Wednesday, September 20, 2023

I Was a Stranger and You Took Me In

Carrie Cunningham’s book of essays explores synchronicity between Christianity and social justice

Carrie Cunningham, author of Meaning Train: Essays on Religion and Politics, points out that she is a progressive Christian writer, using a modifier to separate herself from the far right evangelicals who espouse the faith. She became religious at age 32 after her mother died of breast cancer, only then embracing her Episcopalian upbringing. “My dad was a Christian conservative and that kind of turned me off a little bit,” she said, referring to her early life.

Accepting different paths

For many years now, the Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan writer has been writing essays about race, religion, feminism and geopolitics, not just in the U.S. but around the world. These essays, through the lens of a progressive Christian, are collected from almost two decades of writing on social justice issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the long-reaching effects of Apartheid to systemic racism and Islamophobia in America.

Author Carrie Cunningham
Author Carrie Cunningham

Cunningham has “approached (these issues) in an ecumenical fashion, talking about all religions. I’m a Christian, but I believe in ecumenism.” In other words, part of her approach to writing on these topics is to acknowledge— and sometimes even lean on— the varied viewpoints of other theologies. She has a degree from Wayne State University in Near Eastern Studies, so she is well-versed in both Judaism and Islam, along with her degree in the Episcopal faith.

“One major theme in my book is how, when people think their religion is the only religion and the only route to God, that can be really damaging,” Cunningham pointed out. “One example of that is the essay [“How Pluralism Might Solve Sectarian Violence in the Middle East”] In terms of that, there are sects of Sunni and Shiism that believe that their religion is the only path, and that creates an intolerance that results in war and discord.”

A radical progressive

As a whole, the book is a hopeful study in the innate goodness of human beings, and it certainly leans on the view of Jesus as a rather radical progressive who, just prior to crucifixion, said, “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, New King James version). Cunningham’s focus on this call for social justice from Jesus himself when he asks for people to do the same for “the least of these” is largely what informs her perspective in these essays. “That encapsulates a lot of what I think about Jesus. And I hope that people grasp that by reading my book,” she said.

Cunningham highlights inspirational figures of many faiths— John Lewis, Bobby Kennedy, Desmond Tutu, Abraham Lincoln among them— to illustrate peaceful ways to engage in conflict, and she shares her vision of what America could be if it embraced the “radical egalitarian” aspect of Jesus.

“I’m ready for a perspective of radical love and tolerance. I think that you can see played out in our politics now this huge debate about income inequality, healthcare and all these different things,” she said. “I see the values that Christianity embraces, they can help the world help heal all the divisions. The whole idea of loving and forgiving one’s enemies and radical forgiveness— creating one human family. ”

Purchase Carrie Cunningham’s Meaning Train: Essays on Religion and Politics at

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