Some Thoughts on Love

Lately, I’ve had some thoughts on love and its place in our lives as Christians.  This is going to make me come off as one of the emergent Church types, but I think we use the word “love” far too often in our everyday vocabulary.  I “love” grape sodas.  I “love” Macy’s.  I “love” playing basketball.  Love is supposed to represent a deep connection with someone, for it is a word that is mean to be used in relation.  We do not have a relation with a drink, store, or sport.  We consume, use, and play these things.  These are things that cannot react to us.  Simply by the fact of their non-sentience, they cannot be in relation with us.

By the repeated use of the word “love” we cheapen the thing the word represents.  For love to exist, it must be given to someone able to recognize and reciprocate it.  Do not mistake me, love does not have to be reciprocated to exist, but I do think that love has to have the opportunity to be reciprocated to exist.  Otherwise, it is merely a masturbatory existence.  Love exists as an extension of us.  As we walk this road of life, we grow and change along the path.  Because love is an extension of ourselves love changes just as we do.  We change, how we feel about ourselves changes, and how we feel about those whom we love changes (does not mean we cease to love someone just because that love changes).  I have experienced how my love for others has changed, and it is precisely because of this that that the everlasting love of God[1] is so startling.

Just let that sit with you for a moment, the love of God does NOT change.  Despite this shifting world, despite our changing selves, the love God has for us does not shift or change.[2]  Our lives are ever-changing whether we know it or not.  Our perceptions change, our values change, where we live changes, the jobs we work change.  Hell, ultimately people die and their absence changes our living.  Despite this maelstrom of change, the love of God for us does not.

I’m not saying anything new or startling, I know.  Recently I’ve experienced changes in how I’ve felt about people whom I love, and the idea of an ever-loving, never changing God just floored me.  Anyway, just some thoughts.

[1] Psalm 36:7, Psalm 48:9, Jeremiah 31:3, Psalm 136:26, Lamentations 3:22-25, Luke 12:6-7, 1 John 4:9, John 3:16, Romans 8:35-39.  Just to name a few examples.

[2] I warned you that I was going to come off as one of those emergent Church types.  I’ll start wearing black-rimmed glasses any day now.


Know Your Neighbor (Nuns and the Roman Catholic Church)

This summer, I am working at a Catholic Hospital.  I was sitting in the office working on a report when, on a whim, I turned to the Sister of Mercy sitting next to me and asked, “How long have you been a sister?”

She seemed a little startled that I would be interested, but she said, “Oh, um, in August it will be 60 years.”

I said, “Wow…that’s impressive.”  I wanted to ask the next question, but I wanted her to know that I was asking it to actually know her thoughts and not to only get a reaction.  I trusted she would err on the side of the former.  Sixty years as a nun and all, I figured that was a fairly safe assumption.

“So how do you feel about this reprimand from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious?”

She stopped typing at this, slowly turned to look at me and looked for a long moment before answering, “It makes me very sad.  I was furious when it first came out.  I think it just shows that they don’t know us from Adam’s apple, and I don’t think they care.  But they have all the power, and it just makes me very sad for the church.”

She has given sixty years of her one and only life in service to a church that has come out and said that she is subverting the church by promoting a message that is anti-Catholic.  I cannot imagine what that feels like, and I prefer living in ignorance in that account.

Despite my not ever hearing the idiom “not knowing from Adam’s apple” before, I think her sentiment is clear, and it makes a profound statement.  The Vatican speaks from a position of ignorance where American nuns are concerned.  More than just the Vatican administration’s insistence on desperately clutching at antiquated Earthly hierarchies, this is a profound statement about our lives as Christians.

How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we do not know our neighbors?  I would contend that a big part of the reason, not all, that some of these denominations and churches continue to fight and preach against having women and homosexual people in leadership positions in the church is because they don’t know these people.  People do not go where they are not welcome.  Homosexual people generally do not populate churches that claim they are all going to hell, and women interested in ministry generally do not go to churches that claim it is a sin for them to do so.[1]

I would say that it is infinitely more difficult to claim that Greg[2], your neighbor, the guy who picks your kids up from school when you cannot, who helped you find your lost dog, is going to hell because he is homosexual than it is to claim that homosexual people in general are going to hell.  In the same vein, the Vatican’s administration is afraid of women in the church having independent thoughts that will subvert the church, but they do not know these women or the passion that they hold for the Church or how much it is their face and actions that keep Americans in the Roman Catholic Church.  We cannot love our neighbors if we do not know them.  One does not love a faceless entity or a generic group, for it is impossible to have true love on this level.  We can love the people we know in our day to day interactions, and it is infinitely more difficult to oppress someone whom one knows personally.

I need to be clear; I am pulling for the Roman Catholic Church.[3]  In much of the world, they are still the predominant, if not only, face of Christianity.  I am pulling for them to cut this…nonsense out and get back to preaching the love of Jesus Christ.  The gospel of Christ is not about who is able to preach and lead in the church and whether one can or cannot use birth control.  The Gospel is about the love of God that is available to all people and that we should show to people every day in all of our interactions.  I am pulling for the Vatican administration to get on board because the public face of the Roman Catholic Church is quickly becoming that of a group of old men oppressing women and gay people.  American nuns do not need to be told that the Gospel is about a message of love.  That message has been promulgated by them for a long time, and the administration needs to be following their lead.

[1] Neither is an absolute by any means.

[2] Guy I just made up on the fly.

[3] I am never joining the Roman Catholic Church because I have far too many theological differences with them.

Earthly and Transcendent

I have read two things recently that I had negative reactions to, the first incensed me and the second disappointed me.  The first is a blog post entitled “Shamscendence” by a political science professor from Baylor University named David D. Corey in which he responds to an Easter video message from the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the second is a blog post by Dr. Peter Berger entitled “Another inconvenient church affiliation surfaces.”  These two are related since I have the same problem with both.
First, let me say that I do have problems with the presiding bishop’s Easter message.  She does not talk about Jesus or the Resurrection in any meaningful terms, and this simply should not happen from any ordained person’s Easter message, much less the presiding bishop’s.  However, let’s be clear, this is a two-minute video.  Rev. Jefferts Schori is not giving a sermon but a homily, a very pointed and specific message, and no one should be expected to give a complete and thorough take on anything in two minutes.
Corey’s argument is misguided at best and asinine at worst.  Corey accuses Rev. Jefferts Schori of not caring about the heavenly or not putting enough emphasis on the heavenly or transcendent.  In his view, the church that is supposed to be saving people’s souls from eternal damnation should not concern itself with solving those people’s earthly, temporal problems. The Millennium Development Goals[1] are meant to be a way to end hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases, and this is something that the church should not concern itself with according to Corey.
Prof. Corey obviously knows very little about theology but a lot about politics. I think Corey’s real beef is that Rev. Dr. Schori was not endorsing the GOP.  Corey is using “theology” to try and reinforce his political views, and in doing so, he corrupts and destroys that theology.
I want to quote my Biblical studies professor and say, “It’s always a dangerous thing when someone pretends to be an expert in a field in which they’re not.” He was talking about Richard Dawkins, but it applies to David D. Corey.In point of fact, he shows his expertise and his ignorance in the same breath. According to the Baylor University website, Corey’s “teaching and scholarship focus on ancient Greek political thought.”[2] His “essay,” or rant as I would prefer calling it, shows his preference for Plato. The Baylor site says he is working on a book about Plato, actually. Corey is quite willing to call out Rev. Jefferts Schori for heresy.  Ironically, however, Platonism is a heresy that he is quite willing to engage in. When the earthly, human life is sacrificed altogether in favor of the “transcendent,” this is heresy, and it is against the teachings of Jesus.

Disappointingly, Professor Berger engages in the same false belief.  I admire Peter Berger a great deal.  His book The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, changed my views on religion and how faith works in our lives.  However, he makes an erroneous claim in his blog post.  Prof. Berger is writing his blog post about Jeremiah Wright and Liberation Theology, and he claims, “Where are the liberationists and their sympathizers wrong? Very few New Testament scholars would agree that Jesus’ ‘good news’ was a program of social transformation here and now; it was the proclamation of the coming of a supernatural order in which the reality of ‘this eon’ would be totally transcended.”  Of course, Jesus spoke and thought of the coming Day of the Lord a great deal.  Jesus’ teachings are chock-full of apocalyptic eschatology[3] and to claim otherwise would cause Albert Schweitzer[4] to roll over in his grave.  However, to claim that Jesus did not care about the here and now, people’s earthly lives, and was solely concerned with the coming Day of the Lord is to engage in the very same heresy of Platonism that Corey does in his blog post.
Jesus, who says, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these,”[5] cares a great deal about the lives of people on this Earth and how it is lived.  Jesus, who says “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,”[6] is concerned with how people live their lives in relation to others.  The heart of this is found in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.[7]  In this parable, the bridesmaids are kept waiting long into the night for the return of the bridegroom.  The wise take oil for their lamps and the foolish do not.  The foolish must go back for oil once night falls, so the wise are invited in when the bridegroom returns in the foolish’s absence.  Yes, the point is the return of the bridegroom, Jesus, and the Day of the Lord that will turn all evil and evildoers on their head, but if we, the bridesmaids, do not keep our lamps trimmed and burning, loving our neighbors as ourselves and doing for the least of these, then it does not much matter.
Corey claims, “Again, the question comes down to what the ‘welfare of the world’ really means. Is ‘welfare’ fundamentally about drinking water and poverty rates, or is there something more—something on a spiritual plane?”  This is a stupid claim, and it makes for very poor discipleship.  What good is it to save someone’s soul only to send them out to die of dehydration, starvation, and preventable diseases?  Absolutely none.  This sort of argument is the nonsense that the rich use to make themselves feel comfortable at night while people starve outside their doors.  The same Jesus who said, “I am the bread of life” also physically fed five thousand people with bread and fish.  The Millennium Development Goals is good discipleship because they are another way of loving our neighbors as ourselves and caring for the least of these.  The Millennium Development Goals are another way for us to keep our lamps trimmed and burning.
The Christian message is one that tells us that “life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”[8]  Transcendence is intimately woven throughout that message.  But the same Jesus who preached over and over again of the Kingdom of God and the Day of the Lord, is also the same Jesus who flipped tables in the Temple because of the injustices done to people through the money changing done on those tables.  Jesus cared intimately for how people lived and the evils and injustices that people had to endure in their lives.  Part of the point of Jesus’ teaching is to prepare people for the Kingdom of God.  To sacrifice all earthly life for transcendence, to say that Jesus ministry did not have a here and now impact, is to miss the Christian message.

[1] This is what Rev. Dr. Jefferts Schori focused upon in her Easter message.  Read more about it here:

[3] Apocalyptic Eschatology is the theological teachings concerned with the end of the world and coming judgment.

[4] Albert Schweitzer was one of the progenitors of the study of the Historical Jesus.

[5] Mark 12:31

[6] Matthew 25:34-40

[7] Matthew 25:1-13

[8] Matthew 5:25

Leaving United Methodist Church and Seeking Episcopal Reception

In my mind, the Methodist Church was done for me.  I didn’t consciously know it yet, but the United Methodist Church (UMC) and I had just parted ways.  In the Spring of 2011, I finally took a good hard look at the Methodist church and my place in it and there were too many differences for me to have a future in the UMC.  My consciousness rejected this idea for another month or two because I had two terrific Methodist chaplains in college, and I hated the idea of being in a separate church from them.  However, the writing was on the wall, and as much as I would have liked to keep drinking and pretend it’s not, that does not change the writing’s presence.[1]

One of the reasons that I could shed this affiliation so easily[2] was because it was loose to begin with.  As I described in my first blog post, the United Methodist church that I grew up in was Methodist in name only.  My previous church counts little of Methodist doctrine as beliefs that they hold.  True, Wofford College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but you would be hard pressed to find that affiliation in the day to day life of the students of the college.  I am still friends with both of my Methodist chaplains from Wofford, and I talk to them often.  As I have noted, these two relationships were the biggest tie to the UMC for me.

I had started the first steps of the ordination process with the District Superintendent’s Office of Florence[3], but this was far, far from a pleasant process.  In all of my dealings with the office, I never actually met the District Superintendent.  Every communication I had with the office was through the secretary who was…unique.  The first time I went to the office, I brought along the documentation they needed to get me started in the process:  my high school diploma, my social security card, proof of my confirmation and membership in a church in the district, and my college transcript.  Upon providing this documentation to the secretary, she looked at me and said, “Now we need proof that you’re literate.”

I stared at her blankly for a moment and said, “…I beg your pardon?”

“We need proof that you can read.”  Upon understanding that I did hear what I thought I was hearing, I looked at her and then pointedly looked down at the documents she was holding in her hands.

“No, no you have to take the TABE test to prove that you can read.”  I left the office and later attempted to call the District Superintendent and speak to him about this.  I never reached him on the phone.  I e-mailed him and got a pointed response that taking the test was conference policy and could not be circumvented, so I took the test.[4]  Needless to say, my enthusiasm for pursuit of ordination dropped off.  My intermittent attempts at e-mailing the District Superintendent were never answered, and I still have not met him in person.

Another reason for my cutting ties with the UMC is their polity.  In my opinion, the bishops of the UMC have far too much power, and I could not pursue ordination in a denomination that has that much power over its clergy.  Let me explain, while the bishops of the church have power to affect Methodist doctrine and polity, that is not my qualm.  Let us say that I get a job as chaplain of a school that I like.  I enjoy my work there, and I like the people I am around.  A new bishop is elected to the South Carolina conference.  She is someone I have never met or spoken to before, but the day after she takes office, she can look at her roster of clergy and find my name.  She could call me and tell me she needs me to pastor a church in Ninety Six, SC[5], and I would have to go.  I cannot, after investing so much time in my education, make the commitment to potentially be someone’s migratory, indentured servant.  I applaud anyone who has made this commitment, but I cannot and could not do so.[6]

Undoubtedly, however, the biggest qualm I have with the United Methodist Church is their stubbornness in keeping homosexuality as “incompatible” with the church.  The General Conference that took place a few weeks ago and the treatment of homosexual members and allies there confirmed this for me.  I believe that someday I will be ordained, for I do not expect that God will leave me alone on this point.[7]  I believe that ordination is primarily about being a representative of Christ’s love for the world.  Christ died for the salvation of all, and he did not talk about homosexuality at all.  There is no way that I could bring myself to proclaim God’s love as a member of a denomination that proclaims it is not for some people because of their sexuality.  I can’t do it, and I pray for all of those who feel the way I do but have to do so in the United Methodist Church anyway.

Despite my stepping away from the United Methodist Church, I know that I am still Wesleyan.  I am Arminian[8], and I hold with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral[9].  This year I had been worshiping consistently at Berkeley Divinity School’s Wednesday night worship service and dinner.  The original intention was to show a consistent non-Berkeley presence on Wednesday nights in a show of solidarity.  However, the more I came to know it, the more I realized how much I fit in with the “Mother Church.”[10]  The Episcopal Church both ordains homosexual people and celebrates their marriages in the states in which that is legal.  TEC isn’t afraid or wary of intellectual thought.  Indeed, the position of the Episcopal Church is to struggle and wrestle with the Biblical text.  I am also attracted to the diversity of traditions and theology found in The Anglican Communion, for it is the Big Tent that has a place for many in it.  Obviously, the Episcopal Church has its own set of problems, but so far, these are such that I am willing to take them on to get to the good.  I look forward to continue walking the via media[11] and continuing to learn.

[1] Daniel 5:1-9

[2] While it’s true that my leaving the Church was an easy decision, given my loose ties to it in the first place, I imagine that for some members of the UMC who choose to stay–particularly those who are disadvantaged by the Church’s theology–the decision cannot be easy. I admire these individuals for their courage.

[3] District Superintendents are administrators within the Methodist church.  A DS is someone who represents the larger conference the district is located within but can give a great deal more hands on help since the district is a great deal smaller than the conference.

[4] I kid you not; I went to the adult education center in Florence, SC and took the TABE test.  The TABE test, for those who do not know what it is, is a test designed to determine at what level a person should begin pursuit of his or her GED.  I waited to get my test for 45 minutes among a room full of high school dropouts and their angry mothers yelling at them.  I am not exaggerating.  There were no fathers in the room.  Take that for what you will.

[5] This place exists, I promise.  Look it up.

[6] No, bishops do not have this kind of power in the Episcopal Church.

[7] I have rarely experienced God through revelations and epiphanies.  I do not even have a pretty, turn-on-a-dime conversion story to Christianity to tell.  I have experienced the Holy Spirit moving within me as a persistent annoyance more than anything else.  I know exactly what C.S. Lewis was talking about when he spoke of the “hounds of heaven.”  I am pushed, stretched, and annoyed until I do the Holy Spirit’s will, and when I do in the end, I feel the Holy Spirit’s chuckle run through me.

[8] Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian and the progenitor of Arminianism that holds that salvation from Jesus is available to all who will choose and accept it.

[9] The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a methodology for theological reflection that holds that theological conclusions should be sifted through the sieves of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

[10] Despite being the inspiration and thought behind a new movement, John Wesley never left the Church of England.

[11] John Donne referred to the Anglican path as a “middle way” between the Roman Catholic Church and the newer Protestant churches.

Eucharist and Baptism

Currently, there is a conversation going on in the Episcopal Church concerning the relationship of Eucharist and Baptism:  specifically, whether or not Baptism must precede participation in Eucharist.  I think there are legitimate arguments for both sides.  Based on other blog posts I have read recently, I think the level of contention and rhetoric is too high to have fruitful conversation right now.  I am going to explain my own views on the subject and why I am in favor of everyone participating in Eucharist for all, regardless of someone’s Baptismal status.  I am open to and welcoming of discussion of this topic, but I am not open to contentious debate.  Regardless of our stance on this subject, we are all members of the Body of Christ and we can have civil disagreements.  In other words, we ain’t[1] Washington D.C, and we aren’t going to behave like that either.

I will not attempt to nail down the metaphysical specifics of what takes place in the Eucharist.  I think this is both a slippery slope and serves little to no purpose.  As Webber says in his book Welcome to the Episcopal Church, “The Trinity and Incarnation remain mysteries; we can offer possible explanations and suggest ways of thinking about them that may be helpful, but the ultimate nature of God remains beyond human reason.”[2]  In much the same way, I believe that what exactly happens in the Eucharist and Baptism, and especially the relationship between the two, is a mystery.  We do not have a cheat sheet to confirm our beliefs about the Eucharist, or any theology for that matter.[3]  That being said, I believe that when we are partaking of the Eucharist, we reaffirm our place in the metaphysical Body of Christ by participating in what was the physical body of Jesus that was the sacrifice for our salvation.  Christ triumphed over death to bring us life everlasting and we reaffirm our belief in that every time we consume the Eucharist.  We are sitting at Christ’s table prepared for us.

But, you ask, isn’t the heart of this debate who falls into the “us?”  The central question of this debate is when does a person join the Christian community or the Body of Christ?  The Nicene Creed says that Baptism is for the remission of sins, but it is also to be an outward sign of an inward conversion.  Baptism is a necessary and vital part of the Christian life, but Baptism is not necessarily a precursor to joining the Christian community and participating in the Eucharist.  Baptism is a transformative experience, but so is the Eucharist.  I am an unabashed MacDonald Universalist[4], so I believe the Body of Christ is everyone who will believe in the salvation offered by Jesus the Christ.

I understand the arguments offered that Baptism is a person’s entrance into the Body of Christ.[5]  I understand them.  I can logically and rationally grasp the arguments, but I cannot agree with them.  I cannot say to someone that they are not welcome at Jesus’ table.[6]  Christ welcomed all to his table, and he ate with people regardless of their spiritual status.[7]  In fact, in the prototypical Eucharist, the Last Supper, one of the people who partook was Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus to the religious authorities who ultimately crucified him.  Jesus shared his table with all of these people, and I doubt he asked them if they visited the mikveh[8] that day.

As I said before, I am a proponent of MacDonald’s Universalism and this ties into how I view the Eucharist.  Participating in the Eucharist is a reaffirmation or a re-dedication to the salvation process offered by Christ’s sacrifice.  By consuming Christ’s body, we are saying yes to the “pruning” that entails.[9]  Participating in the Eucharist means both assenting to the salvation process and an acknowledgment of our need for that process.  The Eucharist is a declaration of a need for continued formation and refocusing on Christ and the Triune God; a declaration for us to continue distancing ourselves from sin and a desire for triumph over death.

However, let me be clear.  I firmly believe in an ethic of the Table.  I am arguing for everyone to have the option of participating in the Eucharist.  For my view of an open table to work, one has to be educated about what participating in the Eucharist means.  I know there are plenty of churches that do not do this, and I would imagine that there are many church members, to say nothing of visitors, who are not clear on what the Eucharist is or does.  For someone to assent to a salvation process, one has to understand first that to which one is assenting.  Having any sort of table, open or otherwise, demands education about that table.

Having a table ethic also demands that no one should be coerced into joining the Eucharist simply because it is open.  Coercion and faith or religion should be like oil and water.  The two simply do not mix.  Coercion corrupts and twists what is good in faith and belief.  If one is press ganged into joining the Eucharist, then it takes away the power and beauty of participating in Christ’s table for everyone involved.

[1] Despite my level of education, I refuse to give up the word “ain’t.”  Ain’t is a terrific word to use for special emphasis.  If you don’t like it, I kindly suggest you take your boojee behind to another blog.  J

[2] Webber, Christopher L. Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship. Morehouse Pub Co, 1999.  Pg 66.

[3] Well, we do, but it’s known as the afterlife and people aren’t all that communicative once they have experienced it.

[4] Universalism, in Christianity, is the belief that salvation is for everyone and, to a certain extent, everyone will be saved.   I will write a post later on universalism and MacDonald Universalism in particular.

[5] In point of fact, I took Eucharist before Baptism the first 14 years of my life because I was born in the Southern Baptist church and my family moved to the United Methodist Church.

[6] I realize that this is a sensitive point to those who argue for the necessity of Baptism before Eucharist.  However, telling someone they can only receive a blessing until they are Baptized rather than allowing them to participate in the Eucharist is still exclusion.  It would still sting to not receive Christ.

[7] Mark 2:15-17, Matthew 9:10-13, and Luke 5:29-32

[8] The mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath and the precursor to Baptism.  The mikveh were depressions built into building so they would collect the little rainfall that falls in arid Israel.  The baths are meant to wash away the spiritual impurities that collect over the course of time.  Ironically enough, the water is actually quite dirty.

[9] John 15:1-2

“Southern Seen” and Dr. Larry T. McGehee

I was reading the New York Times today when it occurred to me that writing a blog is a great deal like writing a column in a newspaper.  Of course, when I thought of writing a newspaper column, I thought about my friend and mentor, Larry T. McGehee[1].  Dr. McGehee wrote a column entitled “Southern Seen” for a number of decades, and some of the best columns have been collected in this book.  I highly recommend it.  Many of the columns deal with theological topics, and while it may seem unintentional, I doubt it was.  All of the topics deal with the deep subjects of life.  I am not going on a tangent with this post,[2] for Dr. McGehee certainly lived out Micah 6:8.  You will see that as you read the tribute I wrote for Wofford’s newspaper after Dr. McGehee passed away.  Who are the people in your life who live out Micah 6:8 and have influenced your life?  Here is the tribute[3]:

This is Dr. McGehee with the book of his collected columns, “Southern Seen.”

You may not have known Larry McGehee, and even if you had seen the elderly man wearing the patchwork, madras coat walking through campus, or more likely driving through campus on his golf cart, you probably did not know him as Dr. McGehee.  However, we are all impacted by his loss.

I came to know Dr. McGehee soon after I arrived here at Wofford.  He recognized that I was someone in need of a friend and support, so we began having long talks in his office about nothing and everything in particular.  I come by his office at least once a month, more often bi-weekly, to have these conversations with Dr. McGehee about nothing and everything in particular, and they especially helped me through my very difficult sophomore year.  After each one, he was always sure to give me a long and big hug and tell me how he loved me.

Dr. Larry McGehee taught me the true meaning of friendship, especially about being friends to those who need it most.  After I found out that he had passed away, I remembered a passage from one of his columns, entitled “Birds,” in his book Southern Seen:  “It warns us that the institutions we build in order to tend to the work of the public square very often evolve and expand into layered bureaucracies which misplace their statements of original purpose.  If we forget the birds [individual people], soon we will forget each other” (22).  Dr. McGehee would not allow people to be forgotten at Wofford College, for he intentionally sought out people like me who needed a friend.  There are untold numbers of people like me who Dr. McGehee has befriended and mentored in the decades that he has taught and worked at Wofford College.

In this same column, Dr. McGehee talks about how the birds of his yard build their nests, or institutions, anew every year:  “Sometimes they use twigs and debris from the old nests, but they use them to make new ones” (22).  Wofford is growing and changing, and we should make certain that Dr. McGehee’s example and value in personal relationships is something that we take with us “from the old nest[].”  It is people like Dr. McGehee that create in Wofford one of its best characteristics, the close-knit community.

Dr. McGehee reflects on how he reached out to another “bird” in need of his assistance when at the end of this column he speaks of holding an unconscious hummingbird in his hands, and “[i]t suddenly awoke and arose,…and was gone.  But not really gone.  No one who has held a hummingbird is ever the same” (23).  I am not the same person I was before I met Dr. McGehee.  Although he is gone now, he is “not really gone,” for we who he has so affected, loved, and influenced are still here to carry on his legacy of not forgetting people in the bustle of life.  I, and others who he has so loved, will not forget Dr. Larry T. McGehee, but we will surely miss him and his love of life and friends.  Goodbye Dr. McGehee, and may those who now have the pleasure of your company cherish it every bit as much as we have.

[1] For those of you who know me and have wondered why a baseball is always in my backpack, Dr. McGehee gave it to me.  In his final years, his office was right behind Wofford’s baseball field.  He would wander out there and collect the foul balls.  He gave me that ball a few months before his death.

[2] I promise that I will go on tangents and off topic for this blog.  Simply put, this is my blog, and I will write about what I want.  J

[3] Keep in mind that I wrote this at the beginning of my junior year in college, so the writing style probably reflects that.

An Explanation of The “Christian Right” and Their Views

This is my first foray in blogging.  I have been a student for most of my life and have spent the past six years studying religion, particularly Christianity.  I have no doubt that if I continue blogging that I will say many things about “traditional” or “conservative” Christianity.  No doubt, most of it will be arguing against those things, but I want the first one to be a defense of the people who hold those views.

I grew up in rural South Carolina.  While growing up, Church was not a choice but a weekly requirement.  In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I have thought that requirement was also true of the adults.  In my region, it did not matter what the sign said outside, everyone tried to be Southern Baptist.  I grew up in a United Methodist church, but the congregation is Calvinist and believes in predestination.  Pastors’ attempts to come in and create a Wesleyan formation[1] have been disastrous.  I have yet to meet anyone from my region, who did not go off to school that is, who does not believe that the Bible is inerrant.

I was never quite comfortable with this Christianity.  I wanted to believe.  I desperately wanted to believe in a God who loves me and watches over me, but given my only options for Christianity, I could never fully take the plunge.  I went to Church.  I prayed, but my heart wasn’t in it.  How could I reconcile what I learned in school and strove so hard to master with a faith that said those things were false and I could not believe them and Christianity.  In many ways, I felt terrible about myself.  Chiefly of all, I felt that I was the lukewarm that Jesus was going to “spit”[2] into the lake of fire.

Wrestling with these things, I graduated from high school and went to a small liberal arts college.  There, I formed friendships with those people like me, as humans are wont to do.  In this case, I formed friendships with the Christian and academic crowds.  At my Alma mater, there was a great deal of overlap between the two.  While I was forming and solidifying these friendships, I was seeking a major.  Eventually, I settled on religion.  Obviously, as someone struggling with how to combine faith and intellect, the religion major would appeal to me.

Fast forward to my junior year, and at this point, my social circles are firmly entrenched.  At a small school, this means that I have taken on several labels that restrict my movement socially.  I am supposed to go out with the Christian crowd and that’s about it.  However, at this point in my major, I start digging in deep and wrestling with my faith.  I am encountering and reading thoughts and arguments that I have never heard or read before, and they change my faith.  It was, at times, a painful transformation, but I finished it freer and more comfortable with my faith than ever before.  But it has concrete ramifications.  I no longer believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.  In fact, I think that belief is dangerous, harmful, and antithetical to the Christian faith.  I believe that homosexuals and other LGBTQI folks should be fully included in the life of the church.

These thoughts and feelings are not something easily hidden when you spend every day with folks and attend church with them.  My views “come out” to my friends.  Most were not all that willing to accept said views and my social venues dwindle down to a select few.  In their eyes, I was a dangerous heretic that had to be put out before I infected others.  From then on, they were not comfortable discussing faith or spirituality around me, and if they were, then it was only to argue with me and prove the strength of their faith compared to mine.  In many ways, I experienced a very real social death.  But let’s get some perspective; I experienced it for only two years.  Even in the midst of it, I was aware that I was going to graduate in two years and those fights and lost friends would be minimal in comparison to the rest of my life.  Obviously, making the choice to hold to what I believed to be right despite the retaliation had an impact on me, but the retaliation is pithy in light of my leaving that situation in two years.

This is where my defense of the “traditionalist” comes in.  Let us imagine Jack.  Jack is a middle aged, upper-middle class Christian in the South.  Jack is a banker with a wife and two children.  He goes to church on Sunday morning and Bible study on Wednesday nights.  He has his friends with whom he watches sports and plays golf.  He votes Republican because he is a financial conservative and the social things are secondary.  He believes that the Bible is inerrant, women should not be ordained, and LGBTQI folks should not be a part of the church because that is what he was always taught and he never gave much more thought to it than that.

Let’s imagine that Jack starts hearing arguments for pro-gay marriage on the news.  Let’s imagine that he doesn’t reject it out of hand, but he starts thinking about the other side.  Pretty soon he starts thinking about other issues he held for granted.  Soon after that, he’s not certain what he’s sure of anymore.  At this point, Jack is not certain that he is pro-gay marriage or does not believe the Bible is inerrant, and as a result, he is not certain about voting Republican anymore.  He’s not certain but he talks with his friends and church family about his thoughts and struggles anyway.  They do not react well.

Jack is not a college student.  He is firmly entrenched in his societal avenues and circles.  His wife is firmly entrenched in hers and, to a certain extent, so are his children.  All of a sudden, his church family does not respond to him in the same way as they used to.  Jack’s pastor wants to discuss things with him and make certain that his “faith walk” is okay.  His golf buddies are reluctant to discuss things with him that they otherwise used to.  His wife wants to know why social invites aren’t coming in the way they used to.  His children want to know why they don’t play with his friends’ children anymore.  Isn’t it so much simpler that before any of this happens, he just rejects the questioning to begin with that the newscast brought up?

Obviously, I have given an extreme hypothetical example.  This would not happen in every case and certainly not to the extent that I have described.  There are, of course, many other reasons that Jack will not change his mind.  But the point is this, that in many ways we can become imprisoned in the walls of the society that we surround ourselves with.  We, progressive Christians, would love for Jack to have a transformation like I had and for Christianity to not have members oppressing their fellow human beings.  We are incredibly frustrated by the fact that people continue to choose ignorance.  I offer this thought, this perspective to you in the hopes that it will give you a second thought of love for those who continue to feel that exclusion and condemnation are the paths that Christ would have them walk.

An example of this would be my own experience.  Whilst going through my own spiritual transformation in college, I started looking for answers from those Christians whom I knew were not like those I had grown up around.  One of these people was one of the directors of my scholarship program.  She is a wonderful human being whom I am still friends with.  We met and discussed issues like the ones I have highlighted above an hour a week for a semester.  I am certain that numerous times I said things that were offensive to her because I was trying to work out my own preconceived notions about many issues.  However, she did not respond as she probably would have liked to.  She responded with patience and Christian love.  Would I have come to hold the beliefs that I do today if she responded as she would have liked to?  Perhaps, but she definitely had a large hand in bringing my views to the progressive side of Christianity.

We would love for people like Jack to walk and preach of Jesus’ radical love and inclusivity, but it is our duty to love them regardless of whether they do or not.  If we do not love, if we became the venomous option in a raucous debate rather than a viable option for their views, then why would they change their views?  Why join someone whom you merely view as a threat to your way of life.  You wouldn’t and neither would Jack.  If we wish to change the mind of the “Christian Right,” if we wish to redefine the public image of Christianity to reflect a more public stance, then we must love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree.  It is far easier to have interfaith conversations than intrafaith conversations, but if we are to live out Christ’s charge to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must lovingly have those conversations.

[1] John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest who is credited with beginning the Methodist movement that became the denomination.  One of the most characteristic things of what could be called Wesleyan formation is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a methodology for theological reflection that holds that theological conclusions should be sifted through the sieves of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

[2] Despite the common translation, the verb used in Revelation 3:16, εμεσαι, most closely means vomit.  An even more terrifying image!