Bursting Wineskins

Time for American Christians to Seek a New Story

A fall 2021 free, online, public course from the Center for Religion in Public Life. Email your interest to crpl@ptstulsa.edu.

Taught by Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend, Center Director and Seminary President Emeritus.

America’s myth is breaking. The deep story is unraveling. That mix of fact and fiction, the story Americans tell about who we have been, what we are, and where we are headed is dysfunctional. New wine is bursting the old wineskins. Some of us cheer the myth’s end. Others fight to preserve it. But, in our highly agitated and fearful culture, we wonder: what will replace it?

For all of American history and myth-making, from the days of Spanish, English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonials until today, Christians have left fingerprints all over. For better and for worse, we have amended the soil of American culture for OUR sake, optimizing it for OUR growth. We have lent stories and symbols to the nation in hope of creating, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, a nation with the soul, if not the form, of a church.

The results are decidedly mixed.

What the nation most needs from Christians today is an honest appraisal of our own contributions to forming “a more perfect union,” confession of our complicity in arranging social hierarchies to benefit our interests, and our most expansive understandings of how to neighbor each other and live well on this relatively universe-rare biosphere.

Elected officials in some states blunt legitimate criticism and debate in public schools regarding America’s story. They may prohibit the teaching about America’s original and ongoing sins. But Christian congregations are free from that outside interference. No one outside ourselves can stop us from looking in a full-length mirror.

This class will provide a few angles of vision into that mirror.

Each lecture/presentation will include stories and primary documents illustrating divergent ways Christians have tried to shape American culture and will raise the question, “What now?”

A personal note from Gary Peluso-Verdend:

I have spent all my adult life as a student of how Christianity functions in American public life. Although a far lesser percentage of Americans are affiliated with congregations today than they were when I graduated seminary in 1981, Christian churches still have the attention of a sizeable percentage of the population.

Especially over the last 40 years, evangelical Christianity has been a loud, often effective, public voice for a particular American myth and way of being in the world. Not all evangelical Christians are aligned with America First Christian Nationalists. But their strength in the states that carry outsized weight in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College has given them profound influence. From my point of view, that influence is a hindrance to the U.S. becoming a robust multicultural democracy and has wrapped Christianity in American nationalism, as well as white supremacy, to the detriment of Christianity and the nation.

There is a deep anti-intellectual tradition in American Christianity, particularly in the heirs of 19th century evangelicalism, which very much includes my own United Methodist people. But there is another tradition in Christianity that values fearless scholarship, truth—found through conversation and argument-lost-rediscovered-repeat—, the experimental method of growing knowledge, and using every bit of the mind-body-spirit God has given each of us to contribute to more just and compassionate communities. I am committed to this latter tradition.

I offer this class in service of a church that has something intelligent, true, and helpful to say. I believe there are intersections between the best of what Christianity offers and the best of what America promises—including defining what “best” means!

The old wineskins are bursting. The time for new wineskins, a new story in which to live, is now.

Register your interest by emailing crpl@ptstulsa.edu.


Six sessions, with primary document reading and lecture viewable from Monday-Thursday and live discussions at 7p – 8p central time on Zoom.


Thursday sessions on October 7, 14, 21, and November 4, 11, and 18. Lecture will be available on the Phillips Seminary YouTube page the Monday preceding each discussion.

Week of October 4: The End of the Myth

Introduction to the class, highlighting the distinction between myth and history and naming numerous forces contributing the reality that the U.S. cannot move forward using the old wineskins—a container that depended heavily on a particular set of biblical stories and images.

Week of October 11: How to pay attention to the matrix of religion and politics

The American experiment of separating church and state also depends on how the relationship between religion and politics is interpreted. Religion and political agendas play together—for better and for worse—in the cultural construction of stories, ideas and practices of belonging and exclusion, moral hierarchies, and solving problems.

Week of October 18: Conflicting Energies: Conquest and Friendship

There is a long tradition in colonial history and Christianity that nothing—individuals, peoples, land—is useful to God until it is conquered and cultivated. In the U.S., this theological disposition is aligned with conversion-oriented Christianity, technological domination of land, and the conquest of indigenous persons.

Week of November 1: Conflicting Energies: Preserving and Challenging Hierarchies

Religion can be conservative or revolutionary. In American history, expressions of Christianity have backed white colorism (with white at the “pure” end of the scale), male over female, capital over laborers, conqueror over conquered, heteronormativity over all. And, some expressions of Christianity have championed ecclesial and social revolts against these hierarchies.

Week of November 8: Conflicting Energies: Righteous Violence and Social Repair

There is a strong affinity in American culture between socially conservative Christianity, support for using military force, and punishing wrongdoing (including how “wrongdoing” is defined). Christians also have argued for the public value of peace, restorative justice, confession, repentance, penance, atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Week of November 15: Toward a Better Myth

What might religions in general, and Christianity specifically, contribute toward a more perfect union, dedicated to the proposition of equality that has not yet been fulfilled? Can biblical teachings regarding measuring justice by how a society treats the poor be invoked without also opening the gates to everything that accompanies “chosen nation,” “conquest,” “exercise dominion,” and identifying international organizations such as the UN and the World Council of Churches with the anti-Christ? If there is going to be a United States in the future, someone(s), from somewhere, is going to propose a myth of origins and destiny that will resonate with and move people to act. Let’s give it a try.