In an open letter to Asbury Theological Seminary, 70 alumni
or current students recently called on its leaders to repent of the harm they
have done to gay and lesbian people and stand in solidary with them and others
who have been marginalized by the church.
Timothy Tennent, Asbury president, replied with a letter
that sounds sort of sympathetic until it gets to the last paragraph. There,
Tennent bemoans the “deeper issue,” which he says is the authority of
Scripture. In its fighting over sexuality, the United Methodist Church is
experiencing “a crisis of biblical authority,” Tennent contends.
It is disheartening to see a church leader so entrenched in ideology
and so out of touch with reality. We are not fighting over the authority of
Scripture. We are fighting over an interpretation of Scripture. By claiming
that the fight is over authority, Tennent and other “conservatives” claim that everyone
who disagrees with them denies the authority of Scripture. That is simply not true.
The claim is as arrogant as it is false.
When so many of the combatants in this fight miss the point
so thoroughly, it’s no wonder we can come to no resolution.
I do not intend to respond every time Donald Trump masturbates on Twitter, but his racist tirade against four women of color and escalating race-baiting require a response from every Christian and every responsible American. Silence is enabling. We must object loudly.
For the Christian, racism is sin. All humans are created in
the image of God, and Jesus calls us to treat others as we want to be treated
“Send them back!” his followers chanted at a rally last week.
Trump calls these people “patriots.” They are not. They are white nationalists.
The two are far from the same.
As historian Jill Lepore says, patriots are those who love
their country. Nationalists are those who hate people from other countries. Patriotism
is love. White nationalism is hate. Racism is hate. Jesus calls us to love, not
The elevation of love and eradication of hate is not a
political issue, certainly not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of basic
Most of our problems as a nation are spiritual and cultural
in nature, and they will be solved only through spiritual and cultural
No, we don’t need a “revival.” You can’t revive what’s not
there. We need a conversion from hatred to love. If the American experiment is
to survive our generation, such a conversion is the only chance we’ve got.
A favorite college professor of mine died recently. He was
Winton U. Solberg, onetime head of the history department at the University of
Illinois. His two-semester course on American intellectual and cultural history
was the highlight of my undergraduate career.
His lectures were enthralling, and he knew it. He once
chided me for missing a couple lectures during the second semester, when class
was at 8 a.m. and I worked into the wee hours the night before at the campus
newspaper. He said I’d better be there and be alert; there were other classes I
could nap in.
I reached out to him about a year ago and got a chatty note
in reply. He said he was still writing books and still going into an office or
study space at the university about once a week. A remarkable man, he died July
10 at age 97.
Another of my favorite instructors was Henry Lippold. He taught
broadcast journalism (my major) and was news director at WILL-TV, the local public
TV station. He later created the broadcast journalism program at the University
of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Henry was a human dynamo. He rarely stopped moving, even
while delivering the news from behind a desk. I’d lost track of him. He died
last year at age 89.
Howie Ziff was the one who steered me away from broadcast
journalism and into the world of print. A former night city editor at the
Chicago Daily News, he also left the U of I shortly after I did. He founded the
journalism program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He died in
One more strong influence at an impressionable age was Nuel
Pharr Davis. Author of Lawrence and Oppenenheimer, he taught creative
writing. He chain-smoked unfiltered Kool cigarettes, and by the time our class
met in midafternoon, he was pretty hyper. I don’t know what happened to him. But
he would be more than 100 now, so I suspect he’s gone, too.
Notice that I have named no women. As I recall, the only
women instructors I had were for those dreadful introductory biology and botany
classes, and about them I remember little.
A candidate for governor of Mississippi has ignited a firestorm
by saying he won’t allow a female reporter to join him on a campaign ride
without a male chaperone. He cites the so-called “Billy Graham rule” that you
should never be alone with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.
The candidate seems to think that this is a high moral
stance. He says it protects the sanctity of his marriage, and also protects him
from false accusations.
I call it moral cowardice.
The rule does not honor his wife. It simply calls his own
integrity into question. Look, fella, if you’re afraid you can’t keep your
pants on, you should just stay at home. Period. Because you sure don’t belong
in any public office, or any public place, for that matter.