By Woody Woodrick
A great starting point.
That’s how an audience member described a panel discussion held March 27 at
“It was a good starting point, but barely scratched the surface,” said Jonathan Webb, a junior from
“I think our purpose was accomplished,” said Dr. James Bowley, chair of the Religious Studies department at Millsaps. “It was a good, intellectual discussion with many people in a full, open, peaceful setting.”
The department began getting letters about some of the speakers it has helped bring to the
“This showed the diversity of opinions within The United Methodist Church,” said Bowley. “There is a diversity of opinions about Millsaps and what kind of college it should be.”
Bowley served as moderator of the event. Panelists included:
About 60 spectators, including students, faculty and several Jackson-area United Methodist pastors, attended the discussion.
Each panelist was given a few minutes to make an opening statement answering the questions:
Artmann said that in preparing for the event he had talked to several parents of college-age students, and the main attitude was one of disappointment in Millsaps. He said they all expressed a concern that Millsaps would undermine their children’s faith. Even his daughter expressed the same sentiment, he said.
Hewitt, however, said that her faith had grown since arriving at Millsaps and taking courses in religious studies.
“I’ve never had a student say ‘Millsaps caused me to lose my faith,’ but I have had them say they learned to articulate their faith.”
Morris was the first to directly address Spong’s appearance, saying he was disappointed no counter to Spong’s beliefs was offered.
Later, faculty members in the audience pointed out the names of orthodox Christian thinkers who had spoken at Millsaps. Morris acknowledged that, but said media attention on Spong overshadowed others.
Ashton emphasized religious diversity. “No student’s faith should be attacked,” he said. “At the same time, no student’s faith should be a bulwark they hide behind.”
Following the opening statements, the floor was opened for questions from the audience and panelists. Several questioned Spong’s appearance and an earlier appearance by Marcus Borg, specifically asking why they were even invited to speak. Bowley explained that often speakers are made available by outside groups, such as the Dykes Foundation which co-sponsored Spong’s appearance. He said taking advantage of these offers enables Millsaps to bring in speakers who are at the forefront of religious conversations.
John Thatamanil, also a former religious studies faculty member, asked, “How might we work to create a distinctively church-related college without betraying Methodist principles?”
“The forum was an open, honest conversation between the church and the academy – long overdue,” Barksdale continued. “If those who participated can now see the college in a more positive light, that would help what I do at Millsaps. And hopefully, we can continue the conversation. The forum could be a starting point for a stronger partnership between Millsaps and the United Methodists.”
Webb, the student from
Bowley said he’s open to having more discussions with the conference. “If people want to do it, that’s what Millsaps does,” he said. “We talk and articulate ideas.”