A Country Fried Interview with Rev. Mark Sandlin

Two of my favorite features of Progressive Redneck Preacher are our Kudzu and Country Fried Chicken interviews.

Last week, we had a Kudzu interview with Rev. Katharine Royal.  Those interviews focus on transplants to the south who are changing the face of southern culture in beautiful ways.

“Country Fried Chickens” are individuals who, like me, are children of the south. They were born to southern mamas, and grew up hearing the cry of the whip-poor-will. They grew up swimming and fishing in its rivers. Sweet tea runs through their veins and you can still see the shimmer of fried chicken grease sticking to their fingers. Yet, like me, they have seen the damage that approaches to the stranger, to the other, and to violence can produce and how ingrained they have become in our culture. These Country Fried Chickens are working to transform our culture to live out the best of our values, and truly be a place all are welcome at the family table as one.

Like how fried chicken often tastes better cooled in the fridge the next morning, our Country Fried Chicken Interviews never get old.  This week I wanted to pull out an old interview from a little over a year ago of Rev. Mark Sandlin in honor of the end of his term of service at Vandalia Presbyterian Church.  Since this interview, Mark and his friend Dave have begun a podcast, the Moonshine Jesus Show, which like Progressive Redneck Preacher focuses on the intersection of faith, southern culture, and progressive values.  His writing career and online ministry has picked up.

Unfortunately, conservatives in his church have waged a campaign to push him out of his pastorate.  While at his church he engaged his church in becoming a center for caring for the needy and oppressed in their town, and in order to preserve it as a possible center for this in the future, Mark stepped down.  He is now trying to find a way to focus more fully on his writing and podcast.

I want to extend my prayers and support to Mark.   If any of you are able to support him in this next step in his ministry, I challenge you to contact him here: http://www.patreon.com/marksandlin

Our prayers are with you!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah spring hat

 

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One of our features on Progressive Redneck Preacher are Country Fried Chicken interviews.

“Country Fried Chickens” are individuals who, like me, are children of the south. They wore born to southern mamas, and grew up hearing the cry of the whip-poor-will. They grew up swimming and fishing in its rivers. Sweet tea runs through their veins and you can still see the shimmer of fried chicken grease sticking to their fingers. Yet, like me, they have seen the damage that approaches to the stranger, to the other, and to violence can produce and how ingrained they have become in our culture. These Country Fried Chickens are working to transform our culture to live out the best of our values, and truly be a place all are welcome at the family table as one.

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Our first Country Fried Chicken interview will be with Rev. Mark Sandlin of both the God Article and Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.

I understand you both serve as a pastor in a brick-and-mortar church and also do writing ministry through a number of blogs and social media sites. Can you tell us a little about your pastoral ministry?

I’ve been the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church for 8 years now. Over those 8 years, we’ve increasingly become a church focused on helping those in need in our community. It took a lot of change to get there and that can mean difficult time. We’ve certainly experienced that, but every year we make more contact with those who are struggling and share with them God’s love through food, clothing and healthcare.

What are some of the online social media ministries you do?

I’m founder or co-founder of The God Article, The Christian Left, Christians for a Change, Until ALL Can Wed and Occupy Voting Booths, all of which can be found on Facebook. I also write for The Huffington Post and Sojourners online.

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What would you say is the focus of your ministry?

I’ve never really thought about it. I just try to share the message I get in reading the Bible and through my experience of God in the world. I guess that means my focus is love and equality.

How did you begin your ministry?

Ministry is something that I’ve basically always known I was supposed to do but tried to deny for a very long time. Increasingly, it became more and more difficult for me to deny. One day, as I was helping build a home for a homeless family in Mexico, the opportunity kind of flopped itself in my lap and I’ve never looked back.

How did you begin to be involved with online forms of ministry?

I began because of Terry Jones. Remember him? I called him the “Koran Burning Man.” I owe him a lot. He started my online ministry – or, at least, he jump started it. I’d been blogging a little but for the sake of not getting in trouble I didn’t say everything that I wanted to say. When Terry came on the scene and started talking about burning Korans…well, I sort of lost it. From what I could see, far too few Christian ministers were speaking out against him. I finally decided that I didn’t want to be a minister if I couldn’t speak out against that kind of hate. So, I took the Bible that had been with me since I was 7 years old. I hand wrote a note to Terry asking him to burn that Bible with the holy texts of my Abrahamic brothers and sisters. I took a picture of the Bible and note, wrote a blog post about it and it kind of took off. Others started doing the same thing. It was amazing. That’s really what started it all, deciding that being fearful to speak what I understood to be the truth was not the way I wanted to be minister.

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What lessons could you give churches or progressive organizations about the use of social media and other online resources to further their work?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to be giving lessons but I would say two things have worked for me. 1) Be passionate about what you are doing. If you aren’t deeply passionate about the thing you are doing on social media, it will eventually show. You’ll put less time into it. You’ll let the content slip. If you aren’t really truly passionate, if you wouldn’t keep doing it if you never had more than 100 people, don’t do it. 2) It’s called “social” media for a reason. Be social. Don’t use it as a way to broadcast a message (like a newsletter does). Don’t use it primary as a way to raise money. The primary thing to do with social media is be social. Go figure. Talk to people. Respond to the comments on posts. “Like” other pages, “follow” interesting people. Interact on their pages not just your own. Have fun.

How does your work promote progressive values?

Well, we get into the whole issue of defining “progressive values” here but I guess my short answer is that in the US we have a history of excluding people and as time has passed we’ve made moves to include more and more people (rights, voting, healthcare, etc). My work is about including everyone and in that way I think it continues to move us forward rather than back. For me, that’s progressive.

What are some key concerns progressives need to be aware of which your work has brought up?

The importance of marriage equality and the lack of biblical support for denying it. The strength of non-violent confrontation and civil disobedience. The importance of creatively responding to hate. Recognizing that the “Spiritual But Not Religious” have some very important messages for the “Institutionalized Church” and we need to start listening. Hate begets hate. Love begets love. I’d say that’s a pretty good starter list. While we work on getting those right, I’ll work on expanding the list.

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You have recently been involved with the Moral Monday movement in NC. Can you tell us a little about what this movement is?

Mass Moral Monday is a movement started by the NAACP in NC. They have been very active in civil rights issues for a long time. The current legislature in NC is heavy in Republicans who are heavy-handed in creating legislation that hurt those most in need. We legally rally on their front lawn (5000 this week) and hear speeches and demonstrate against their actions. The Monday events conclude with various individuals taking a stand by committing an act of civil disobedience by occupying the legislative building which is technically open to the public. As the group sings the police come and remove them from the building in zip-ties, placing them under arrest. More than 100 people were arrested this week.

Why did you get involved?

Well, because it matters. Conservative groups are already creating attack files on those who have been arrested. We shouldn’t need any further proof that this movement worries them than that.

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Were you jailed?

I was not jailed. This is a good time to emphasize to those who have considered coming out to support the cause that getting arrested is a choice. You can come and be a part of the rally with absolutely no fear of being arrested. At the same time, if you would like to help make a strong statement, you can choose to be arrested. If you would like to be a part of that group, please visit NC NAACP’s website for more information.

What makes something like Moral Monday necessary?

Moral Monday is necessary because the government is not listening to the people. More than anything, they are listening to big business and the top 10% of society. If we are silent, if we are apathetic about what they are doing it will only get worse. Many of the people they are hurting with their decisions are already just barely hanging on. So, this isn’t a matter of making it worse for a lot of people who are already struggling, this is a matter of life and death. The message we want them to get is that we will not sit silently by as they step on the backs of the least of these to improve the conditions for those whose condition is already quite well.

Is there anything you are hoping regular citizens in NC will become aware of through your efforts?

I hope that the increased news coverage will open the eyes of many North Carolinians to how badly the choices being made are hurting their neighbors. I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life. The people of North Carolina really are good at heart – that part of “The Andy Griffith Show” is absolutely right. I refuse to believe that most of us want to see laws that hurt the people we know and love.

The Andy Griffith Show

For those who want to show up on Moral Mondays, how do we get involved?

The numbers matter. Every person really does count. We need as many NC people to show up as possible. Every Monday at 5. For more information, go to: http://www.naacpnc.org. If you are a minister come wearing some sign of your ordination (I wear a stole) and help us pray in those committing civil disobedience. I’d encourage everyone to bring signs about the topics that are important to you. Remember, though, to attack policies not people. Attacking the people making these policies is not what this is about.

Some are not able be physically present on Moral Mondays.  How can they support the movement?

Get on social media and get the word out. Pray for those participating. Send them notes of thanks and encouragement.

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One of the things I focus on in Progressive Redneck Preacher is the relationship between southern culture and progressive values. Did you grow up in the south? If so, what are some of your most positive experiences of “the south”?

I did grow up in the south and I now live within walking distance of the place where the sit-in movement was sparked which is now the International Civil Rights Museum. More than anything, I think the hospitality of the south is a core value which lends itself to a progressive outlook. We can look all the way back to the emphasis the Old Testament places on the importance of hospitality to recognize that it isn’t a value unique to the South but it is one we pride ourselves on. I grew up in a conservative household, but either one of my parents would drop what they were doing to help someone in need.

What are some of your negative experiences of southern culture?

For me, the negative experience is one that continues on. We see it in stories like the recent Paula Deen headlines. The south still has a racism problem. It’s as ugly as it has ever been. It may not be as obvious, as in-your-face, but it is ever-present. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see that my kids and their friends seem to see it as hateful and illogical. That gives me a lot of hope.

One thing I discuss a lot on the Progressive Redneck Preacher is the influence of what I call “slave-holder Christianity”, methods of interpreting Scripture bound up in prejudice which aim to exclude people. What are ways your ministry confronts this?

Sure. I think of it as rich, old, white guy privilege. It’s kind of odd really. Just geographically speaking, there were probably not a lot of white guys in our Bible stories. Yet, the Bible has been used over and over again to keep rich, old, white guys in power. Biblically there’s nothing right about that. How the inclusive teachings of Jesus (and even Paul) have been used to create an exclusive club is kind of beyond me but it has.

I guess, as I mentioned earlier, the primary focus of what I do tends to be love and equality. Most of my work is done in educating people. I try to articulate the biblical bias for love, for equality, for the least of these, in a relatable and engaging way. There are also efforts like my response to Terry Jones or refusal to perform weddings until all can wed which are more concrete ways of confronting that particular mentality of exclusion but, in many ways, they are just the natural extension of my writings.

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In addition to the influence of “slave-holder Christianity”, in this blog we discuss how positive movements that grew out of the south, such as the civil rights movement, influence us today. Can you see ways this or another movement has shaped the work you do?

The answer to this is easy and it’s one person’s name: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s a hero of mine. Much of the work I do is inspired by him and his commitment to issues of civil rights.

Do you have any advice you’d give to young people sensing a call to do progressive work like yours?

I’m tempted to give the advice my minister gave me when I talked to him about doing ministry, “If you can do anything else and be happy, do it”. In some ways, it really is true. While there’s a lot of reward to the work, there’s a lot of pain too. I’ve been called things I hope my mom never hears about. I’ve been attacked by congregation members and even folks I thought were allies in progressive ministry. If you can’t get past the work being about you, that stuff will do you in. On the other hand, if you can recognize the work is bigger than you and is really about those who are mistreated and marginalized, you’ll find that the reward of the work distracts from the detractors.

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