NHM Ministrants rings in today with our support and encouragement for three groups. For the record, we are an independent Christian Center (and welcoming to all visitors of any faith) and our Center Director is an ordained Baptist minister.
Today’s words of support are in regards to a current controversy about the invitation of an inspiring preacher and thought leader to a school of higher learning. We stand in support of the invitation, and alongside:
- The President Dr. Forrest Harris and the Board of the American Baptist College (ABC) for providing a spirit of dialog and inquiry conducive to the spiritual formation of students, as evidenced by their invitation of a broad swath of speakers and worship leaders to engage with their students, including the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge Church.
- City of Refuge Church of San Francisco and Bishop Flunder, for preaching a gospel of radical, welcoming hospitality.
- The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (FAM) for standing strongly in response to the call by NBFCP, an external organization, unaffiliated with the college, to disinvite Rev. Dr. Flunder.
In their open letter to the NBFCP, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries called attempts to place polity over people “socially imprudent and organizationally self-serving,” and noted that a social Gospel message that “mobilizes God’s love so it reaches all of God’s creation” is necessary, and for this we need universities where:
…critical analysis, strong disagreement, and independent thinking can thrive freely. Ideas, no matter how bold, provocative, counter-cultural, or difficult, are protected in these spaces. While the students, faculty, and staff members have a right to demand that these institutional environments remain safe, free from tangible threat or harm, there is no right to comfort in learning – indeed, discomfort is a seed from which intellectual maturity can grow, and brave spaces, such as the one Dr. Harris is cultivating at ABC, provide the soil for such growth to happen.
Their point is well taken, and timely to some work we’ve been doing, right here. Here’s a taste of how we emphasize the importance of freedom of thought in the class we are developing, entitled Nonharming Ministry, The Healer’s Path:
Any insistence on blind obedience to a certain dogmatic or creedal viewpoint is by definition NOT nonharming. Nonharming allows for a healthy heterodoxy, not one-size-fits-all orthodoxy. There’s no “you must think this way or you must be wrong” philosophy here. Die Gedanken sind frei – thoughts are free. (The German “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” refers to a German prison solace poem)
World War II gave us an extreme example of what happens when we allow marginalizing or “othering” of any group. Where that leads… is not of God. And wherever there is an “out” group and an “in” group, silence is complicity. To paraphrase another Bishop – Desmond Tutu – if an elephant has his foot on a mouse’s tail and you say you’re neutral, you’re with the elephant. Now, what will the students learn? Who knows… very likely, she’d be inspiring, as she was the last time we heard her preach. They could ask questions about her perspective. Rev. Dr. Flunder was very helpful to us, when we were working on an early effort to reach troubled teens, some years ago. This insight was very valuable to us. No less important, they would have a chance to practice discernment in a safe environment where they can later discuss their thoughts and impressions with wise faculty who know that this surely won’t be the only controversial moment that students will face in their lives.
I would have appreciated such a perspective, myself… I am still learning. I do, however, recall one of my professors confessing that some of his LGBTQ parishioners told him he hadn’t been ministering to their needs, and so his attitude was, “okay, teach me!” Lord, grant us likewise teachable spirits, so we can bring God’s love to the most people, the most effectively, following Jesus’ admonition “feed my sheep!”
This experience – among other important moments at seminary – would help students grow, so they can learn how to react to life with grace and truth and life and light. This is exactly as Paul would have wished (Phil. 9-10). In that hopeful possibility, we celebrate the American Baptist tradition for the freedoms it represents:
While not all of one mind as to how to deal with challenges, American Baptists do affirm the need to follow Christ’s example by being actively involved in changing society – American Baptist Churches USA Website, “10 Facts”
Baptists believe the Bible—the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament—is the divinely inspired word of God, a source of deep truths and is deeply relevant, even necessary, in today’s world. But many Baptists also believe that to get at these deep truths one must be willing to work very hard using prayer, reflection and scholarly tools of inquiry. Educators know that human translators can introduce their own subtle bias into translations, often without even meaning to do so. For example, the New World Translation (translated by Jehovah’s Witnesses) has been surrounded by some controversy in this regard. The Bible provides a reference by which we can grapple within the whole human condition, including some violent, male-oriented and xenophobic references with which a student must wrestle for a time before finding a way to make peace with them. Jesus gives us the Way, Truth and Light for this work. One of the most important tasks of the theological educator is to help students come to a whole Bible understanding that defends against eisegesis (quoting out of context to support personal bias) while strengthening faith.
Many see the Bible as the most radically powerful writing on earth, and those who follow Christ and know the Gospels are aware of the power of the Word, and how God used the Word – with God from the beginning – to call creation into being. Rev. Dr. Billy Graham knew the power of his words, and made a point to avoid picking political sides and to never openly criticize another minister, knowing that the enemy could use this criticism to divide and hinder. We need to honor and support those who teach students, helping them learn how to unlock the Bible’s many secrets, finding God-inspired interpretations within its pages while avoiding its use for oppression and abuse. Jesus used words and actions to uplift and to heal. “Go,” calls Jesus, the Word made flesh, “and do likewise.”
While the experience must surely be painful for Rev. Dr. Flunder, perhaps something wonderful will come of this fray. After all, our own NHM Ministrants sprang up in response to a protest and counter-protest in Seattle. While our Center Director was still studying theology, some very angry folks with signs against various things were picketing a little tiny Catholic church, and some other outsiders were there in counterprotest. At that intersection of three groups, the idea of nonharming really emerged. You can see that video on our back story elsewhere on this site. Surely, such a Center wasn’t what the original protesters had in mind to accomplish. And yet here we are, an unintended consequence of their action and of the counter-protest that met them. Perhaps we are seeing another such dawning moment, right now, with this controversy. Who knows what beautiful new life will spring up. To that hopeful possibility, we add our Amen. And, as for us at the Center, while we try to see all sides – staying open to discussion that leads to peace with justice – we also stand in solidarity where needed, where we see our voice as being useful to foster a spirit of active harm prevention. So… count us as standing in solidarity!