Missing the point

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.

Silence is enabling

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 ourselves.

“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 to hate.

The elevation of love and eradication of hate is not a political issue, certainly not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of basic morality.

Most of our problems as a nation are spiritual and cultural in nature, and they will be solved only through spiritual and cultural transformation.

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.

Win, Henry, Howie & Nuel

Winton U. Solberg, shortly before he died at 97, looked much like my father-in-law, Ed Doherty, who is 97..

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.

Henry Lippold had much darker hair when I knew him.

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 2012.

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.

Not a good rule

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.