Liberties, scholarship should open minds



Church members around the state who protested the appearance of Bishop John Spong obviously do not understand the function of a Methodist college. T.W. Lewis points out two important challenges for Millsaps: Teaching students to think critically and creatively and to understand other cultures and traditions in world. 

It would be nice if a similar challenge spilled over into adult Christian education, which, with a few exceptions such as the Disciple series, falls far short. Why support a college that teaches critical analysis and then discount analysis in the church? If there is any truth to the adage that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it, then a little understanding of early Christian history might preclude controversies such as the one over Bishop Spong. 

The Disney World version that we get in Sunday school tells us of a golden age for the early church, with a pure, direct line foretold by prophets, fulfilled by Jesus and handed on to the apostles, who all proclaimed the same clear and consistent message. But this ideal bears no resemblance to the rowdy, chaotic picture that emerges from the evidence. The early church was every bit as diverse as it is today, if not more so. 

From the very beginning, sincere and devout people had different experiences and understandings of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the first few centuries disagreements grew strong and bitter. Competing groups demonized their opponents as false prophets, heretics, even the anti-Christ. Ironically, as Christians became more tolerated in the Roman Empire, they became less tolerant, internally killing each other to defend their version of the truth. When, in 395 CE, Emperor Theodosius declared Nicene Christianity the official religion, he denounced dissidents as “demented and insane” and proceeded to destroy them and their writings. The multiform roots of the church were lost. Instead, ideological certainty, exclusivity and intolerance became its hallmarks. 

In the modern world, religious and political liberty, mixed with a tremendous outpouring of scholarship, should have made us more open and receptive to differences of opinion. Obviously that’s not the case. But we do not advance our cause by failing to examine unsettling questions. Perhaps if our churches were more honest in teaching our history, we would be better equipped to accept diversity today.

Lucie R. Bridgforth
Olive Branch 


Mark McLain’s letter in the March 7 Mississippi United Methodist Advocate said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward has been accused of playing politics in opposition to placement of a presidential library. I have great respect for our bishop and don’t believe (she) would “play politics” with any issue. In regard to opposing Southern Methodist University’s plans for a George W. Bush presidential library, I believe it is wrong for any Christian to do so as a form of opposition to the tragic war in Iraq. I disagree with such opposition and feel great disappointment in the example such opposition sets.    

I believe it is an intellectual and a moral error to oppose a Bush presidential library at SMU. It is an intellectual error because it denies freedom on a United Methodist campus to study historical records from some of the most trying years our nation has known. I especially feel disappointment and sorrow over the disrespect, judgmental attitudes and condemnation of our president as a person that has been voiced by some church leaders. 

United Methodists are usually up front in demanding intellectual honesty, freedom of speech and promoting inclusiveness. I’m sure United Methodist university and college libraries have copies of the Koran and other anti-Christian religious texts, sexually explicit books and literature, materials promoting gay and lesbian life styles. It is wrong to self-righteously embrace our “open doors, open minds, open hearts” slogan when convenient, and then close our hearts, minds and doors when it is inconvenient. Church leaders hide behind these “mantras” of freedom and openness when they refuse to criticize, much less censure, professors and bishops who teach doctrines that endanger the souls of those who would believe their anti-scriptural message. We must recognize the difference between the loss of a man’s soul and the loss of his physical life. “What has a man gained if he saves his life and loses his soul?” Jesus asked that question, remember?   

It is a moral error because it violates God’s command to honor our elected leaders and contradicts our United Methodist claims to openness and inclusion. While I believe Christians are to obey God over man, I also recognize the potential for self-serving abuse and misinterpretation that truth invites from those with personal agendas. I also recall God commands us to love our brothers in Christ.  Where is that love for President Bush? I have heard many calls to protest him but few to pray for him. 

Another reason I call this opposition a moral error is that I believe it is false piety to condemn one man for doing what he believes to be right for his county. Those who oppose President Bush’s every breath and applaud each other for their own courageous speech need to be told that there are no heroics in joining the crowd. 

President Bush has stood out with nothing but the courage of his convictions and his faith in God. He has had to fight not only the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; he had had to fight the war of constant opposition and obstacles thrown at him in this country since 9/11. If history proves him to have been wrong in his decisions, it is not likely to find him wrong in his intentions. History certainly will not excuse anyone of the United Methodist Church for their hateful name-calling and condemning judgment of this man’s heart. That shames us. God alone knows President Bush’s heart.

Steve Tillman


My recent illness and speedy recovery was a reminder of the millions of Americans who are not so fortunate. 

People like the lady who checks our basket of groceries each week, those who change the oil in our car and fix a flat tire; those who cook the food and those who bring it to the table with a cheery “hello” and a bright smile when we go out to eat. And those who in so many other ways serve in jobs that make life better for the rest of us yet many can’t afford the care that I received at the hands of the dedicated team at the Neshoba County Hospital. 

Over and over we hear stories of the kind of future that many of these hard working employees will experience when illness strikes. Because of their inability to pay for better care, the waiting rooms of many hospitals are overflowing with suffering patients who must wait sometimes for hours before receiving medical attention. 

Come on America, as wealthy, wise and compassionate as we are why are we tolerating such a shameful situation? Surely, with our wealth, wisdom and compassion, we can find a way where no one must face the frightening prospect of illness and suffering and no way to get relief because they can’t afford it. Seventy years ago, for several months before he died, my grandfather suffered horribly and died prematurely simply because the family couldn’t pay for the procedure that would have relieved his pain and prolonged his life. 

Because we are still able to pay the outrageous price of insurance, I entered the hospital (recently) no longer able to function, but due to the skill and dedication of the staff of the Neshoba County Hospital, here I am “up and running again.” Let’s put our hearts, heads and hands together and create a society where everyone can live with the assurance that such help for them will be there when needed.

C.E. Swain