What exactly is a 'Methodist' college?


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor


After controversial Bishop John Spong spoke at Millsaps College last October, many in Mississippi wrote letters to the college.


Some expressed outrage that the retired Episcopal bishop, whose views on Christianity have raised eyebrows, would speak at the United Methodist-related college. The situation got members of the Religious Studies department talking.


“We received a lot of letters from Methodists expressing a variety of viewpoints about what a Methodist college should and shouldn’t do,” said Dr. James Bowley, chair of the department.


The result is a panel discussion on the topic “What does it mean to be a United Methodist college? Religion and Academic Freedom.” The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 27 in Room 215 of the Ford Academic Complex on the Jackson college’s campus. The event is open to the public.


“This will be a good chance to get together and talk about these things,” Bowley said. “We see it as a service to the Methodist churches of Mississippi by providing a forum to bring those views to others and discuss them with others.”


The Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries for the Mississippi Conference, said such a discussion is in keeping with the tradition of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder.


“Part of Wesley’s genius was his desire to be in dialogue with people with whom he didn’t agree,” said Casteel. “Part of what I see is the tension about this is our discomfort with views and theology that doesn’t always agree with ours.”

Millsaps is one of two four-year colleges in Mississippi affiliated with The United Methodist Church. The other is Rust College in Holly Springs, a historically African-American college.


Bowley will moderate the discussion among a panel of eight. He said he tried to gather a group with ties to The United Methodist Church but also with a variety of backgrounds and jobs.


“We tried to get fair representation from a lot of different kinds of Methodists,” Bowley said. “We’re not trying to get one side versus others. We wanted to get people from a variety of backgrounds and who serve the church in a variety of ways.”


Panelists include:

Dr. David Beckley, president of Rust College

The Rev. Sam Morris, senior pastor at Columbus First UMC

The Rev. Vicki Hughes, senior pastor at Hattiesburg Main Street UMC

The Rev. Dr. Loye Ashton, a deacon in the United Methodist Church and professor of religion at Millsaps

The Rev. Tommy Artmann, senior pastor at Hattiesburg Heritage UMC

The Rev. Bruce Case, senior pastor at Hattiesburg Court Street UMC

Dr. Connie Campbell, professor of mathematics at Millsaps

Ashley Hewitt, a Millsaps student and United Methodist


In addition to creating a dialogue for United Methodists, Bowley said he believes the event offers students a unique opportunity.


“I hope a lot of students will come,” Bowley said, “to see the variety within the Methodist Church; to see the great heritage The United Methodist Church has regarding education.”