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 live that sports bring home to us. Over the last week, we have witnessed a wreck 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.

A “Letter” to Mr. Joseph Epstein

The uproar in recent days over Jill Biden’s use of the honorific “Dr.” in front of her name is surprisingly distracting from much more important issues in the world. The following “open letter” (a designation I typically despise) asks a crucial question: Who cares?

Dear Mr. Joseph Epstein,

As an ordained minister, I was regularly listed in the bulletin or on the church sign as “Rev. Tom LeGrand.” I never insisted on being called this and I certainly did not correct those who did not use the formal title. In fact, the youth group got a kick out of calling me “PREACHER Tom,” a not uncommon title in a country church. 

But everyone in the church and the town knew that I was an ordained minister. They knew I was called to the purpose of ministry

My denomination could pretty much ordain a ham sandwich if some church chose to do it (although my particular church required a Master of Divinity). The process is not an excruciating academic endeavor, as it is for other denominations.

Yet, it mattered to the church to add the title “Reverend” to my name. It designates that the congregation believes I am called to a special and particular purpose, as a minister of the Gospel.

As I read with interest your op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal concerning the soon-to-be First Lady, I wondered how I would have felt if the church said my ordination did not matter. How would I take it if they were offended to recognize that calling to pastor their church, preside over the Ordinances, or baptize their children?

I do not really know how demanding Jill Biden is that others put “Dr.” in front of her name. But the essential question really is: who cares? More to the point, why do you care?

bert

Why does it bother you if people refer to her as “Doctor” or if she asks them to do so?

Could this be more of a “you” problem than a “her” problem?

Listen, we all get it, okay? WSJ is a publication that is in the business to make a profit. They look for articles that are great click-bait, and you did your job well—so well that your degrading, demeaning, and insulting approach demands a response.

You referred to the future First Lady as “Kiddo.” I am only thankful that you restrained from something more demeaning or sexist. Not only did you insult Jill Biden, but you diminished everyone who invested the time, talent, and treasure to accomplish what you did not—an earned doctorate.

We are all sorry that certain institutions, selected fields, and dissertation titles are considered “unpromising” by you. Then again, you are not really qualified to make that judgment, are you? Because you do not have the credentials to do so.

Maybe that is the true problem here. Maybe it bothers you that a woman has rightfully earned a title that you do not have. Or maybe it bothers you that, after all those years as a lecturer at a world-renowned university, you still did not get to call yourself what everyone else did.

Maybe you are not at all so threatened or insecure, but your op-ed certainly made it sound as if you are.

Why would you feel that way? You spent 30 years lecturing at Northwestern University, in spite of a surprising lack of academic credentials. You were apparently so gifted that the institution did not insist on such credentials. To assail someone who DID get those credentials is, quite frankly, beneath you.

You chose, for whatever reason, not to pursue a higher degree. It was your call not to make the tremendous sacrifice that many others do to earn a doctorate (and it is indeed a sacrifice). Do not waste your time—or ours—by slinging mud at someone because they invested in a path that you did not.

Jill Biden has stated that she knew she was “home” when she went to work at the community college level. She chose to pursue an EdD because it was a calling, a belief that this was her designated place to make a difference. She then pursued a degree at a public institution of higher education that likely fit her calling more than Harvard or Princeton would. 

She deserves to be praised for following this passion. She certainly does not deserve to be demeaned for it, especially from someone who clearly has not read her dissertation or witnessed her work.

I agree that the standards for an earned doctorate are not what they once were. Universities have figured out that they can make money from people pursuing these degrees and are creating more pathways to fill their coffers. These are not the same as the PhD, but they are still personally demanding and academically rigorous.

I also agree that it seems a bit silly and arrogant for anyone to insist on being called “Doctor,” particularly in non-professional settings. However, it is no less silly or arrogant than your approach to the First Lady-to-Be, or others who have similar degrees.

In case you have not figured it out, I too have an EdD that would likely not meet your self-proclaimed “standards.” Then again, it really does not matter. My concern is proving myself to students, colleagues, editors, and those who task me with work inside of my field. Beyond that, I really do not understand why my title or how I choose to use it matters to anyone.

For me personally, I do not demand to be called “Doctor” or correct those who fail to use the honorific. I do ask my students to call me Dr. LeGrand because it matters, both in the classroom and in my profession. You of all people know that it matters.

I suspect it matters in Dr. Biden’s profession as well. I just cannot fathom why it matters so much to you or anyone else. If you are so outraged that she utilizes this honorific, maybe you need to take a deeper look at what this says about you.

Sincerely,

Tom LeGrand

The Dolly We Never Knew

It is great that Dolly Parton is being appreciated for all of her charitable contributions. But the best thing about her is that she never needed that appreciation in the first place.

Am I a fan of Dolly Parton the musician? No, I most unequivocally am not. (Yeah, I said it).

Never could get behind “Islands in the Stream” or “Here You Come Again.” But let’s give credit where credit is absolutely due: “Jolene” and “9 to 5” are as close to classic as Dolly is likely to get.

Dolly
This is the Dolly Parton I remember growing up.

Truth be told, I do not even like Dollywood. (Yeah, I said that too).

Dolly is suddenly everyone’s darling. People are swooning over her $1 million contribution to COVID-19 vaccine research, and her unapologetic declaration that “And of course black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”

Naturally that last line did not get rave reviews from everyone. But it is part of a confluence of events that have garnered the nation’s attention for her ongoing contributions. You can read a partial list here because I frankly do not have time to write a 10-page blog.

She simply makes the world a better place.

Dolly periodically receives attention for her work, particularly in children’s literacy. But she has never received the widespread accolades and appreciation that seem to be coming her way right now. The vaccine contribution has opened a rare door into the broad actions of a celebrity who seems to act on an overwhelming love for community, country, and humanity.

Yet, maybe we are missing the most appealing aspect of her contributions as we pour praise on her.

She never wanted our praise in the first place.

The breadth and depth of her initiatives have fully come to new light in the last few weeks. That is not to say Dolly did not promote her work, raise money for causes, or accept recognition along the way. From where the rest of us sit with our limited view, far from her fame, it does seem her primary motive was the good of humanity rather than personal recognition.

There are two unique and amazing components of her work. Let us begin with her recognition of a legitimate need and responding to it rather than acting on a personal whim. She did not decide what she wanted to do for her charitable work. She let the identified need guide her contributions to education and literacy in her home community–and around the world.

Then there is her lack of desire to seek the spotlight for her work. Again, I do not personally know Dolly Parton, so I can only draw conclusions from a distance. She comes across as having a humility that drives her desire to empower people out of genuine concern and love.

This is the Dolly that many of us never knew. She is a millionaire who likely could be a billionaire—except she chose to give it away. Her initiatives demonstrate a thoughtful, responsive heart that remembers a father who never learned to read and write. And a desire to help the children in her hometown avoid those same circumstances.

It is not that she is afraid to speak out, as her BLM comment shows. She raises her voice when and where it is most needed, which makes her voice that much more powerful.

This, in fact, is truly the heart of the matter. Evangelical heroes climb to the mountain top or fall off of it every week—all with the cameras rolling and the press corps typing.

What could prove more refreshing than a proclaimed born-again Christian celebrity using fame and fortune for good, without seeking to rack up news headlines, retweets, or viral TikToks?

Let us make it even more appealing by recognizing Dolly’s biblical approach towards empowering others. It should never be about our publicity photos on social media or fundraising opportunities while we pat ourselves on the back in our “holiness.” It is about offering—and perhaps sacrificing—for the good of others without expecting anything in return.

We live in the era of market-driven Christianity, partnered with high priced, highly publicized “missional” activities. We somehow miss that the Scriptures guide us to do exactly the opposite in our interactions with other people, particularly those who are deeply in need.

Jesus says in Matthew 6, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” We are not supposed to use our service as a great photo op or Facebook post to illustrate how bold and great and brave we are. Serving others in silence ensures that we are being the hands and feet of Christ rather than serving our own self-righteous egos.

Occasionally, people may take this in the opposite direction. One could easily use it as an excuse for judging others. “See, I do ALL of my good deeds in secret, while all those people are looking for recognition!” Is this not just a different expression of the same problem?

Here’s the thing: Doing for others is always about the “other.” Anything that brings it back to you, in any way, drifts towards spiritual bankruptcy.

Matthew 25:31-46 is eternally one of my favorite passages in the Bible. To sum it up, the “sheep” are those who give to the needy and help the poor or imprisoned, without seeking any personal reward.

Beyond that, they do not even realize they are doing something special! They are just going where the Spirit is leading, doing what is needed without the least expectation of any return on their investment. In the passage, they are genuinely shocked that God even recognizes the value of their deeds.

No one “owes” us for the kindness we show towards others, or the gifts that we offer to others, even those who are recipients of those gifts. If we are looking for gratitude or thank you notes or a simple pat on the back, then we are still looking for more than we deserve.

Rather than giving with caution and expectation, may we give offerings in the truest sense of the word. Let us do for others and be present for others without any pretense towards getting something for ourselves.

In other words, maybe we could all be more like Dolly Parton, seeing the need and responding to it—even then the cameras are turned off.

I may not be a huge fan of her music. But I am absolutely a fan of Dolly’s humanity, where she shows a biblical and Christ-like example for how we are called to empower the lives of others.

May we go forth and do likewise.