Affirmations of a Dissenter [Secure eReader]
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eBook by C. Joseph Sprague
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Like many churchgoers, C. Joseph Sprague finds himself in a quandary: he loves the church but often finds himself at odds with its principles and/or practices. What makes his situation unique is that in addition to his role as worshiper, he is a bishop who is charged with the responsibility of leadership. In Affirmations of a Dissenter, Sprague gives readers a composite of affirmation and dissent, of faith and protest. He writes about his trust in and commitment to God's hospitable, unconditional love for all humankind as well as about his discomfort with discernible public trends in religious institutions, particularly United Methodism. The brief chapters of this eBook cover a variety of topics: biblical literalism; the power of biblical witness; biblical authority as related to homosexuality, divorce, violence, and women; the nature and person of Jesus; hope in the church; leadership; and racism.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2003
1--A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s insightful sermon based on Jesus' instruction to the Twelve in Matthew 10:16--"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents [tough-minded] and innocent as doves [tender-hearted]"--put my faith journey and vocational calling into perspective when I first read it in King's book Strength to Love while a seminarian in the early 1960s.
Raised a Quaker in a theologically conservative congregation and yearly meeting, I benefited from the caring nurture of those affirming Friends, and a wonderfully loving home of origin, that marked me early as one who knew from experience the reality of God's unconditional love. My parents, extended family, and the pastor of that Dayton Friends Meeting, Billy Lewis, his spouse, Marie, and the embracing people of that tiny congregation were conduits for grace upon grace for an inner-city youngster from a rural migrant family. I honor the gifts they bestowed upon me. I shudder to imagine what I would have become without them.
Yet, as adolescence dawned, I began to question the literal approach to scripture. Additionally, my soul was restless with the disconnection I sensed, but could not yet describe, between the welcoming, hospitable creed of Jesus' words and the inactions and hurtful daily deeds that were readily apparent all around me. People I loved labeled, categorized, and excluded immigrant children whose parents talked differently, southerners who went "down home" each weekend and, most of all, black people, like my teammates on our superb seventh-grade basketball team at Roosevelt Junior and Senior High School on Dayton, Ohio's near west side.
We were the Roosevelt Teddy Bears, the mighty Teddies. There was a popular hangout near the school that served memorable hamburgers, spicy barbecue, soggy french fries with thick gravy, ice cold Pepsi Cola, and incomparable potato chips. It was there that God initially called me to ordained ministry, and it was there that my young and tender heart began to long for a much needed tough mind. It happened like this.
Following a basketball game in late December 1951, a teammate and I went for a snack. I ordered a Pepsi and a bag of chips. Sanford Davis, my companion, asked for the same. The man rang up a ten-cent sale for me and grabbed my dime with an unaccustomed scowl. Sanford gave this man, who I had experienced as friendly to youngsters, a half dollar. The man pounded the keys of his cash register and the announcement of a fifty cent sale popped before our eyes. I was astounded. Ten cents for me, but fifty cents for Sanford. And for the same two items! I started to protest, my innocence rapidly vanishing. But Sanford intervened. It was 1951, and he knew the score. "It's okay, Joe. This happens to us all the time."
It was then that I heard God say in my heart of hearts: Joe, I want you to spend your life seeing that people who look like Sanford (who was African American) are not treated as Sanford just was and that people who look like you and the man behind the counter don't treat others as your friend and teammate was just treated.
My tender heart was broken, and a mind not yet tough began to churn. The churning has not ceased. How can there be in Christian America, as we were taught our nation was, such a disparity between creed and deed, words of love and actions of bigotry? And where was the church, as countless Sanfords and Samanthas were treated so cruelly? If the words and stories of Jesus were true, why were believers, who testified and prayed twice on Sunday and regularly at Wednesday night prayer meetings, not saying and doing what Jesus clearly practiced and expected of his followers? Increasingly, I became dismayed and confused.
If this were not enough for an adolescent to digest, my plate of intellectual questioning began to fill as I sought to make sense of familiar stories from the Bible in the midst of challenging lessons gleaned at school and hard realities absorbed from the streets.
Predictably, I started a free fall away from both the church I loved and from the Bible whose stories had played a crucial role in my moral and spiritual development. If personal testimonies were not lived out in daily life, what power did they hold? If creation did not really happen in six days, if Jonah could not live in the belly of a big fish or get there without being chewed up, or if dead bodies did not come back to life, despite the prayers of the faithful, how could the Bible be true?
God had called me to ordained ministry. I sensed this. But how could I say "Yes" when I did not see Jesus being followed or his teachings enacted? Jesus was affirmed in the church, yes. Followed daily, no. Besides this, treasured biblical stories made less and less sense to an inquisitive, yet deeply pietistic and rigidly moralistic, adolescent. My heart had been warmed by God in countless Quaker Meetings, summer camps, and at the altar rail of a revival meeting, but my mind was cold--except for questions too hot to ask in the 1950s church.
I did not know it then, but I would learn later that out of this existential crisis would emerge the paradox that would shape my ministry and the credo that would guide my life. King's sermon named it well: "A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart."
It is this paradoxical tension, with which I have lived for fifty years, that both drives the affirmations and fuels the dissents that follow.
Copyright © 2002 by Abingdon Press