Bekah McNeel is a freelance journalist living in San Antonio. She reports on education, immigration, and religion. In addition to local beat reporting, her work has been published with Christianity Today, Texas Monthly, and Texas Tribune. She is the author of Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning Their Faith, from Eerdmans. She can be found on Twitter at @BekahMcneel and on her blog at

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Sorry, James Dobson. We Can't Spank Our Kids to Heaven

by Bekah McNeel 10-13-2022

Ivan Kmit / Alamy

Societally we focus a lot on spanking, I think, because it seems to draw such a line between barbarism and civility, or, seen from the other perspective, between parents who are serious about discipline and those who are wishy-washy. But spanking isn’t the issue behind the issue. The issue behind the issue is authority — the right to exercise power.

The Battle Over Sex Ed

by Bekah McNeel 05-09-2022
When sex education becomes a spiritual issue.
Illustration of two ropes tearing a book with the title "The Battle Over Sex Ed" in half

Photo illustration by Party of One Studio

IT MEANS A LOT to Jack Teter that Christians are getting involved in the fight for better sex education. “A lot of folks in my generation got shame-based sex ed,” said Teter, the regional director of government affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “So, it’s really cool to see these groups talking about the morals of consent, love, and communication.”

For Candace Woods, it’s a spiritual issue. Woods, who is in the ordination process with the United Church of Christ and a facilitator for the Our Whole Lives sex education curriculum developed by the UCC and the Unitarian Universalist Association, was brought up in so-called purity culture, and the most guidance she had from her church and community growing up was “Don’t have sex.” As a consequence, when she married a man 14 years her senior, she said that she “was very unprepared for a sexual relationship.”

As that relationship was ending in divorce, Woods encountered the Our Whole Lives curriculum through a UCC congregation. That curriculum, which is written for secular as well as faith-based education for kindergarteners through adults, emphasizes self-worth, responsibility, sexual health, justice, and inclusivity—values Woods held spiritually but until then had never heard applied to sexuality. “I found myself being incredibly healed by this work,” Woods told Sojourners, and as a result she has felt called to advocate for more kids to have access to curricula such as Our Whole Lives.

Woods joined others in advocating for Colorado’s HB19-1032, which made a minor adjustment to an existing law: It added teaching of consent as an “affirmative, unambiguous, voluntary, continuous, knowing agreement between all participants in each physical act within the course of a sexual encounter or interpersonal relationship.” Among those advocating for the bill was the Denver-based racial justice nonprofit Soul 2 Soul Sisters. According to Briana Simmons, who coordinates the “Black Women’s Healing, Health, and Joy” program for the organization, comprehensive sex education provides information that is vital to bodily autonomy, an important value in Womanist faith traditions, Christian and otherwise. “We can only make the best decision for ourselves if we have the most accurate and comprehensive information,” Simmons said. “At that point, we can consult with whomever we trust, be that a faith leader or a higher power, as we make those decisions for ourselves.”

The bill ultimately passed, but Colorado, like many states, has felt the push and pull between progressive and conservative political movements in the past year. After the racial reckonings of 2020, when millions of Americans participated in Black Lives Matter marches and online campaigns, 2021 saw a profusion of legislation proposed and passed to prevent schools from teaching about systemic racism. In many cases, sex education follows the same rhythm. Teter has seen pushback in the form of “bad faith” bills used mostly by conservative lawmakers to voice opposition to recent progress. For instance, one bill called for high-definition footage of a human embryo to be shown during sex education classes, ostensibly to discourage abortion. But such footage doesn’t exist, Teter said, and such “off-the-cuff bills” have little chance of going anywhere. On the whole, Teter said, comprehensive sex education is “in a good spot” in Colorado.

That’s not the case everywhere.

‘Why Would We Risk Putting an Innocent Person to Death?’

by Bekah McNeel 04-22-2022

Reps. Jeff Leach, Joe Moody, Lacey Hull, Victoria Criado, Rafael Anchia, Toni Rose, and James White prayed with Melissa Lucio at Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, where the state houses women on death row. (Image: Courtesy of Rep. Jeff Leach via The Innocence Project.) 

“We don’t think the death penalty is in line with Christian values,” said Cameron Vickrey, a staff member with Fellowship Southwest, a network of churches dedicated to social service. While she has always opposed the death penalty on compassionate grounds, Vickrey said Lucio’s case caught her attention because of new evidence demonstrating the likelihood that Lucio is innocent.

Texas Pastors Vow to Protect Trans Youth, Despite Abbott's Order

by Bekah McNeel 02-24-2022
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivering address at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivered the keynote address at the Texas Values policy forum at the Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas on Sept. 24, 2021.

“Obviously this order is actually going to cause more harm,” said Rev. Gavin Rogers, associate minister at Travis Park Church in San Antonio. Rogers said characterization gender-affirming care as “child abuse” flies in the face of research, which has shown its importance in the health and wellbeing of transgender youth, who already face many barriers to access.

Listen to Your Conscience, Not the Bishop or Pope, Texas Nun Urges Voters

by Bekah McNeel 10-27-2020

Sister Jane Ann Slater.  Image via screenshot from Our Lady of the Lake University video

As political groups across the country make their last appeals to Christian voters, often pointing to a narrow set of issues, Sister Jane Ann Slater, chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, wants the people of faith to think more broadly — looking at the total of what a candidate or ballot proposition brings to the community.

At Capacity: Weaponizing Inefficiency at the Border

by Bekah McNeel 11-28-2018

FILE PHOTO: Border police look on as a group of Central Americans and Cubans hoping to apply for asylum wait at the border on an international bridge between Mexico and the U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Oct. 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

While Tijuana and California received most of the remaining asylum seekers in the heavily publicized “caravan,” cities all along the U.S.-Mexico border have seen smaller eruptions in the ongoing immigration disaster. Advocates working in those cities do not, however, say that they are seeing waves of immigrants, floods of asylum seekers, or any other crisis-invoking metaphor. The U.S. is not, they say, being overrun.

Why Moderate Christian Pastors Loved Ben Sasse's #MeToo Speech

by Bekah McNeel 10-09-2018

Like Sasse, moderate pastors who don’t want to upset the conservatives in their churches find themselves talking about how “all of us” are broken. How “all of us” are to blame. They talk about how social media is hurting us. How a broken sexual ethic is hurting us. And if the sexual abuse victims sitting in their congregation are anything like me, they are thinking, “No. A man hurt me.”

The Latest Evangelical 'Statement' and a History of Stumbling on Racial Justice

by Bekah McNeel 09-07-2018

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

MacArthur, at least as I remember him, is not a bitter old man. But he sure sounds like one in his blog series, “Social Injustice to the Gospel.” In fact he sounds exactly like my grandfather who repeatedly says, “I don’t see why everything has to be about race all the time."

Family Separation Is the Latest Eruption in an Ongoing Emergency

by Sandi Villarreal, by Bekah McNeel 08-16-2018

Undocumented immigrant families walk from a bus depot to a respite center after being released from detention in McAllen, Texas, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Over the past four months, news from the border has chronicled the stories of families detained and separated — many of them seeking asylum from gang violence in Central America. Children as young as 8 months have been taken from their parents and sent across the country to children’s shelters, privately run detention centers, and, some, to foster families. Now, 20 days after a court-imposed deadline, more than 550 children still have not been returned to their parents, at least 300 of whom have been deported.

Pastoring a Purple Evangelical Congregation Amid a Politically Charged Humanitarian Crisis

by Bekah McNeel 07-22-2018

Isabela, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, hugs her 17-year-old daughter Dayana outside a federal contracted shelter in Brownsville, Texas, shortly after being reunited with her following their separation at the U.S.-Mexico border. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Chad Belew, pastor of The Arsenal, a non-denominational church south of downtown San Antonio, understands the pressure to keep a low profile on political issues or run the risk of alienating his congregation. But he also believes that silence is deadly, spiritually speaking. He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”