of people like the it’s not that the white southerners won the day on this. Actually, Alan Buzek, who’s a South African theologian beautifully has this line where he’s basically like scripture won’t stand to be misused for too long. Eventually, the voice of God through the Holy Word will speak louder than the people who are misusing it. And I think you see that even in those people who were so courageously and faithfully writing at the time, saying, like, like David Walker said, “You might have the Bible in your hand, but I’m the one who’s reading it correctly. And I will tell you what it actually says.”

Latasha Morrison
You say also that your book focuses less on how the Bible has influenced specific policies and more on how the Bible has shaped more general foundational political, theology questions like what is government? What is the relationship between theology and politics? And how should Christians think about their political participation? For our community listening why is it important to reframe how we think about politics?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, thank you for that question. I think a lot of us have a good impulse, which is, there’s a political question that arises, “Let me go to my Bible and see what my Bible says.” And that’s good, because we want scripture to shape our lives. The problem with that approach is we tend to ask questions of the Bible that the Bible is not necessarily interested in answering. And then we can miss what the Bible is actually saying, because we’ve asked a different question, we’ve assumed that it will operate on the terms of our political system, which is not true most of the time. So we also then if we’re going to Scripture, and looking for verses that apply to this situation, we’re always being selective. If we’re using a concordance, we’re going to pick certain words to look up in the concordance. So we’re already being sort of selective in what kinds of verses might apply. So we might be trying to answer a question about a certain policy. But since there is no direct verse about that policy, even the words we choose to look up in the concordance are kind of judgments we’re making about what is most relevant to this particular question. Or whatever passages come to mind those, there’s all this like bias and our own kind of cherry picking that leads into this. What I would prefer, which can be kind of a frustrating thing to say to some people, because there’ll be like, “How can I read my Bible for politics better?” And I’ll be like, “Just read it more, and read more places throughout Scripture and read it and community.” But what I would prefer, instead of saying, “Let’s look for certain verses that support certain policies or who to vote for.” Let’s first say, “We’re going to read widely across the whole canon, and we’re going to read together and community. But we are, every single time we come to Scripture, even if it’s not the Tuesday night we’re going to talk about politics, even if it’s, you know, our regular devotional time in the morning, when we come to Scripture, we are going to expect to see something not just about our personal lives, but also about our common life together and what this might mean for our our public life as well.”

Latasha Morrison
But one of the things you also talk about, thank you so much for that. One of the things you talk about you the summary because you were just talking about this kind of like a civil war hermeneutics you talk about. Could you explain that a little bit?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s one reason that I think going to that era is really important is because it helps us evaluate not just how we interpret certain verses, but kind of our general approach to Scripture. So like I said, that a lot of the historians that will talk about it today, they’ll sort of say, “Okay, the South had the Bible on their side, the North had to do all this complicated stuff.” If we look more widely at people in this era, and in that chapter, I mostly talk about David Walker and Mariah Stewart, but this is true of many writers and preachers at the time, if we’re looking – and this is a consistent theme of the book is – maybe one of the first places we should look in American history is to marginalized Christians within our own history. And if we’re going to them and looking at what they’re doing with scripture, it’s not choosing between either just read the plain words on the page, and look, this is what it says, you know, God said it, I believe it, that settles it. It’s also not abstracting away from the details. It’s getting really into the details and saying, “What do I learn about what God cares about? And where do I see myself in the story?” And one of the things that I think is really challenging for white Christians today, and was clearly challenging at the time, because it was pretty much absent, was correctly finding ourselves in stories in ways that might not be flattering. So I say in the book, you know, tons of Black preachers in that period saw themselves as Israel oppressed in Egypt. Saw themselves as Moses like you brought up about Harriet Tubman leading the people out of Egypt. I have yet to find a white southern preacher who saw themselves as Pharaoh. No one was really saying that, right? They weren’t seeing themselves in that story, which is a real challenge then.

Latasha Morrison
But you were.

Kaitlyn Schiess
But they were! Yeah, no. And so it’s really hard. This is why I want to go to the history to say, if I look at that and think, how could you have missed it? How could you have not seen? Or I look at that and go, “I know where I would put you in the story.” You know, this white preacher who, I reference a few white preachers and the sermons they gave defending slavery, then the discomforting question back to us is like, okay, if they couldn’t see their own place in biblical stories well, I want to doubt my own ability to see myself correctly in biblical stories. And it means I need help. It means I need not I need help from a diverse community. I also need help from the Holy Spirit. Because I could be in a diverse community and be entirely resistant to anything they say to me. So I need help, divine help and human help to see what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls, “the word against myself.” I need to be able to hear the word that doesn’t just say, prosperity and goodness, and you know, flourishing for now on Earth in earthly terms. I need the word, and I point in the book when he’s talking about the word against ourselves, back to Huldah the prophet who reads the word of the Lord, the law that has been discovered by Josiah and says, “We are doing poorly. We are worshiping idols. We are sinning. And so if I correctly understand God’s word, and I correctly understand our situation, what that says for me is punishment is coming. Judgment is coming to us.” And the most incredible thing about that story is that Josiah hears it, which uncommon for kings in Israel. And it’s uncommon for humans to be able to hear right the Word of the Lord against your best interests, or at least what you think your best interests are. And I hope that the history can help us do that. To say, it’s really hard right off the bat, to hear the word against myself, to open scripture and just expect I’ll be able to hear a hard thing against me, that’s really asking a lot of people. But if I go to history and say, okay, what are characteristic failures? What happens over and over again? Where do people miss things consistently, especially people who look like me? Or who were in a similar social position to me? If I can see that that can be a gift to me to see what could I be missing here and now. What passages do I not go to, that people in my community have never gone to, that actually I need to go back and read? Who are people that are interpreting scripture that we have not historically listened to, that we need to listen to? And this period in the Civil War era is an important period, not only because it’s, you know, the most pressing moral question of that time, it’s a huge example to go to. But also because some of the habits we got into them, we have continued today. You can’t draw a completely straight line from then to now. But you can find resonances over and over and over again, in history where we went back to, “Let’s just pay attention to the spiritual lives of people. Let’s not pay attention to any of the material lives of people. Let’s ignore the parts of scripture where God seems to really care about the material well being of people.” That’s been a consistent problem. So if I learned that from history, maybe in my own study, I can say, “Let me go back to the places that my community has historically missed. Let me learn from people who have not missed that.”

Latasha Morrison
It makes me think of just like there’s a, it’s a gift of opportunity to see.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yes.

Latasha Morrison
Repentance is a gift. And, you know, sometimes you don’t understand that until when you’re talking about this. It’s like it’s a true gift to be able to see. You know? And we have not learned from our past as we should have because, like you said, we read the Bible through a certain lens. You know? The Bible is for us, but not to us. You know? And how we read that. I think about that in 2020, you know, where there was an opportunity. You know, I really call it like a reckoning, there was this opportunity. And you saw this response of some empathy, like there was some empathy and compassion, which I know that some of that fell on good ground. You know? And I know a lot of it was performative. But I keep going back there, because there was this sense of hope that many felt for the first time in a long time. And then you see, within like a year, this this little groundswell that started in the SBC that really interrupted, or really took a life out of out of that. I mean, that’s, from my perspective, that’s what I see. There’s a lot of other things, you know, but you talk about how the Civil Rights Movement was energized by Scripture, we just mentioned that. And I was glad that you said that, because so many people miss that. You know, even one of the things I was just trying to…I had to speak on a panel at this event at Praxis. And I talked about the Civil Rights Movement as a I think, like as a form of revival, like some of the qualifications of revival. “Many chapters in the story of the Civil Rights Movement have been forgotten, modified, or intentionally misrepresented. White Americans tend to imagine the movement as less controversial than it was, white resistance is less violent than it was.” I know, many of people that I talked to, in my family, some didn’t go to the March on Washington because of this threat of violence and safety and resistance, “and the resolution more final and satisfying than it was. Many Americans also forgot or ignored the significant role that religion played in motivating and strengthening both the movement and its opponents. The Bible unsurprisingly, played a significant role.” When we look at the Civil Rights Movement, where do you see how the Bible played a role? I want you to speak to that, especially as where we are now. I think this is some of the encouragement that I find when I look back at history and see what was motivating people, how they remained faithful, how they stayed hopeful, like, it’s important for me to see that to see like, okay, this is where we are, we’re not where we used to be. We’re not where we could be. But how did they hold on? You know? How do they not give up? Because literally, Kaitlyn, I fight every day not to give up hope. And understanding that my hope is not in people. But I have to remind myself, my hope is in Jesus. And what that means for me. When we look at the Civil Rights Movement, where do you see how the Bible played a role?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yeah. One of the things that was such a witness to me in doing this research was both how often biblical language just kind of accidentally came out of people’s mouths. Like they would be, you know, they’re would be people interviewing people getting ready in a church, which is not the image people always have. Right? I live now in a city in Durham, North Carolina, where there’s a real rich history of community organizing here. And churches still exist today that were organizing during the Civil Rights Movement. And so if you want to be involved in local politics in Durham, you have to show up mostly to Black churches. And people forget that like that was the centerpiece of a lot of the Civil Rights Movement. So they have people that will be interviewing folks preparing for a sit in or a march in a church. And it’s not even like they’re directly quoting scripture. It’s just it comes out of them. A theologian I have really appreciated, James Cohen, talks about how the church he grew up in in Arkansas, he’s like, “We just thought felt like Moses could walk in the door, like Jesus could just show up. The Bible was so alive to us.” So that’s encouraging to me when I think about what I want out of my scripture reading, which is not just information, it’s I want to be immersed in what the theologian Karl Barth calls the strange new world of the Bible. I want it to be alive to me. I want that to be the language that just comes out of my mouth without trying. So that was a real witness to me. But also, I think, what surprised me and again, this will be different for you. I didn’t grow up knowing as much about this or being in church contexts where this was kind of the legacy that we were inheriting. But what surprised me was I expected people to talk a lot in the marches and the sit ins and speeches to talk a lot about the prophets, to talk a lot about injustice, which they did. But what struck me and was so comforting to me was how often so many of these speak In interviews and marches, people would say, “I believe in the coming judgment of God.” And so what that means for me is both, I have the comfort of knowing that like I am on, I’m on the winning team. Like there was multiple places where people would just be like, “They can do whatever they want to us, God will vindicate us. God will vindicate efforts towards justice, even if on Earth it seems like they are failing.” Which is, I think, a good word for many of us. I had a conversation recently with someone who does a lot of work towards immigration justice. And they were saying, “It is a comfort to me to to know that it might seem like a failure, the work I’m doing right here and now. It might seem like no one’s getting on board, like the justice I want to see is not coming. I can find great hope in knowing that ultimately justice is coming.” But the other part I found so inspiring was how many people would say, “Because I know that Christ is returning to make all things right, that the final judgment is not on my shoulders, it actually means some options are off the table for me.” Like many of the people involved who were, you know, real, passionate advocates of non violence, were not interested in non violence just for nonviolence sake, they were saying, “Actually, I’m trusting in God to provide judgment, so I will fight faithfully for justice here and now. But I don’t have to use unjust means to achieve that justice. Because it’s not ultimately on my shoulders. Christ will do it, whether I’m involved or not. I get to be involved, but if I fail, it doesn’t mean the whole thing has failed. So I don’t have to cut corners or harm other people, or make compromises I shouldn’t make to achieve the ends I want to achieve. That’s acting as though it’s up to me entirely. If I were to act like Jesus was coming back to do it all and I just get to participate in it now, I can do it from a real place of joy and hope and love.” And as you pointed out earlier, I can withstand a lot, I can persevere a lot, if I really truly in my bones believe Jesus is coming back to make all things right. And that was a real, a real witness to me. And a real word to me, as someone who’s in a lot of communities now, where people are seeking justice of all different kinds who are often tempted to say, “We do cut corners, we do coerce people, or hurt people to get the ends that we want. Because the ends justify the means. This is a really good goal. I really want to see this good political thing done. So I’m willing to do anything to get it.” The witness of many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was actually it’s a more of a success if you keep your soul. It’s more of a success if you’ve been faithful to Jesus and at the end of the day, you can say, thy will be done. And I am seeking faithfully the end I know you are going to eventually provide.”

Latasha Morrison
I love that. Thy will be done. And I think, and we know, like, you know, we think about this, the Civil Rights Movement, when we think about the March on Washington, and the “I Have a Dream” speech, and so many people, you know, so I think about all the songs that came along with the Civil Rights Movement. That was the motivation, that was the thing, you know, that kept the community going, that gave them hope. And then, you know, I also think about four days later. After this big moment, you know, you have the church bombing in Birmingham with the four young girls. You know? And so I have to think about that, because it encourages me in the work that we do to keep going when you don’t see the fruit or you don’t feel it sometimes. Or it doesn’t seem tangible or realistic. And then reminding myself, what is my motivation in this? I always say, like, I know I will never see racial reconciliation in my lifetime, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t do everything that I have in my power or in my calling to ensue it happening for the generations behind me to have them come alongside and, you know, some hope and a blueprint of the things that of the bridges that have been built before me and also continue to build these bridges for them. So yeah, when this airs, Super Tuesday will have just happened. We don’t know what will happen, but it’s not hard to imagine many will feel helpless or even hopeless. And I think about this now because I’m just like, wow, you know, God, what is happening? You know what, you know, it shows you like, like we really need to meet the true and living Jesus. Like I mean, just like we’re studying the Gospels in seminary now and, you know, looking at the Sermon on the Mount, looking through and examining the Synoptic Gospels, like all these things. When you entrench yourself in that, and it’s like you’re discovered or rediscovering who Jesus is, but you’re also seeing who Jesus is not. And you can also recognize, the more that you know Jesus, the more that you can recognize the counterfeits. You know? And so, and I said, Lord, help people to see. Help people to see how do you stay faithfully engaged in politics in this time? What is keeping you writing? What is keeping you talking? What is giving you strength and courage? Because I know on The Holy Post Podcast, sometimes I listen, I’m like, “Oh, they saying the things over there!” Because everybody don’t say the things. Everybody doesn’t call a thing a thing. And what is keeping you for calling a thing a thing? What is keeping you calling a thing a thing?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Oh I appreciate that. You know, honestly, and this is kind of, you know, building on what I said earlier, I am really thankful that I have a church that I belong to now that is healthy and faithful. And I don’t say that to say, you know, to make anyone feel bad who doesn’t. I’ve been in the valley of the shadow of death on that account. You know? I’ve been there. But it is to also maybe give someone that little bit of hope that they exist, that there are places that are being faithful and caring for people well, and an encouragement to seek that out. Because I do, I travel a lot, I talk to a lot of people, I spend a lot of my time with pastors who are exhausted over this, and with people in churches who are just at their wit’s end with the way the world is and with the division in their community. And it is a real gift to me to return back to a place that has great political diversity. A lot of disagreement. My church is probably the most politically diverse community I’ve ever been a part of. And yet, I think what makes it really healthy and good is that there’s this stronger layer of both belief in the gospel and care for one another. Like, there are people who I’m sure will vote differently for different offices for different issues in November and right now for the primaries. And yet, they will show up together to care for a refugee family that has shown up in town or they will show up to one of the churches that we partner with that is working in our neighborhood on particular issues or to bake food for the homeless ministry at the church across the street from us. I have been encouraged by people who I was tempted to think, “You’re just kind of too far gone. We are too different. I think you are too politically different from me and maybe grievously wrong. Like I could really think that what you were doing and how you were voting is grievously wrong.” And then I see this little bit of hope I see this little moment. Even recently in my church, after a sermon that was not political in any sense. It didn’t say anything about certain policies; it didn’t talk about any politicians. But afterwards, during the time of prayer, a woman stood up and said, “That convicted me that I have not been caring enough about marginalized people at the border. I’ve been thinking of them as enemies, and I shouldn’t.” And that was a moment for me when I went I was convicted to go, “I don’t think that I always think the Holy Spirit is real. I think that I need someone who is treating people made in the image of God as an enemy to be defeated, they’re too far gone. Well, I’m never going to reach them. That’s impossible. And it’s like, I Have forgotten that the Holy Spirit convicts people and me and that I need that. And so that’s what gives me hope. There’s moments when I think, “I thought you were never gonna change. I thought this dynamic was set in stone. I thought there was no hope for this community or this neighborhood. And the Holy Spirit works in ways that I could not have done and would not predict.” And that keeps me looking out for those moments too.

Latasha Morrison
Yeah, Kaitlyn, I think that’s, you just stepped into my prayer. These are the prayers that I’ve been praying for friends, for people, like Holy Spirit, convict.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Yes.

Latasha Morrison
Because that is the transformative power. You know, hopefully, our words, videos, things can be used as a vessel in that. But ultimately, it’s God who convicts. And so that has been my prayer, you know, is to keep praying, you know, even when we don’t feel like it. So, I am grateful for that, I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful for your words. And I’m grateful that you’re a young person that is, you know, doing this. When you said you graduated in 2016, I was like “What!?” (laughter) And you’re continuing the, you know, people like yourselves, you know, that gives me hope. You know?

Kaitlyn Schiess
Good.

Latasha Morrison
That, you know, there’s been a shift and a change and an acknowledgement and an awareness that you have that you didn’t have before. And it’s different from how you were raised, but how that shift and that, to me, that is growth in also, as you’re growing in Christ, that sanctification is happening continuously in you. And so that is what gives me hope. So I’m so grateful for you. Thank you for coming on here and talking to us and giving us a little encouragement as we go through these difficult days ahead. To remember in our darkest hour, and this thing, where it’s not performative. It’s not just saying and I pray that the power of these words speaks to people’s heart that God is ultimately in control. You know? And we’re gonna do our part, you know, and Holy Spirit convict.

Kaitlyn Schiess
Amen.

Narrator
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization, and or to become a bridge builder in your community go to bethebridge.com Again, that’s bethebridge.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.