My Most Important Blog Ever

This my first post in a long time. It may also be the most urgent and important topic I have ever posted. That’s because it involves the life of someone who needs us.

Most of the time I hit you with a blog about some recent topic, some meaningless sports observations, or my usually…umm…”witty” banter. Occasionally, a few of you find my writing to be either important, or perhaps a bit infuriating.

Trust me this time. This one is urgently important!

Out of nowhere in 2013, I saw Facebook post that shook me to the core. My friend and Furman teammate Allen Edwards had suffered a massive stroke at the age of 42. It was unimaginable that this man who struck fear in the hearts of every offensive line in the Southern Conference was clinging to life in a hospital in Charleston.  

Anyone affiliated with Furman football from 1988-2006 knows that name. Allen was a player, a coach, and a legend in both Paladin football and in the Southern Conference.

Former teammates Pat Turner and William Hall shared the news of “Big Al” on Facebook. The guys asked us to post messages so that others could read him words of encouragement.

I sent one of these messages, although I have no memory of what I said. Allen miraculously survived and got back to the Upstate thanks to the work of former teammates and coaches, including Brian Anderson, Don Clardy, the late Bob Glass and Ken Pettus among others. These members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) acquired a place for him to live, but they needed help getting him to therapy appointments and other things. 

I volunteered to get him to the therapist during the summer of 2015. After our journey to Greenville Memorial, I fought back tears until I could get Allen back inside his small apartment. I called my wife and cried openly even after I got home—tears bigger and more significant than I had cried in years.

It shocks the system to see a phenomenal athlete and giant of a man cut down like this. How could such a young man suffer such a debilitating assault on his health and well-being? Sure, we know it happens. But that does not make it any less stunning.

After this single encounter, I knew that this was not a short-term problem. Allen would struggle with this for the rest of his life.

And he would need a lot of help from a lot of people.

A Chance Meeting

In late November of 2000, my family came to Greenville for Thanksgiving. This happened to coincide with Furman’s opening round playoff game at Paladin Stadium.

Of all the things that I’d hoped to pass along to my children, one of them was a love, passion and gratitude for Furman University – just as my father and mother passed along to me. This is why I took my nine-year old son to that Friday afternoon practice. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what I loved so much about this place.

After practice, my boy high-fived a few players and spoke with a few of my former coaches. His excitement was obvious. Then we came across defensive line coach Allen Edwards, the best to ever wear the diamond F.

I had not seen Allen since his graduation in 1992, and it was a thrill to shake my friend’s hand. I say “friend” to describe our relationship off the field. On the field, he was the biggest challenge I ever faced in football.

I was a “nobody” in 1989, a walk-on center among 22 offensive linemen from the reigning national champions. My first full contact drill in preseason practice was to block nose guard Allen Edwards. As a freshman in 1988, Allen made his second collegiate start in the national championship game and posted five tackles, including one-for-loss, in Furman’s 17-12 victory over Georgia Southern.

How I drew this assignment, I will never know. But the battle was short-lived. One round of Allen tossing me like a rag doll and All-American center Steve Duggan came to the rescue.

This was an ongoing pattern for the next two years. I played a little at every position along the offensive line, but still ran across Allen enough to understand his greatness. Blocking him was a bit like trying to move a dump truck with your bare hands, with as much “success” as one might expect. I held, grabbed, tripped and everything else I could think of.

If I slowed him down a little, the coaches went nuts and said, “Great job!” Which was a waste, because this just made him mad enough to kill me on the next play.

Off the field was a different story. We were not incredibly close, but we were “easy” friends. We lifted together, joked around and occasionally hung out. Big Al always had a serious side, but his tone beyond the turf was much more laid back. I regret that I lost touch with him for so many years.

Invitation to a Legacy

At our meeting in 2000, Allen seemed as genuinely glad to see me and my son as I was to see him. And he invited me to join a relatively new organization: the Furman Football Players’ Association.

I was hesitant at first because I felt pretty unimportant in the Furman legacy. I was a walk-on who had to leave the program early for family reasons. It seemed a strange invite coming from a coach and an all-time great.

But Allen would hear none of that. He encouraged me to join and get involved as much as I could. We talked for almost an hour, and it reminded me one more time of why I love Furman so much. He made me a part of the community and insisted that I join it. This same spirit made my father such a loyal Furman alum and donor.

I joined the FFPA but did not become heavily involved until we moved back to Greenville in 2007. A few years later, I found out just how important this fellowship is.

An Ongoing Relationship

Following that chance meeting, Allen and I kept sporadic contact over the years. An occasional email with some discussion after Furman games we got to attend. We lived hours away, so we made inconsistent visits to Paladin Stadium.

When we moved to Greenville in 2007, Allen had moved to Savannah State. In his senior year, my son moved to nose tackle on his high school team. Allen and I emailed back and forth, as he gave tips on how to play the position. He even helped in looking for an opportunity for Spencer to play that position in college.

After that, we lost touch for several years, other than an occasional Facebook post. That all changed when I found out what had happened to my college friend, and how much support he needed.

Events that Changed Everything

Allen needs ALL of our help.

Members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) and others in the Furman family committed financial support. Former football coach and associate Athletic Director Ken Pettus continues to manage the fund.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I took over as Allen’s legal guardian in the fall of 2018. At times it is a tough task, but it is also one that has changed our lives. To watch someone like Allen have to struggle for every step reminds us all that we are blessed with some of the most basic gifts of life–particularly the gift of being able to help others. 

We take care of day-to-day needs, paperwork, trips to doctors, the gym, etc. We get more than a little help from our friends on this as needs arise.

Getting in curls at the gym, 2021

But now we have an issue where we need significant help. We are not in a financial position to support Allen with any more than we currently contribute. His fund has dipped below $5,000, an amount that will barely cover two months of expenses.

Keep in mind that Allen has no family capable of taking care of him and cannot live on his own. Disability, MediCare, and other assistance take care of about half his needs. The Furman family is contributing to keep him in assisted living. Now, we need help from all the family, friends, Furman alums, and others that are willing.

Through the advice of long-time supporters, we are pursuing a goal of $300,000 for Allen’s care. This would cover his expenses for 8-10 years and allow us to focus on his regular needs. Many have already given above and beyond–and we are praying that more can come forward to contribute.

Every contribution helps. This fund is maintained by a lot of people giving what they can to take care of a long-time friend, teammate, classmate, and coach. Like Furman football, it is a team effort in every aspect.

ANY contribution that you can give makes a world of difference.

 

How to Make a Difference

If you would like to make sure that this great player, coach, and person is sustained for the long term, please consider giving to the Allen Edwards Fund. The BEST option is to contribute directly by mail to:

Allen Edwards Fund, 200 Covington Road, Greenville, SC 29617

You can also donate directly by Venmo @Tom-LeGrand-3, or give to Allen’s GoFundMe

Please do not hesitate to contact me at tlegrand71@gmail.com with any questions. 

With Chad O’Rear, Christmas 2019

The Quest for Christ in the Age of Un-reason

In an era of polarization, rage, and splintering, I find myself caught in some of these very tangled webs. The only path to getting untangled is pursuit of a life that pulls us beyond all of this.

One can simply read my blog posts from the last three years to get the picture. These last three years, up until I came to Limestone University, compose an era of frustration and exasperation in life—personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Would you care for a list of the frustrations, some of which border on infuriation? Politics. Social unrest. The COVID Pandemic. Job losses. And if I can be fully confessional: Christianity and the church.

That last one is the toughest, because it has created the most rifts and friction with family and friends. Worse yet, it leaves me in a horrible place of questioning my faith practices—a horribly typical and cliched place to be in modern Christianity.

I am also not some young person going through this, with plenty of time to “deconstruct” and decide if I want to “reconstruct” my faith. I am 50 years old. And if I needed anything over the last 3.5 years, it is faith—as in “the assurance of things hoped for and the promise of things unseen.”

I am overwhelmed by the sense that we have left the Christ out of Christian community on many levels in the current era. As a confession, I have too often let my “righteous rage” and indignation over this get the better of me on this topic.  It is a struggle to see how Jesus has any part in certain expressions or actions by people who call themselves followers of Christ.

And I am at a loss for how to respond to this.

Several things help me to see a better way on this and challenge me to pursue holiness with less judgement and more humility. This fall, I completely altered my Religion 203 class on Spiritual Formation. The first part of this class is an overview of the New Testament, with heavy emphasis on the Gospels.

There is plenty of room in the Gospels for righteous rage. But there is no room for it outside of fully pursuing Jesus Christ and knowing more of who He is, what He does.

To clarify, I still get frustrated with much of what I see. Out of concern for my own spiritual (and mental, physical, emotional) health, I force myself to turn off the voices that send me towards righteous rage at the state of the world.

As much as some things should put us in an uproar, righteous rage can only take you so far before it turns into self-righteous outrage. If the love of Christ is not the source of our concern for the issues of the world, then we are simply living in judgment of those who are not like we are.

Teaching the New Testament has driven me back to the idea of seeing Christ through the mess and the madness that seem to consume the world right now. The quest to know and follow the Living Christ cannot become a secondary pursuit. It has to be a THE pursuit of our life, if we hope to find meaning beyond the social, political, or religious turmoil of this world.

It has become far too easy to talk about “holiness” as a list of beliefs to hold, ideas to support, or even as a candidate to vote into office. In youth group, we often hold up a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for students to abide in their lives. We impress the belief that holiness is about ending up on the correct side of that list in any given situation.

This is not the holiness that Christ calls on us to pursue. While our search for holiness may lead us to do (or not do) any number of things, living like Christ cannot fall into second place behind an invented checklist. Living by the checklist means that we are finished at some point. As long as the boxes are checked, we are good.

True Holiness means an ongoing, lifelong quest to live in the light of Jesus Christ. It is a never-ending quest because we are always becoming and doing more of what Jesus is and does.

Is this the tougher path? Absolutely—because we know there is always more to do. But it is the path of discipleship that Jesus calls us to follow.

My students this semester challenge me more and more to put down the anger and frustration with the way things are and become more of what Jesus calls on us to be. We cannot honestly look at the Christ of the New Testament without thinking of how we can imitate Him in our own life (Ephesians 5:1-2). Being and doing the things of Christ is how we walk an actual path of holiness.

One last thing: two books led to my renewal of the quest for Christ. One is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone; and the other is The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann.

I could go on for days about these texts and their sharp insight about the nature of the Cross for humanity. But I will spare the reader and offer one hard-hitting challenge.

Years ago, I designed a t-shirt for my youth ministry that said on the back, “His Pain…Our Gain.” I have never felt so far off-base in my life. The Cross certainly does great things for us. But the point of the Cross is not for our mere personal “gain.” It is not for us to view as something that we hang in our churches or around our neck.

The Cross is our challenge, to be picked up and carried as we pursue Jesus. While Christ did all the work for us on that Cross to get us to THIS point, He now expects us to pick it up and keep going. That means seeing Jesus as one who suffered with those who suffer, and forgave without it being earned or deserved.

In other words, the Cross is not here to simply make our life easy. It is here to challenge us continue the journey. May we learn to be willing to take up that Cross and follow Christ’s path above all other things.

Urban Meyer, Jon Gruden, and Email Fiascos

Urban Meyer says he is not a bad guy. Jon Gruden says he is not a racist. But action reveals character—and the actions of these men speak volumes compared to their feeble words.

Man, do I miss my time on sports podcasts and sports talk radio.

I love talking sports to anyone who will listen. But more than that, I love talking about the intersection of faith, culture, and life that sports bring home to us. Over the last week, we have witnessed an unprecedented wreck at these crossroads.

In that time period, Urban Meyer added insult to injury in his thus far disastrous journey in the NFL, and Jon Gruden ended his mediocre return to the league. The events that led up to this tell us more than we want to know about the culture of football on all levels.

Combine this with recent events at a high school in Oklahoma, and we have a full-blown crisis at the crossroads of faith, culture, sports, and life.

Urban’s Faux Crusade

Urban Meyer’s moral high ground is built on two foundations: 1) he coached Tim Tebow; and 2) he openly proclaims his priorities “Faith, family, and football” in that particular order.

Saying something and living it are vastly different issues.

Meyer seemed to get in trouble for enjoying a lap dance in his own bar while his wife was nowhere to be found. This happened when he decided not to travel home with his epically bad 0-4 football team. Many trumpeted the idea that this is no big deal—and perhaps that would be true for a coach with a proven NFL track record.

It is a big deal, however, when you decide not to travel with your football team that is struggling on an epic level. It is also the result when football coaches decide to “cosplay as youth ministers” (quote from my buddy the sports journalist).

Urban Meyer has zero track record in the league. None of his players care a lick about his success in college. It is highly unlikely that they buy into the “Rah-rah” demeanor or religious rhetoric that made him a great college recruiter. He is speaking to grown men who know the difference between CoachSpeak and the real thing.

Maybe Meyer is “not a bad guy” as some people claim. But actions speak louder than words, and his track record displays a stunning lack of awareness of the world—and players—around him.

Meyer’s teams at the University of Florida tallied over 30 arrests. When one of his stars tried to gouge an opponent in the eye, Meyer did suspend him—for one quarter, against Vanderbilt. He hired a known domestic abuser at Ohio State. He hired a weightlifting coach in Jacksonville known for using racially abusive language.

And that’s only about half the list.

The Jags won’t fire Meyer (although I believe they’re dying to) because then they would have to pay him. Meyer won’t quit (although I believe he’s dying to) because he wants to keep getting paid. But whatever happens, it is extremely difficult to see this ending well for Jacksonville.

Some other college will come along and tag Meyer as their program savior. He can be that for a college team, ethics and values notwithstanding. But at some point, he needs to determine if he really means what he says or if that is just a line for the living room where he is speaking to the parents of a 5-star recruit.

If Meyer fails in the NFL, it is not because he allowed some young woman to dance in his lap without his wife present. It will be due to a level of arrogance that he can say one thing and do another without consideration for anyone around him.

Dear Jon…

Meyer is probably the one person who is happy about the Jon Gruden email dump last week. His dalliance at the bar is back page news at best compared to Gruden’s dumpster fire.

Urban Meyer reacts to Jon Gruden email scandal. (Thank you for the tip, James Pugh).

It started off with a horribly racist slur straight from a bad 1920s cartoon. This gave way to your typically lame explanation and apology from a man who foolishly thought this was the only email out there.

And then, round 2 brought the knockout punch.

Gruden’s email chains went on for years with racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic rants against so many people in so many walks of the NFL. This included the League Commish, a man who indirectly writes Gruden’s paychecks. (And for the record, I will never be accused of defending Roger Goodell).

What is troubling about the situation is the number of people who defend Gruden at least to some degree. Former players and colleagues have said that they saw Jon Gruden as a good person, good coach, never heard him say these things and never viewed him doing anything racist.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Racist, sexist, misogynistic people are not necessarily wearing that on their sleeve. Klan members did not wear their hoods and Halloween robes to work during the 1950s because it was a secret society. Gruden may have the self-awareness that Meyer doesn’t–which means he is wise enough not to say it out loud.

But our true character is not always revealed in our public persona. Over and over in Christian circles, we point out the places where true character is revealed. Who we are = what we do when no one is looking. Our actions speak louder than words.

If these adages are true—and I believe they are—then we learned far more about Gruden when he hit “send” than we did while listening to him on Monday Night Football. His players and colleagues saw what he wanted them to see. The emails he sent under cover of darkness is the true reveal.

Jon Gruden can say he is not a racist, sexist, misogynistic homophobe. But the people he insulted for years would like to have a word. If we can speak hatefully towards people when we think our actions will not be revealed, then we have a level of hate in our hearts. And until that changes, our denials of the reality of our hearts are meaningless.

But Old Emails?

A final word about this involves the defense that Gruden said this 10 years ago. That is no longer a defense in a digital world.

This was not “cancel culture.” This was responding to the reality that a man revealed about himself through ongoing action.

For starters, Gruden and the rest of us better know that hitting “send” memorializes every word and action—for eternity. Even what you think is deleted can be found by someone. If he assumed these thoughts would remain hidden, that is on him.

12 years ago, I sent an email to a colleague with what I believed to be a harmless snide remark about a person associated with our church. It was not loaded with hateful language or slurs of any kind. It was not crude, but it was rude. And wrong.

That colleague kept the email and decided to show it to some people roughly two years later—including someone in that person’s family. It then went to the Personnel Committee, the pastor, etc.

I owned it. I ate it. While it did not cost me my job, it cost me a lot of respect among people whose respect I wanted to keep. And I deserved every bit of it—while committing myself to never make another comment like that via email. More than that, I decided to work on my attitude towards others (and that remains a work in progress, I am afraid).  

The first revealed comment about an African-American happened 10 years ago. But the pattern continued up through 2018, when Gruden was rehired as a head coach. As bad as that was, it pales in comparison to his willingness to keep this as his default demeanor for at least seven years.

Let us not forget that these emails went out to league offices and employees. These men seemed to have no issues disparaging other league employees, such as women referees, on a regular basis. No one called him out on it—and if they did, he ignored it.

This is not a one-time incident by a person who has learned and grown. While Tony Dungy was correct in pointing out Gruden’s immaturity, that is not an excuse for a man of his age and position. These emails told us exactly who Jon Gruden is, how he thinks, and what he does.

Whatever you think of Jon Gruden and his scandal, he has a lot of room for growth—as do we all. Hopefully he will decide to learn and grow into the person that some people think he is and that he claims to be.

How Gruden’s story goes from here is largely up to him. Perhaps we can join him in living up to the challenge of being the good people publicly and privately, in both word and deed. Our decision to strive for that allows us to build the Christ-centered character that the Lord expects of us.

Church PTSD: It’s a Real Thing

Some church leaders want to belittle or diminish those who have left the congregation, or abandoned the faith altogether. Unless you have experienced the full weight of church trauma, you may want to re-think this position.

About 10 months ago, the nightmares finally stopped. As did the anxiety about driving close to the street where it all happened. Or the stomach-turning fear of running into former members of the “board.”

It seemed I was finally moving past the long-term hangover of the dysfunctional leadership of a church.

Then it happened.

Out of nowhere comes another dream, and I am suddenly transported back into the nightmare.

Suddenly I am struggling to breathe through the disingenuous, passive aggressive, and dishonest behavior of church “leaders.” Rebranded images of the utter disrespect, arrogance, and self-righteousness heaped on my family. This includes my immediate and my church family—the very people I was helpless to pastor when they needed it most.

If you do not think church trauma is a real thing, then perhaps you have avoided it in its most severe forms. I am glad for you. Yet, trust me when I tell you that the wounds of extreme church trauma are deep, and the scars remain for a long time. Maybe forever.

As one of my students has said, there may not be any hurt quite like “church hurt.” And the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder of it is real. Church PTSD may not be a clinical diagnosis exactly, but rest assured that it happens.

My return nightmare is not the only, or even the primary, reason for bringing this up. I notice some regular criticism of Christians (or former Christians) who are “deconstructing” or outright leaving the faith. These are formerly avid church goers who stepped away and are stripping down the damaging baggage from their formative faith years.

Outside of the criticism and belittling of those who departed, the talk centers on how to get these people to come back to church. This may be a legitimate concern for the well being of those who left, or perhaps it is a concerned for the bottom line numbers—particularly in the post-COVID (kind of) era.

I do not fully understand deconstructing or all the reasons for it. But I do comprehend the reasons for it, particularly among victims of church trauma. Church PTSD is more than enough to cause people to question their faith—and possibly move away from it.

Among the critics are some pastors, evangelical musicians, and so-called Christian scholars. Evangelicals are taught that attracting people to the faith is essential. If people leave and share their reasons, it potentially damages the overall purpose of evangelical-leaning congregations.

The critics, however, are missing some key understanding. A lot of people attend or participate in church in semi-active ways. They go to services, serve as greeters, or maybe assist the Events Team. But they never get a look at the inside—and they don’t want to because they are justifiably afraid of what they might find.

And with good reason. Becoming a deacon, team lead, advisory council member, etc. carries a whole different weight. As does being a pastor, associate pastor, or pastor’s wife. When people experience the weight of such positions and see the inner workings of the church, it can raise a lot of questions about the nature of faith/church.

Some of us experienced a particularly ugly, debilitating side of church that many do not know. Church leaders seem reluctant to acknowledge it. But it is far too real for many who are leaving the faith.

I still feel physically ill when I think about re-joining a church in any kind of official format. That feeling gets worse when the idea of being asked to serve on a committee or lead a ministry effort for more than occasional stand-in duty. Oh, I’ve considered doing those things on multiple occasions, but it always comes with a sense that I should more than a sense of “want to.”

Some will deconstruct and never return. Others eventually reconstructed and DID return, although they chose a much different style of church/theology on their second round. That was not our path, and we have returned to church on a (fairly) regular basis.

But I understand why people leave. I get why the hurt is too much and the reality of some church experience pushes them too far to ever return. However, the church can play a significant role for those experiencing the trauma, by thinking outside the goal of getting people to return.

Quite often, people need a lot of time, space, and grace–and some people willing to hear their story. It also helps to actively work to not repeat that painful story for anyone else.

I am beyond fortunate that I found a place to return in good conscience (Pelham Rd. to be exact) and I did so without a full deconstructing-type of process. But that search is not nearly so easy for others.

Toxic leadership, sexual abuse, cover-ups, lack of transparency, controlling or abusive pastors, arrogant/dismissive leaders, or even just really bad deeply ingrained theology all do real damage to people. Their fear may bubble up at the most unexpected moments. Rather than criticizing those who battle these fears, the church can choose to EMBRACE them.

The foundation of Christian faith is GRACE, and those who left the church need a lot of it (as we all do). Perhaps they witnessed episodes that are far more traumatic than those that my wife and I did. Rather than heaping anger and criticism, the church needs to find that gracious response to their PTSD.

For starters, you can create intentional space for those who are trying to return. Not every visitor needs to join right away. Not everyone is ready to be on a committee. Not everyone is ready to tell their full story. Leave folks room to breathe and turn down the pressure to “get involved” right away.

A lot of churches hear the stories of those who leave and deconstruct and think, “Oh, but OUR church isn’t like that!”

Are you sure?

One way to help people reconstruct and/or reconnect is to deal with your own toxic elements. This is certainly not to say that every church has severely toxic elements. But what does it hurt to take some introspection on a regular basis to find out?

A little self-awareness goes a long way, and it will help people to reconnect. It may also force you to look at some toxic theology/practice that will bring the entire congregation closer to a Christ-centered view.

One of the most damaging elements, particularly for those who did not grow up in church, is the “Pie in the Sky” approach that drew them to certain churches. Perhaps they were sold on the idea that this church/pastor/theological approach is far and away the best thing out there.

Suddenly something happens and they discover the truth. We are all just flawed, sinful human beings who gather regularly in the hope of forgiveness  and redemption. But because churches do not portray that on the front end, people grow disheartened when the reality becomes obvious. One way or another, it always does.

This is why all church communities need to be honest about who they are–with others and themselves. At the heart of it, we (including pastors and staff ministers) are struggling human beings, trying to put ourselves aside in order to live in a Christ-centered community. By presenting the church as an imperfect search for the perfected Christ, you give an honest impression from the beginning. And you avoid the idol worship or cult of personality that sometimes draws large (and spiritually vulnerable) throngs of people.

Will these steps bring these hurting folks back to the church? Maybe not—but maybe that should never be the goal. Church trauma is grueling and gut-wrenching. Perhaps those experiencing it need patience and grace above anything else the church may offer.

As Christians, our default mode is to want to save people and help them, to talk about our faith and how great our church is. As human beings, our default mode is to get defensive when people share harsh realities about groups or institutions that we invest in and love.

Such modes are not the path to healing, or to avoiding further damage to those who are already hurting. Giving much-needed grace–without belittling or critiquing–is much more likely to create such a path. Maybe Christians and church leaders can also stop to ask why, and learn how to do better in the future.

Rather than denying or denigrating the pain of Church PTSD, let us lean into it and seek ways to get better and do better. Perhaps even walk with people through it, however they need it. The process could prove long and rocky, but the road less traveled may be the best path towards healing.

Dear Parents, No One Is Teaching Your Child Critical Race Theory

Dear Parents,

It seems that your latest fear is the specter of Critical Race Theory.

You demand laws in various states against the teaching of CRT in public classrooms. You oppose the concept in your colleges, universities, and seminaries. You fight because you fear that teachers are immersing your children in CRT—especially your white children.

Mad about…what???

You will even go so far as to allow massive government overreach and interference with academic freedom in order to prevent the spread of this allegedly insidious theory.

Thank you for caring enough to raise your voice. There is, however, one small problem.

No one is teaching your children Critical Race Theory, certainly not in the way you are being told. In all likelihood they are not teaching it at any level—even in college or graduate school.

How do I know this? For starters, I have taught in college for the last seven years. I encountered zero professors, administrators, or staff who ever brought up the concept of CRT. Much less pushed us to teach it.

In fact, most of us have no idea what Critical Race Theory is. We cannot teach it if we cannot even properly define it. Professors heard about this at the same time you did—after it became a lit match in the hands of political pundits.

Are we learning more about it now? Yes, we certainly are. It is our job to understand what has so many of you so disturbed, and why legislators are passing laws that forbid academic freedom and integrity because of CRT. That said, we are miles away from knowing enough to teach it.

(Likewise, we are pretty sure that your children could not understand it even if we were teaching it).

Beyond that, the pundits, legislators, and education officials in various states talk about Critical Race Theory as an educational theory or concept.

It isn’t.

CRT is a legal—not educational—theory. There is no technique, methodology, or philosophy adopted by educators to infuse Critical Race Theory into the classrooms of college students, much less elementary school children.

The study of CRT involves the investigation of legal and political components that contribute to racial disparities in the United States. That is an over-simplified and crude definition at best, but it moves towards the concept. If there is a CRT curriculum, I have yet to see it or hear about it from anyone in the educational world.

In fact, you can make a solid case that CRT is the last thing on the minds of elementary school teachers across the country. If you think otherwise, then you need to spend a day in an elementary school classroom.

Have you ever tried to herd cats? Not just one cat, but a gaggle of cats—7, 8, 9, or perhaps 25 of them? This is the life of an elementary school teacher. She or he is trying to teach basic concepts, perhaps even basic life skills, to small children from every variety of background imaginable. They are worried about how to get kids to lunch, the bathroom, or recess. They are worried that their kids have pencils, ate something for breakfast, or came to school on a cold day without a jacket.

They are hoping that your child can master 7×11 before some senator or school board member rips into them about their standardized test scores. Advanced legal and sociological concepts are the furthest thing from their mind.

I would challenge you to find a place and time for these dedicated educators to work in the dynamic intricacies of a legal theory into the day. Sometime between lunch and the bathroom?

Now, it is true that educators are working harder to teach the full range of social studies and history that impacts the nation and the world. But teaching accurate history is NOT Critical Race Theory. It is, quite simply, history.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Monticello, the majestic home of one Thomas Jefferson. My wife visited this site 20+ years ago, but it was my first trip. She quickly pointed out that several things changed since her last visit. Primarily, the tours had extensive information about Sally Hemmings and Jefferson’s participation in the practice of slavery.

Some would label that CRT. Damaging to the nation. Damaging to Jefferson’s legacy. Unfortunately, the truth quite often hurts.

HOWEVER, this is not CRT. It is not even damaging. Knowing the realities does not make us lesser, but instead makes us better. More than one thing can be true, and Jefferson’s positive and negative legacies demonstrate that. He did a lot of great things and was a very flawed human being.

In other words, he has a lot in common with the rest of us humans.

From that perspective, please understand that we will challenge our students as they move towards higher learning. We will present ideas in unique and creative ways. We will push them to look at the world from different perspectives. We will present a variety of ideas about history, religion, and the social sciences.

In my own work, that includes both the possibilities and problems that are raised by Christianity throughout history. We look at the significant issues facing Christian faith—and religion in general–in the modern world. This relates to race and all the aspects of society with which their faith intersects.

This is our job. Students do not move into higher education to hear what they have already heard. They go into it to learn and grow and expand their knowledge of the world.

If we are afraid to acknowledge and share the full weight of truth and reality with our children, what does that say about us?

No one is throwing this at grade school children. We are challenging them in these areas, slowly but surely, as it is educationally appropriate. Just as the vast majority of educators do.

Someone suggested that we need cameras in every classroom to monitor what teachers are doing with our children. First off, it would be interesting to hear how many of us will accept the tax hike required for this. Second, this seems an odd suggestion when so many people oppose “government intrusion” in our daily lives.

Finally, there is a much better and more effective option. As we move beyond COVID, perhaps you can volunteer at your child’s school. Maybe you can help a teacher at recess, file some papers, organize field trip forms, or watch the class while they get a bathroom break. You will get a firsthand look at what they do, how hard their job is, and how they go about that work.

It is likely that you will also soon realize that Critical Race Theory is the least of their—or your—concerns. Best of all you can rest easy by ignoring those who just want your vote, or your money, or both.

Sincerely,

Tom

Just another guy with a classroom

Churches, Abuse, and the Danger of Male “Headship”

Recent events among Southern Baptists rekindled a long-standing debate about women, men, and the role of pastor. But a more critical discussion of sexual abuse and unchecked authority of male leaders is equally critical—and long overdue.

Following my piece addressing women in leadership, a former church member raised an issue that needs to be discussed: “In the household roles, men are the spiritual leaders. Not more important, just different roles.”

Knowing this person as I do, the comment comes with the best of intentions and a sincere willingness to understand. Likely it references concepts from Ephesians 5 (among others) that I do not interpret quite as she does. Still, “spiritual leaders” offers a lot of room to decide how that term is to be applied.

This is my ninth attempt to write an adequate answer to this issue that explains my understanding of Scripture. But it is also critical to highlight why reserving spiritual leadership form men only is dangerous and damaging. One way to do so is to look at the sad and infuriating case of Josh Duggar.

With draft #10, I will attempt to make it to the finish line.

Families often fall into “traditional” roles for husbands and wives, including issues of spiritual leadership. My fiercely independent mother and professing egalitarian father looked about as traditional as any couple you could find. The difference was that my father never mandated this arrangement or called it a “biblical” model for men and women.

He also did not pride himself on being the “spiritual leader” of the house. And he never tried to parlay that role into the idea of God-ordained male “headship” or authority.

Herein lies the problem. Spiritual leadership as described in certain Bible passages can be very good, although I continue to advocate that both men AND women can take that role.

However, this concept morphed into the monster of absolute authority for men in all aspects of family and church. Rather than a model of humble leadership that Christ offers, churches and denominations declare absolute authority and “headship” for men, mandate by God and defended at all costs.

Churches, denominations, male pastors, and theologians deny this. They say that the Bible mandates very “traditional” male and female roles that are different, but equally important. They forget that “separate but equal” does not work. Once that mandate moves from spiritual guidance to absolute authority, then someone inevitably become less than in God’s economy.

Not surprisingly, that someone ends up being women and even children—with extremely dire consequences. We can draw a straight line from the concept of male authority through the rash of sexual abuse cases and cover-ups that occur within systems advocating a fully “complementarian” position.

The rash of cases that engulfs the Southern Baptist Convention and the reactions of male leaders supports this theory. It is clear in the culture of abuse at Liberty University. Authority and headship must be maintained at all costs, especially if a revered pastor or spiritual leader’s reputation is at stake. 

This leads us to the current case study of Josh Duggar.

The Duggar family aligns itself with multiple movements that declare male authority and headship as an absolute, including Quiverfull, Bill Gothard’s ministries, and a Southern Baptist church Josh attends. Leaders in these organizations promote men as the final—and only—authority for church and family.

Consider the years of silence from Duggar’s sisters. Did they have any sense that their voices mattered? Did accepting their place of submission (taught as a biblical position) lead them to believe they just had to take this? If the male is the absolute, unquestioned power in the home, how could they feel comfortable in challenging the behavior of their older male sibling?

Josh Duggar’s circle of protectors went to extraordinary lengths to help him escape accountability for his actions—both then and now. His mother and pastor, SBC Executive Committee member Ronnie Floyd, passed it off as a youthful mistake. As if “Boys will be boys” is an acceptable defense.

Duggar’s wife Anna had to babysit him after this first offense came to light. Josh deceived her by downloading child pornography, described by one FBI agent as among “the top five worst I’ve ever had to examine.” Now, he is out on bail with supervised visitation. So Anna is babysitting her husband again—while pregnant with their seventh child.

A friend of the family stepped up to take Josh into their home. The wife, who teaches piano to children, accepted this. Why? “My husband made this decision and I must follow his rule.”

My friend who asked the original question likely had none of this in mind. Knowing her and her husband, they are truly seeking a spiritual leadership that models the life of Christ.

However, when we ignore women and risk children to maintain male authority, we are well beyond the Scriptures. When we ignore the cries of the physically, spiritually, and sexually abused to protect the brand, we are far afield of the Cross and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Before last week’s Southern Baptist Convention, several Baptists wrote articles about SBC leaders and their response to Saddleback Church’s ordination of three women as ministers. Dr. Laura Levens, a professor at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, suggested that the outrage from SBC leaders such as Albert Mohler and Owen Strachan provided a solid “smoke screen” to cloud out discussion of multiple issues facing the Convention, including (but not limited to) the issue of predatory sexual abuse in churches.

Dr. Levens is absolutely correct. What is even more upsetting is the failure of Christians to acknowledge the irony. The very policy and polity they use to distract from abuse is the very thing that leads to sexual abuse cover-ups and denial. If women are not worthy of doing ministry, then how can their word be trusted against the Christ-ordained authority of men?

When “spiritual leadership” devolves towards male hierarchy and absolute authority, the church ventures into a huge bear trap, with teeth that will tear people apart. Those labeled as “inferior” in God’s hierarchy—particularly women and children—are most likely to feel the teeth clamp around them.

I seriously doubt that Paul ever had in mind the kind of authoritative position that men in some houses, churches, and denominations claim for themselves. No person or organization is above God’s accountability—and full accountability in God cannot exist unless voices all God’s creation is equally credible.

God certainly wants men to be spiritual leaders. But this does not mean women are in any way forbidden from spiritual leadership. And God certainly did not intend to create mand as spiritual dictators.

We cannot stand with God’s children—all of them—if we view half of his creation as inferior to the other half. Until we are willing to hear all voices and see all people as worthy, we will not have spiritual leaders, male or otherwise.

We will only have power brokers imposing their will. And the sheep will continue to feel the teeth of their traps.

One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round

For the last 40 years, Southern Baptists of varying “stripes” have fought about women in ministry. Now that one of the SBC’s shining stars has ordained several, we all get to take another spin—even if it makes us sick.

Remember the good ‘ole days of the metal merry-go-round in the community park?

You know, back when an arm cast caused by a piece of playground equipment was a badge of honor?

That merry-go-round came in a variety of sizes and degrees of difficulty. The old Cleveland Park in Greenville, SC had small ones that could spin at something just short of the speed of sound. If you were lucky the worst that happened is losing your grip and flying across the dusty Carolina clay.

Then we had the bigger ones—not as fast but equally dangerous. Especially when we tried jumping on and off of them while they were spinning. If you did not crack some ribs on the “safety” bar, likely you threw up after the ride stopped.

I am getting a bit of that sick feeling tonight as I write yet another post about women in ministry, particularly pastoral ministry. Baptists who have traditional or current ties to the Convention are spinning back to this issue because of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church. Long a shining star in the SBC crown, Saddleback ordained three women as ministers on Saturday night.

And Southern Baptist leaders let their cheese slide right off their cracker.

Pastors and Convention presidents and seminary professors were among those who lost their marbles, offering plenty of bad takes and worse historic quotes from former SBC leaders.

This is the most important issue for Christians in the modern world?

Back in the day, we made the choice to ride the merry-go-round until we could not hold our PB&J. I am getting on the ride again here out of necessity. I cannot just stay silent while others drag my fellow ministers–women ministers—through the mud.

I will give the SBC leadership credit for sticking to their convictions. I just wish those convictions leaned towards a more critical issue than keeping half of God’s creation away from a microphone at church.

I do not understand this and never have. I will likely never understand this perspective. God can exercise the power of the Holy Spirit to call and choose anyone. And it has nothing to with whether or not you can effectively use a urinal.  

Let us spin this in the other direction. Rather than drag SBC leaders for their view (easy to do), we can take a look at some reasons to believe that God clearly calls women to ministry, including pastoral ministry, preaching, and ministry of Word and Sacrament.

1. God is not restricted by human interpretations of the Bible. It is not that God would do something outside of the biblical witness. However, God is author and finisher of our faith and is not “boxed in” by Scripture, much less by our particular interpretation of Scripture.

Traditions are important. But they must remain consistent with an ever-growing understanding of God’s Word and work in the world. It is high time that we grow up in our understanding of God’s call on the lives of women.

2. History should inform us, but not define us. It is fairly easy to argue that, historically, many faith leaders, authors, and those considered spiritual giants in Baptist life opposed the idea of women in ministry. This was partially based on Scripture; however, it was also based on social, cultural, historical, and even scientific factors (based on the science of the day).

Please recognize that these men, such as John Broadus and B.H. Carroll, taught that women should not even be seated as messengers at Convention meetings. They taught segregation as God’s law, even for the church. They believed that slavery was supported by the Bible. They likely believed that women should always have head coverings in church.

We have changed our views on these things (I HOPE) based on better understanding and interpretation of the Bible and common sense leading of the Holy Spirit. And we should do the same regarding women in ministry. Why are some clinging to history rather than letting it guide us to the full personhood of women, all the way to the pulpit?

3. Our understanding of God can—and should—change.

Many may argue that God did not call for the ordination of women in the New Testament church, so why would he suddenly call for that now?

What if believers simply did not—or could not—recognize that call in the NT era? What if they missed it?

Does that make it okay for us to miss the boat as well?

Greater understanding and expansion of the Spirit’s work should always be our goal. We need to look towards who God invites rather than who God excludes.

4. The Bible—particularly the New Testament—pushes towards greater equity for all.

Several New Testament passages, if taken as singular verses/sections, seem to point to the subordination of women in the church. That is undeniable.

As both a pastor and professor, I argue that the New Testament overall pushes towards greater equity for all. For now, we will focus on women. This will be brief so that you will not have to read for hours on end.

Jesus interacts with women in ways that went beyond the comprehension of the people of his day, disciples included (Matthew 15; Mark 5; Luke 7; Luke 10; John 4; and John 8). Women were the first to preach the good news on Easter Sunday, faithful and willing disciples.

In spite of how he is interpreted, Paul interacts with women in similar ways (Acts 16, Romans 16). Women are identified as his partners and equals in ministry (Acts 18, Philippians 4). Despite his lengthy instructions, he does acknowledge women speaking in the assemblies at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11).

His writings include the most simple and direct word on this matter: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Did Paul get to full equity? Surely not during his time. But that should not prevent us from getting there in the present time.

If you choose to focus on the verses that silence women as authoritative, then you should not ignore the verses that acknowledge and empower their vital role in God’s story of love and redemption for all of creation.

5. Women have always been among the great “cloud of witnesses” in ministry.

Allow me to name some examples from scripture, from history, and from the modern context. These are a few among the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12) who show us God’s work through women as spiritual mentors, pastors, leaders, and preachers.

Deborah. Ruth. Naomi. Esther. Mary the Mom. Elizabeth. Anna the Prophetess. Mary Magdalene. The woman at the well. The woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears. The women at the empty tomb. Lydia. Priscilla. Phoebe. Euodia. Syntyche. Timothy’s mother and grandmother. All led, spoke, taught, worked, and faithfully followed the power of the Spirit in some capacity.

Catherine Scott. Sojourner Truth. Ida B. Wells. Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Fannie Lou Hamer. Aimee Semple McPherson. I do not know if these women were saints or great pastors, because I know very little about them (what does that say about me/us?). But they were preachers and pastors long before 2021.

What about today? I know of a few names. Kelli Kirksey. Stacey Simpson Duke. Anita Roper. Jennifer McClung Rygg. Helen Lee Turner. Debbie Roper. Ashley Twitchell. Ka’thy Gore Chappell. Alexandra Mauney. Kheresa Harmon. Anita Killebrew Herbert. Paula Qualls. Anna Sieges-Beal. All called or formally ordained to ministry in some form or fashion. Many great speakers, preachers, or teachers. (And I apologize for anyone I missed—running out of room!).

This is not to mention the scores of women who personally led me in my life and towards a call to ministry. I am not even worthy to wash the feet of these giants of faith.

And at last check, none led to the downfall of a single person or congregation.

If these women caused God tremendous angst by violating some prohibition against their work, it is hard to see. Their work gives us greater faith and hope that God always has and still does move—with or without male permission.

And finally…

6. It is the Baptist way.

Do Baptist churches ordain many women or call them as pastors? Certainly not. However, true Baptist practice should defend the soul freedom of any church to do so, no matter what is written in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

I grew up knowing and believing in three central principles on which Baptist church practice should stand.

The priesthood of ALL believers – The Holy Spirit can work in and through anyone. We do not need a pastor or denominational guru to be present to judge whether or not the Spirit is moving in or through someone. We can also read and interpret Scripture of our own accord and through our local community of believers.

Soul Competency – God works in and through people, and people are responsible to God for following the movement of God in their lives. It is not up to a denominational body or even a pastor to judge that movement.

Autonomy of the Local Church – The Southern Baptist Convention does not ordain people. ORDINATION is a LOCAL church matter. Each congregation, possibly in work with other churches or a local association, determine the fitness of someone to be ordained to ministry.

Saddleback did exactly that, as has every other church to ordain or call a woman to ministry. Their action is not authoritative or declarative for any other Baptist church or organization.

Take all of this as you will. Through years of study, research, reason, and prayer, this is why I believe that God calls women to all form of ministry, wherever the Holy Spirit leads. It is the very core of Baptist belief that confirms for me the spiritual right of a church to ordain and call those that they deem worthy.

This is 2021. We cannot assume that God suddenly changed his mind about ordaining women because of the year. But perhaps God expected us to grow past the 1st century C.E. in our understanding of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of those God created.

The more churches recognize this, the better we will become at building the Kingdom of God.

Grace Is the Word

Author’s Note: I wrote this post as a message to those at my University who continue to struggle valiantly through the hardships of COVID-19. Still, it holds a certain value for all of us as we navigate towards what will hopefully be the end of Pandemic Life.

Pandemic shutdowns began just over a year ago. On March 12, 2020, my non-profit organization (where I worked prior to Limestone) declared “work from home” due to COVID-19 concerns. I did not return to the office for five months, and I only saw my team in person one more time.

As we crest this hill, it feels like the most brutal year-long decade that we ever encountered. Seriously, does March of 2020 not seem like an eternity ago?

Psychological evidence suggest that our hearts and minds are feeling that. Numerous articles and studies indicate that we are tired, frustrated, angry, and even lashing out at one another because of this. The impact on college students is significant according to multiple studies.

If college is anything, it is an exercise in social interaction. Taking away a primary component of college life makes online classes and safety measures that much more challenging to endure.

What about the impact on faculty and staff? We strive to smile behind the mask, but we also fight back frustration with this lack of normalcy.

When we factor in the overall damage to ALL people in so many aspects of life, we have potentially volatile situations on college campuses. Our beloved University is no exception.

I started at my University on October 19, 2021. I have students that I still cannot recognize because I have never seen them without a mask. This is not anything close to “normal” campus life of sitting around the coffee shop or the student center or chatting on the Quad. This lack of activity sometimes looks more like summer break on campus than the last half of spring semester.

Let us also remember that we are now on the downhill side of the academic year. If you are like me, you are trying to wrap up the “To Do” list you created sometime in January. This University is a busy place and everyone—including students—is working hard and a little on the edge.

Yet, here we are, persevering and pressing on towards the goal. We are playing sports, having a Homecoming celebration and planning graduation. It is all the more stressful to do through a mask, but we are doing it.

This is how we get to know our students these days!

No doubt the Complaint Box in every department is far more slammed than it is in normal circumstance. The pent-up frustrations of the last year are beginning to take their toll, and we are all prone to slide into a bad place in heart and mind. More than that, we are likely to take it out on someone else.

What do we need to push forward to the finish? Grace is the word.

The technical definition of the term “grace” takes on multiple components, many of which we can use right now.

a. unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

b: a virtue coming from God.

c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.

Yes, a bit of Divine Assistance is something that can help us all right now. But the definitions also take us to a place that requires our action with the support of that Divine Assistance.

d: disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.

e: a temporary exemptionREPRIEVE

How do we see our way through the remainder of this Pandemic Semester, which may (or may not) be our last such semester? We remember the virtue that is offered to us through power that is beyond ourselves. And we increase our efforts at kindness, courtesy, clemency, and even reprieve.

It is easy in a crisis such as this to display a lack of grace to others—and to ourselves. In our frustration, we could retreat into a state of bitter complaint against everyone and everything that gets on our nerves. It is a trap for any of us experiencing long-term and unexpected stress.

What if we instead decide to live out the word “Grace” in every aspect, whenever we have the opportunity? What if we take on an attitude of forgiveness and understanding that get us to the finish line of this semester—and perhaps back to something that looks like normal next spring?

As we commemorated this lockdown year March 12, 2021, we also reached the 1 million shot threshold on vaccine delivery. If we can hang on a little longer, keep wearing our masks, continue with safe practices, and contain our frustration, we may be nearing the finish line.

Now is the time to keep running the race towards that line, with an extra high dose of grace—both for others and for yourself! These are essentials in tense and stressful times.

Let us also remember that many have sacrificed far more during the past year than just social gatherings and sporting events, including people on this campus. We honor and respect those who have suffered loss this year by staying safe and pressing on towards the goal.

This is the very meaning of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By learning to offer extra grace to all in the most difficult times, we can fully celebrate that grace together in the best of times.

If we can do that just a little while longer, then perhaps we can get to something that looks a lot more like “normal.”

Finding the Words: A Message about January 6

Watching the assault on the Capitol Building January 6 filled me with a flood of thoughts and emotions. I tried to write these down multiple times and in multiple ways. But the only thing that finally made sense was to write what my audience needed to hear.

I openly wept on January 6.

Watching what happened in Washington, D.C. on that day brought me to actual tears. I found myself not surprised, but bitterly disappointed that this was happening. It made me sad and filled me with anger and rage at the same time.

What caused me the greatest pain were the shouts of proclamation and the flags that some people waved throughout the crowd.

“Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.”

“Jesus Saves.”

“Jesus 2020.”

“Make America Godly Again.”

Cross raisings in Washington and in state capital protests.

I saw nothing of Jesus Christ in these events. If His presence was honored, it was in some non-visible way. Some might try to argue that these shouts and signs were good things, or that these are not connected to the political rancor. This is historically and presently disingenuous. The clear equation is that support of the President and the capitol insurrection are equal to support of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.

In all of the things that we witnessed on January 6, I did not see one thing that made me think about Jesus, feel closer to Jesus, or insinuate that the people involved really understood the life and purpose of Jesus

As I often do, I sat down to write about this as a way of processing the events and subsequent emotions. I started multiple drafts of blogs and letters that all ended up in the virtual “file 13.” If we were in the old days of typewriters, the tossed papers would overwhelm my office floor.

In scrambling for some manner of making sense of this, I turned back to the people that matter most: my primary audience. I began to ponder what I would say to my students at Limestone University, to our faculty, and to our staff. Rather than considering what I wanted to say or what I felt at that moment, I tried to think of what they might need to hear to give them hope in the midst of this chaos.

Here is the result, a letter that went to the University community last Tuesday.

To our students and Limestone family,

By now, you have probably seen, heard, or read about some horrific events that took place last Wednesday, January 6, at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. A significant group of people pushed into the building and disrupted the work of the United States government.

Among this group, some people carried crosses, signs, or banners of crosses, or shouted the name of God and Jesus at different times. Several flags flew with “Jesus” or “Jesus Saves” on them; and even one said “Trump = Jesus” on it. The use of Jesus’ name in such circumstances certainly caught my attention.

I suspect that you, as college students, have awareness and strong opinions about what happened last week. You may have strong political opinions. Christian leadership does not allow us to bury our heads in the sand when we witness troubling events. Last week’s riot deserves our attention and requires a Christ-centered response.

This writing is my attempt to offer such a response.

At this time, let us be challenged not to focus our energy on diverse political stances. Instead, let us focus our energy on spiritual development and growing our Christian leadership in a way that guides us in all that we say and do.

And that focus is where we turn now, in the middle of this crisis. Our tasks is not to hold up banners or flags or t-shirts that say Jesus. It is our task to be the hands and feet of Jesus—no matter who occupies the Capitol or the White House.

I believe that Christians are responsible to be involved in public issues, and it is our civic duty to participate in government on acceptable levels. However, we are never called to put our full faith in politics, in elections, in candidates, or in our ability to gain power. Beyond that, the Scriptures warn us to never, ever put our full faith in people or empires: kings, presidents, political parties, power leaders, the wealthy and famous, or even pastors. Our faith is to one whose name is above all names.

With that in mind, our response to last week’s events is incredibly simple and direct in an incredibly complicated situation.

We lead by seeking Christ alone. We educate ourselves by learning and following the ways of Jesus Christ—no matter who is in the White House. What we saw from people calling out the name of Jesus, while breaking windows to get inside the Capitol, does not reflect the teaching or path that Jesus Christ offered to his disciples—or to us.

Limestone holds to its heritage as a Christian University. We are called to carry on that heritage, as those who are learning and developing in Christian leadership. How do we carry this forward through political turmoil and the use of the Lord’s name in extremely strange ways?

Again, the answer is simpler than it seems. We do not put our trust in empire, country, or the leaders of such. We put our faith in Christ alone. We seek Christ above all things, and instead of all things if necessary. We look to the Scriptures to find what Christ says, does, and requires of us—and we follow that, with all of our heart.

This means that we take action to lift up others and meet their needs. We listen to those that we do not (or cannot) understand, and we try to see their struggle. We work to live together as a community and live as those who love Jesus. We strive to learn more about the life of Christ and figure out ways to live out that life.

No matter who is in charge in Washington, DC, we are STILL called to seek out Christ and follow Christ. This means that we love the Lord, love our neighbors as ourselves—and live out these commands in how we act towards others.

In spite of the turmoil of recent days, I look forward to getting back to school and doing what we are called to do. I look forward to searching for Jesus and figuring out how to live the way that Christ did—in all things, and no matter how hard it might be.

Let us take heart in the words of one of my favorite songs:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

If any of you has a need to talk or process any of this, please do not hesitate to reach out by text, email, or simply drop by the Chapel. I am glad to continue to “work out our salvation” together (Philippians 2:12) and to share any concerns and hopes that you may have.

As we fill the space between the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the inauguration of the 46th President, may we remember that the most admirable of people are still people. Those that are truly great will not point towards themselves, but towards ideals of One who is greater.

This is the time to fully commit ourselves to stop listening to who others say Jesus is, and find the reality of the Living Christ. Only in that can we also make the choice that Dr. King did: to pursue the way of love, as the power that can bring meaningful, lasting change to the heart of humanity.

If you have thoughts or questions that you would pose to me, I encourage you to reach out as well. tlegrand71@gmail.com or tslegrand@limestone.edu.

At Christmas: Finding a Faith that Is FOR Something

It is easy to adopt a religion of opposition, and Southern Baptists made it an art form for decades. Jesus comes to ask a different question. Who and what are we FOR?

Do you remember the good old days of Christian faith, when all you needed to be a Christian was to tell people what you were against?

I once pastored a church that was founded in 1790. Monthly church records show members regularly disciplined for dancing, card-playing, and—my personal favorite—spitting tobacco juice on the church floor!

If you grew up in a Southern Baptist church or youth group, you know this drill all too well.Stay away from rock and roll (KISS was the forbidden fruit in my house), watch out for deceptive dark forces creeping into your heart (Dungeons & Dragons, see “rock and roll” above), do not let the forces of the Devil prevail (child-sacrificing Satan worshippers, out and about on Halloween).

And of course, alcohol/sex/drugs remained standard taboos.

Christianity in the last 50 years has made an art form of being “anti.” We are masterful at defining ourselves by what we are against. And Southern Baptists certainly make significant contributions to this art. Their latest target: Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality.

Let me begin by stating that I have an extremely limited understanding of CRT, Critical Theory, and Intersectionality. I am still reading, still listening, still learning on these topics.

Yes, plenty of people are willing to tell me what these are and why they are “wrong” or “contrary to scripture” or, well, whatever. I prefer to do my own research before deciding on that.

Here is the problem: a religion of opposition always requires a new enemy to keep stirring up the base (sound familiar?). The creation of a new “boogeyman”—quite often formed out of straw—becomes the standard. SBC fundamentalists took aim at those who refused to affirm the “inerrant, infallible” Word of God, as they defined it, including ordination of women.

The Convention went on to create a long list of demons over the years: abortion, political liberalism, freemasonry, Disney Corporation, Muslims, homosexuality, socialism.

Now, CRT and Intersectionality get the “privilege” of being the boogeyman to rally the base. Not surprisingly, this culture of opposition keeps alive the Ghost of Racism Past, Present, and Future.

“We stand together on historic Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in any form and we also declare that affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message,” the statement reads.

Translation: “We apologized for this in the 1990s. What more do you want?”

What many black pastors and congregations are rightly pointing out is that a proactive faith is required in order to address deeply rooted issues of sin and reconciliation. Finding the right thing to oppose to appease the “base” is not going to move us closer to a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. 

Empty apologies without constructive reflection as Christian community imitate the shallow faith of a religion of opposition. Defining faith by which “boogeyman” you can knock down is simple and easy; and much more of a crowd-pleaser than the gut-wrenching, costly grace to which we are called. 

In opting for a religion of opposition, we lose the challenging ability to reflect, repent, and reform our actions. And we are left with half-hearted apologies and empty words.

It is symptomatic of a Convention that spent the last 40 years defining itself by what it is against¸ much more than who or what it is for. African American congregations are confronting in the SBC what many of us discovered long ago. When you are always looking for something to oppose, for the force that is causing all the evil in the world, then you do not have a lot of time to look at yourself in the mirror.

The heart of the issue is that Jesus was constantly in trouble for not being “anti” enough for those around Him. He refused to hate the people or things that everyone wanted Him to hate. He chose to be FOR something, to challenge us to a deep cleansing of heart and mind, rather than justifying our shallow finger-pointing and posturing.

Southern Baptists are facing yet another tragic split on the issue of race, a tradition that dates back to 1845. Yet it does not have to be this way. This Advent season, as we prepare for the arrival of the Living Christ, we can choose a faith the is FOR something—a faith of affirmation.

We can be for a Jesus comes as an advocate for people and not as an opponent of those that we do not like or who make us uncomfortable.

We can affirm that the arrival of a savior who shows us the truth about OURSELVES rather than created enemies; and then gives us overwhelming grace to deal with that truth.

We can be for those who are poor—in spirit, in status, in circumstances–.

We can affirm a Jesus that comes to life upthose who have been oppressed.

We can affirm that Jesus did not come to join those who exercised power and control over others. He came to stand with those whose spirits were bewildered by the exercise of power and control.

We can affirm that Jesus came to HEAR the voices of those who were traditionally ignored.

We can affirm that Jesus loved human beings more than he did religious regulations and platitudes. 

We can affirm that Jesus spent his time lifting the hearts of those crushed by the letter of the law, rather than allowing the lawmakers to ignore the needs of people.

We can affirm that Jesus came to walk with us, for as long and as far as necessary, to find a path to hope and reconciliation. There is no point where Christ says, “That’s as far as I am willing to go for you.” Nor should there be such a point for us.

The problems in the SBC are emblematic of an issue that prevails within the nooks and crannies of American Christianity. We cannot justly claim to love the people that Jesus loves if we cannot listen to what they are telling us that they need. We cannot claim moral high ground by simply opposing the “right” things.

The Advent of the Christ child calls on us to move beyond a religion of opposition to a Jesus of affirmation. We love the language of peace, unity, and joy that Christmastime brings to us, and we need that language in a powerful way as we cling to the hope that 2020 is mercifully going to come to an end (and not a moment too soon).

But the lessons of 2020 will linger, and language is not enough to address them. Christmas has always beckoned us to recognize the needs of others and stand with the vulnerable. It always calls us to be for Christ-centered action on their behalf.

Christmas is not merely about our comfort. It is about the challenge to see the world in a completely new and different light. The Living Christ opens our hearts to hear how we need to learn from and love one another. It is time that we listen to our African American community rather than covering our ears when we do not want to hear.

Let us worship the child in a manger this Christmas with a faith that affirms one another and listens to the cry of our sisters and brothers—no matter how much disruption or discomfort it may cause.