Phil Robertson: Making the Church of Christ Proud

Phil Robertson: Making the Church of Christ proudPhil Robertson: making the Church of Christ proud.

So let me get this straight (no pun intended):

One Church of Christ University, Pepperdine, has one of their law school professors, Richard Peterson, become the poster child of the “Yes on 8” campaign to ban same-sex marriage, and then after the school tries to claim they don’t take sides on political issues, watches their law school Dean, Ken Starr, lead the legal appeal after Prop 8 was struck down by the courts…

and now…

Phil Robertson, who attends the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, LA, and whose son, Willie, attended another Church of Christ University, Harding, makes graphic comments condemning gays in God’s name.

Can we honestly say we did NOT see this coming???

UPDATE: Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Suspended Indefinitely after Anti-Gay Remarks

Phil Robertson. Photo by Karolina Wojtasik/A&E.

Phil Robertson. Photo by Karolina Wojtasik/A&E.

A&E has indefinitely suspended Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson after his anti-gay remarks.

Good for A&E. Bigoted Christian fundamentalism does not belong in the public realm.

“A&E has placed Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following anti-gay remarks he made in a recent profile in GQ.”

A&E issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E said in a statement. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

Good. Bigotry has no place on TV, or in Christianity for that matter.

As I said earlier, they know the show is on the decline, and they have enough speaking engagements lined up in the conservative Christian community to make plenty of money and sustain their business for years to come.

“It seems that the Duck Dynasty folks have finally reached that point that Tim Tebow reached when he realized that he was approaching the final days of his “day job”, and he decided to leverage what was left of his popularity into one final evangelistic appeal before his time on the public stage was done. I believe that’s exactly what Robertson meant when he said: “Let’s face it. Three, four, five years, we’re out of here,” Robertson told GQ. “You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”

The sooner, the better.

Right on cue, here come the anti-gay comments from Duck Dynasty

Proud Rednecks. Proud Christians. Proud Southerners. Proud Bible quotin’, gun totin’, pro-Jesus, anti-gay redencks.

If this is describes you, then here are your role models.

Phil Robertson's anti-gay comments are receiving backlash from the LGBT community. (L-R) Willie Robertson, Phil Robertson and Si Robertson attend the A+E Networks 2012 on May 9, 2012. (Andy Kropa/WireImage) | Andy Kropa via Getty Images

Phil Robertson’s anti-gay comments are receiving backlash from the LGBT community. (L-R) Willie Robertson, Phil Robertson and Si Robertson attend the A+E Networks 2012 on May 9, 2012. (Andy Kropa/WireImage) | Andy Kropa via Getty Images

We’ve seen that as the Duck Dynasty folks become more popular nationally, their fundamentalist religious beliefs are coming more to the forefront.

From their Restoration Heritage Church of Christ roots at Harding University, to their upcoming involvement in a fundamentalist Christian propaganda film, and now, right on cue, here come the (explicit) anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ.

Comments include gems such as:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” [Phil] Robertson told GQ.

“That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?

But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

and

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” Robertson told GQ. “We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later.”

Yes. “Homosexuals, drunks, terrorists.” All equal threats to your well-being.

I shake my head.

It seems that the Duck Dynasty folks have finally reached that point that Tim Tebow reached when he realized that he was approaching the final days of his “day job”, and he decided to leverage what was left of his popularity into one final evangelistic appeal before his time on the public stage was done. I believe that’s exactly what Robertson meant when he said:

“Let’s face it. Three, four, five years, we’re out of here,” Robertson told GQ. “You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”

Duck Dynasty: The Tim Tebow of Rednecks.

For more:

HuffPo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson-gay_n_4465564.html

GQ: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

CBS: http://houston.cbslocal.com/2013/12/18/duck-dynasty-star-a-vagina-is-more-desirable-than-a-mans-anus/

inside a church of christ history class

I marked up a cartoon that has been going around lately. It summarizes what is taught by Church of Christ historians and its theologians. It made me smile.

Restoration Movement History Chart (click to enlarge)

HT: Bibleworks on FB.

why one cup christianity is dangerous (or) can the body of christ transmit hepatitis-a?

Communion Tray

This is why most Church of Christ folks use matzo crackers and those disposable single cups for communion: you don’t know where the sinner next to you has been (and they don’t know where your sinnin’ rear end has been)!

Which raises an intriguing question for transubstantiationalist Catholics: can the body of Christ transmit Hepatitis-A?

The Associated Press is reporting:

MASSAPEQUA PARK, N.Y. – Health officials say hundreds of people may have been exposed to hepatitis A while receiving communion on Christmas Day at a church on Long Island, N.Y.

The Nassau County Health Department said Monday it will offer vaccines this week to anyone who received communion at the church Dec. 25. A church spokesman told Newsday that the investigation was ongoing and that he could not identify who might have transmitted the virus.

Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark-colored urine and jaundice. The disease is rarely fatal and most people recover in a few weeks without any complications.

I’d also encourage Christians in Long Island to hold off on greeting each other with a holy kiss for a while…

HT: Jim West

Seriously, it’s OK

Alexander Campbell and a Guitar

thoughts on the use of instrumental music in worship

Man with GuitarI’ve begun posting some of my thoughts on church-related issues on the Malibu Church of Christ Blog.

For instance, I recently posted some thoughts entitled, “Opposed to instrumental music in worship? Here’s the site for you,” which discuss the ongoing opposition from some to the use of instrumental music in the Churches of Christ.

The position that congregations/churches (including Churches of Christ) should only use a cappella music during worship is completely indefensible (imho) outside of an argument from tradition (i.e., we’ve never done it that way, so let’s not start now because it might upset some more traditional donors contributors university administrators members).

It is not enough to point out that other denominations and institutions of higher learning mock those sectarians and sectarian institutions who still argue that any church that uses instrumental music during worship is “unpleasing to God” or worse yet, “unbiblical” or even “heretical,” because sectarians draw strength from isolation and ridicule. (They feel righteously persecuted for their “correct” beliefs.) Rather, we must have a transparent discussion in public about the issue of instrumental music in corporate worship, and must act upon the results of that discussion. During that debate, it will be important for those holding various points of view on the subject speak up. Likewise, when completely untenable, theologically sloppy arguments are made on either side of the issue, they should countered as appropriate, and should be challenged (professionally) even if the one making the argument has a Ph.D. in religious studies! (That goes for me too.)

The church must stop cowering to those whom seek to impose their minority opinion on the rest of the congregation, and whom refuse even to bring the issue up for debate.

It’s simply time we had the discussion. We can have it in this space or elsewhere, but we must have the discussion, and we must act on that discussion’s outcome.

bennett-cargill wedding announcement

Roslyn Bennett and Dr. Robert Cargill announce their engagement

Roslyn Bennett and Dr. Robert Cargill announce their engagement.

Roslyn Richelle Bennett and Dr. Robert R. Cargill (both of Agoura Hills, CA) proudly announce their engagement. Bennett is the daughter of Ruth Anne Bennett of Farwell, TX and Rick Bennett of Lubbock, TX. Bennett graduated from Farwell HS (1996) and Lubbock Christian University (BA, 2001). She is the Youth Minister for the University Church of Christ in Malibu, CA. Cargill is the son of Leonard and Sharon Cargill of Madera, CA. Cargill attended Madera HS and graduated from Bullard HS (1991), Fresno City College (AA, 1993), CSU Fresno (BS, 1996), Pepperdine (MS, MDiv, 2000), UCLA (MA, 2007; PhD, 2008). Cargill is an archaeologist and instructional technologist at UCLA. The couple will be married in March 2010 overlooking the ocean in Ventura, CA.

university church of christ in malibu appoints search committee to replace departing preacher dr. ken durham

Dr. Nancy Magnusson Durham

Dr. Nancy Magnusson Durham

Dr. Ken Durham

Dr. Ken Durham

a sad day is upon us. my friend, dr. ken durham, preaching minister at the university church of christ in malibu, ca, is departing. ken will be taking an endowed position, the batsell barrett baxter chair of preaching at david lipscomb university. his wife, dr. nancy magnusson durham, will become a senior vice president at the university.

i shall miss ken durham. he has been a role model to me and a wonderful example of a scholar who always seeks to make peace with parties often pulling him in different directions. he has been a model of stability, consistency, forgiveness, and patience throughout the time i have known him. he has shown me how to overcome personal adversity and harness it to become a better man and teacher. i will miss my friend dearly.

i shall also miss nancy. nancy has been the model of effective female leadership in my professional career, and a truly sympathetic voice of reason in my life. she is personally responsible for much of my success as a technologist, and she has perhaps been the single most encouraging person to me at pepperdine. i shall continue to value her advice. and i shall eternally be fans of both ken and nancy durham.

the university church of christ in malibu

our local congregation will also miss ken tremendously. the membership of the university church of christ in malibu can be said to be made up of three basic groups: 1) resident members comprised mostly of pepperdine university employees and their families, 2) a dwindling number of young professionals and families between the ages of 25-45 years old, and 3) students that attend the church for 4 (sometimes 5, 6…) years while they are attending pepperdine. there are also a handful of us that have no formal affiliation with the university any longer and do not work for pepperdine that attend the university church of christ in malibu.

this demographic has changed significantly over the past decade. the demographic shift is the result of a change in the way the elders view and minister to its members. for many of the early years of the university church of christ in malibu, the church understood its mission as one of service to the students of pepperdine university. because the church met on campus and was led and attended by employees of the university, the members saw their role in the church as supporting the students. just as these educators spent their academic lives training up young men and women for deployment into the workforce, so too did these same scholars support the spiritual development of the students by their participation in the university church of christ.

however, about a decade ago, this mission of the university church of christ in malibu changed. with the expansion of the drescher campus overlooking pepperdine, a greater number of resident members began to ask what the church could do for them instead of what they could do for the pepperdine students they were hired to teach. they began to look at other churches of christ in other towns that possessed colleges affiliated with the churches of christ and saw that those other churches had their own unique presence in their respective communities, distinct from the nearby universities. these other churches owned their own buildings, had their own expansive staffs, and possessed a stand-alone organizational structure that included a full range of youths, college students, young professionals, and young families, as well as established resident members. differences between the unique mission and makeup of the university church of christ in malibu and other ‘normal’ churches began to be articulated. as a result, the leadership of the university church of christ in malibu decided to raise money for a church building, expand its staff, and provide those services for which the established resident members had been asking. they no longer wanted to be a unique church of christ on a unique university campus serving the students, rather, they wanted to look more like other ‘normal’ churches of christ.

this shift in focus was coupled with a shift away from evangelizing and ministering to the entire pepperdine student body, and shifted towards serving the much smaller number of declared ‘church of christ’ students on campus. only ~15% of the students attending pepperdine are declared members of the churches of christ; in fact, there are more declared catholics at pepperdine than church of christ students. the elders felt they should ‘preserve the brand’ of the churches of christ as a denomination heritage, and focus primarily upon meeting the needs of the church of christ students. this choice relegated service to the entire pepperdine student body to a secondary mission. some have said that this shift was to aid the university in reminding the world that pepperdine was still, in fact, a ‘church of christ’ school like harding university, abilene christian, freed-hardeman, david lipscomb, oklahoma christian, and others. but, because so many of the pepperdine christian students attend nearby malibu presbyterian, st. aidan’s, our lady of malibu, and other non-church of christ worship services off campus, this shift has resulted in smaller numbers at sunday morning university church of christ worship services, and in increased criticism of the privileged place these church of christ students, now only a small minority at pepperdine, hold within the university. while the university church of christ campus ministers were charged with reaching out to the entire campus, their primary focus became ministry to the ‘cofc’ students. this is truly lamentable.

while he was the preaching minister of the university church of christ, dr. ken durham did what he could to reach out not only to non-church of christ students, but to other denominations, faiths, and even non-believers within the malibu community and the greater los angeles area. not unexpectedly, filling ken’s very large shoes (literally, he is ~6’5″) will be difficult. but the elders of the university church of christ in malibu appear to be up to the challenge. the first step in replacing ken is to empanel a search committee.

the search committee

the elders sent out an appeal to those interested in sitting on the search committee for the new university church of christ in malibu preaching minister. however, in forming the search committee, the elders seem to have stumbled out of the gate.

(now in the name of full disclosure, i asked to be considered for this search committee and was not chosen. you are free to claim sour grapes on my part, but the issues i raise below have nothing to do with me. besides, i figured there was no way in she’ol that they would actually name me to the committee, and i was proved correct.)

the committee that was appointed by the elders includes the following (in alphabetical order):

name title sex race employer
janet davis assistant to the dean of seaver college female white pepperdine employee
rich dawson director of international student services male white pepperdine employee
rick gibson vice president of public affairs male white pepperdine employee
stuart love retired professor of religion and elder male white retired pepperdine employee
carolyn nicks center for the family board member female white wife of former pepperdine employee
tim perrin* vice dean of the law school and elder male white pepperdine employee
darryl tippens provost of pepperdine university male white pepperdine employee
linda truschke campus minister female white pepperdine employee
student member (tbd) student ? ? pepperdine student
* committee chair

i respect each and every one of the individuals chosen for this committee. each brings a seasoned perspective to the group. ms. davis is one of the most organized, hardest working individuals i’ve ever met. mr. dawson is a cheerful and kind administrator, who does his job very well. mr. gibson is thoughtful, clever, and refreshingly insightful. dr. love was my professor and is a respected advocate for women’s equality in the church. ms. nicks is a committed advocate of the university and respected member of the community. dean perrin is a friendly and approachable leader with innovative ideas. provost tippens is perhaps one of the most learned, forward thinking scholars i know. and ms. truschke is a dear friend whose empathy and mercy is cherished by the students she serves. each of the committee members is a wonderful choice and are valuable assets to pepperdine and the university church of christ in malibu.

the elders of the university church of christ in malibu

 

Dr. David Baird

Dr. David Baird

 

Dr. Ron Highfield

Dr. Ron Highfield

 

Dr. Stuart Love

Dr. Stuart Love

 

Dr. Stephen Parmelee

Dr. Steve Parmelee

 

Dr. Tim Perrin

Dr. Tim Perrin

 

Dr. Milt Shatzer

Dr. Milt Shatzer

 

Dr. John Wilson

Dr. John Wilson

the elders of the university church of christ in malibu have assembled a search committee. the problem with this group, however, lies not with the chosen individuals, but with the committee’s aggregate composition. the makeup of the overall committee betrays much about how the elders view the congregation. for instance, our congregation is led by seven older white men, all of whom are or were employees of pepperdine university. their perspective on the world and how our congregation should operate within it is revealed in the assembly of this search committee, and it is the assembly of this committee that necessitates a few brief observations.

1. the entire committee is white. for a congregation that has struggled to integrate minorities and people of color, the racial makeup of this committee sends a very bad message. while pepperdine’s student statistics state that at least 40% of the undergraduate student body claims to be a minority or person of color, this percentage is markedly less within the membership of university church of christ in malibu. the failure to place a minority representative on the search committee confirms this unfortunate reality. it is said that 11:00 am on sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in america. the assembly of this search committee certainly does nothing to combat this notion, nor the reality of the very white sunday morning worship services at the university church of christ in malibu. the elders cannot lament the lack of racial diversity in the university church of christ in malibu if they are not willing to at the very least appoint a minority or person of color to represent these already grossly underrepresented groups in the church. appointing an all-white committee leaves the elders open to criticism of doing nothing to promote racial diversity within the church.

2. the entire committee is old(er). there is no member of the committee that is younger than their mid-40s (with the exception of the influential token student rep who is quite tellingly yet to be named). who on this committee speaks for the young adults? there will be a student rep, but the next youngest member of the committee is in her mid-40s. the message to recent graduates, graduate students, young professionals, and young married couples is that your opinion doesn’t count. you don’t really give that much money to the church because you aren’t yet making that much money. many of the young adults don’t live on campus like the resident members. because of this, they are apparently out of sight and out of mind. essentially, if you are between the ages of 25-40, you don’t count, or at least your opinion doesn’t count. perhaps this is why the university church of christ in malibu has been hemorrhaging young adults and young married couples over the past decade, who are leaving for other congregations where their opinion matters and their service is valued. the elders of the university church of christ in malibu cannot lament the mass migration of many of the young couples and young professionals to other churches (namely, the conejo valley church of christ in thousand oaks, ca) if they are not willing to make young adults and young married couples a priority. the makeup of this search committee leaves the elders open to criticism of continued negligence of this particular important demographic.

3. the entire committee is affiliated with pepperdine university. all of the members of the committee are or were employees or spouses of employees of the university. this may not seem like much of a big deal, but for a congregation that regularly reminds all who will listen that it is independent from pepperdine university (on whose campus the church is allowed to meet for free), the fact that each and every committee member is affiliated with the university speaks a great deal. certainly, employees of the university must also answer to their university administrators, meaning that members of the search committee are potentially capable of being influenced by university officials. the fact that every member of the committee is a pepperdine employee or sits on a board of some sort affiliated with pepperdine demonstrates the intertwined reality that is pepperdine university and the university church of christ. indeed, like the offering after communion, it does seem that the university church of christ in malibu and pepperdine university are ‘separate and apart,’ yet synonymous entities depending on what is convenient at any given moment. (seriously, how many more times shall we change our name back and forth between the ‘malibu church of christ’ and the ‘university church of christ’ in an attempt to win the graces of a pepperdine president in order to secure a real church building? and how is that working?)

this failure to distinguish between church and university is exacerbated by the fact that all seven elders of the university church of christ in malibu are or were pepperdine university employees. likewise, the building for which the church has been raising money to build is slated for construction on the pepperdine campus (even though it is buried beneath hundreds of tons of earth displaced from other apparently more important pepperdine building projects. cf. hag. 1:4). for a congregation that claims to be one that wishes to reach out to the malibu and greater los angeles communities (especially back when we were the ‘malibu church of christ’), it seems that the control of the church lies deeply nestled within those heavily invested in pepperdine. thus, the elders cannot lament the fact that very few malibu residents, who are unaffiliated with the university, are members of the university church of christ in malibu if they are not willing to represent this demographic in their leadership and search committees. failure to place a member of the congregation who is unaffiliated with pepperdine university leaves the elders open to criticism that they are taking orders (or at least having to clear their decisions) about whom to hire from top-level pepperdine administrators. at the very least, it leaves the elders open to criticism that they are not leading, but rather taking orders from the influential donors that give to both the church and pepperdine.

more than one of the elders have told me on more than one occasion that there are ’30 giving units’ at the university church in malibu. that is, there are only 30 individuals or couples that regularly contribute a substantial amount of money to the church. this number may be smaller now as some of these individuals and couples have left the university church in malibu since this statistic was first conveyed to me a few years ago. but the fact that one or more of the elders know precisely who regularly writes checks to the church is telling. it is quite apparent that those who give to a local congregation have influence over the direction the congregation. and since the elders have identified whom these people are, it is not surprising that the members of the search committee are older, established, and have strong ties to the university, from which they receive their paychecks.

of course, young professionals and recent graduates have not worked as much, are still dealing with the student loans and debts pertaining to the expensive costs of their educations (one year as an undergraduate at pepperdine is now $48, 750), and simply cannot give as much money to the church. but this is no reason not to represent them or to discount their opinions, input, or service to the church. yet, no member of the search committee is from the young professional demographic of 25-40 years old, and this is again quite telling of the elders’ opinion of them.

apparently, the golden rule truly applies at the university church of christ in malibu: those that have the gold make the rules. if you give a substantial amount to the church regularly, your voice is heard. otherwise, your opinion isn’t worth much. if you work for pepperdine, your opinion matters; you possess the potential of influencing university officials to make decisions favorable to the church. likewise, because you are an employee of the university, you can be ‘leaned upon’ by the pepperdine administration (many of whom are influential in the church). because those leading the university church of christ in malibu are also influential leaders within the university, employee-members are more likely to stay in line, go along with the elders’ decisions, jump through all the hoops, and not criticize or challenge decisions made by the church elders. the potential fear of missing out on coveted overseas appointments, not being named to key committees, having the ‘pepper-vine’ rumor mill and gossip lounge sully and destroy their reputations, or even losing their pepperdine jobs are all quite compelling reasons to hold one’s tongue. conversely, those of us who have no affiliation with the university and do not work for pepperdine cannot be fired, and cannot therefore be retaliated against should we choose to question or criticize decisions made by the elders. thus, those who do not work for pepperdine cannot be easily influenced by the church elders, and are therefore less likely to be asked to participate in decision making and leadership roles. perhaps it is as simple as this: they don’t want you if they can’t control you.

(now, to their credit, the elders are not openly hostile towards those who do not agree with the direction they are leading the church. they are fully aware of this blog, my positions on some of their decisions, and yet have always treated me professionally and cordially, and for that i am grateful. i shall continue to treat them professionally and shall continue to refrain from making personal critical comments about them as individuals. i appreciate their willingness to subject themselves to the critique of the members of the congregation they shepherd without retaliation. again, the purpose of my comments is not to harm them personally, but to offer some form of accountability from a member of the congregation who happens to be highly skilled in biblical studies and who is deeply invested in the reformation and ultimate success of the university church of christ in malibu. this form of open dialogue (or monologue thus far) is good for the church. if the leaders of any organization cannot stand up to commentary and criticism from those they lead, they are not fit to lead and are not worthy of our respect. i do not post all of my communications with the elders in this blog, as i am a true believer in professionalism, confidence, and the preservation of the distinction between public and private communications as well as the distinction between personal and professional roles. i look forward to a continued dialogue with the elders and all those who read this blog.)

conclusion

we have a difficult challenge ahead of us. it will be nearly impossible to replace a preacher as skilled and beloved as ken durham. but somehow, hopefully, the leaders of our university church of christ in malibu will be able to select a preacher who possesses the ability to balance critical examination of the scriptures with an appealing presentation of informative and motivating sermons. i hope this committee will ask the tough questions, and not choose a candidate simply because he or she (here’s hoping) is related to someone at pepperdine. i pray the committee will select someone who will actually commit to preaching every sunday, and will not spend every third sunday touring the country as a guest preacher promoting his or her latest book. i hope the committee will select a preacher possessing the education and critical skill required to offer substantive homilies, and not simple fluff or the latest pop psychology. lastly, i hope the committee will choose a candidate that represents all of the congregation and appeals to students as well as those ~30 ‘giving units’ that the elders so readily seek to appease. for if the committee fails to make a wise decision, the university church of christ in malibu’s attendance numbers will continue to dwindle, until all that’s left are the select 30.

i hope the committee will choose the candidate that is best for the entire congregation.

here’s hoping.

how not to do world communion sunday

i sat and pondered the moment; there under protective glass was the graven image of thomas campbell, but i couldn’t find jesus anywhere!

The glass-encased reliquary containing artifacts and graven images of Thomas Campbell located at the entrance of Elkins Auditorium on the campus of Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships. This photograph was taken just prior to the regular 11:00 AM worship service on October 4, 2009.

The glass-encased reliquary containing artifacts and graven images associated with Thomas Campbell located at the entrance of Elkins Auditorium on the campus of Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships. This photograph was taken just prior to the regular 11:00 AM worship service on October 4, 2009.

october 4, 2009. i entered elkins auditorium on the campus of pepperdine university about ten minutes before 11 am. the second service of the university church of christ in malibu, ca was about to begin, so i made my way to my regular seat in row 2. (i actually like sitting toward the front during worship service.) despite the wealth of the city of malibu, the university church of christ does not own its own church building. rather, it has an agreement with pepperdine university that allows them to worship in a lecture hall on campus: elkins auditorium.

i knew that today was ‘world communion sunday,’ a sunday where different congregations from different denominations around the world set aside their doctrinal differences and partake of a communion together united solely as christians.

i was also reminded that today was world communion sunday because my local congregation had earlier announced that it would be hosting a special, alternative to world communion sunday second service on october 4: a second ‘great communion‘ celebration, which is designed to do the following:

remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his Table.

i had taken issue with this decision to hold a special communion to celebrate thomas campbell and logged my objection in a previous post. my objection centered around two main points:

1. it is highly oxymoronic to hold a special communion to celebrate and commemorate a denomination that was established for the very purpose of eliminating denominations.

2. because the ‘great communion’ celebration was held on the first sunday in october, a day known to the rest of the world as ‘world communion sunday,’ the great communion celebration appeared to be an alternative celebration of the restoration movement churches on a day reserved for unity among all christians (not just those within the restoration movement).

but this was by now an old issue to me. i had said my peace, logged my objection, and wished them the best. those who chose to attend and participate in the ‘great communion’ service were welcome to do so, and i would say nothing further on the matter.

but as i sat through the regular 11:00 am worship service in elkins (again, not the special 3:00 pm ‘great communion’ service, but the regular 11:00 am service), i could not help but notice two things that stood out like democrats at a nra convention. and because i do not wish for the rocks to cry out, i shall mention them briefly here.

there was a reliquary containing objects commemorating thomas campbell in the auditorium!

The glass-encased reliquary containing artifacts and graven images of Thomas Campbell located at the entrance of Elkins Auditorium on the campus of Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships. This photograph was taken just prior to the regular 11:00 AM worship service on October 4, 2009.

A close-up of the glass-encased reliquary containing books autographed by and images of Thomas Campbell. This display was located at the entrance of Elkins Auditorium on the campus of Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships. This photograph was taken just prior to the regular 11:00 AM worship service on October 4, 2009. It appears to have been set up in preparation of the 'Great Communion' service to take place later that day at 3:00 PM.

never before have i seen or even heard about a reliquary in a church of christ. sure, doug foster has his shrine to thomas and alexander campbell and the stone-campbell movement, but i have never seen an actual, glass-encased display case containing objects associated with the closest thing the churches of christ have to saints.

keep in mind, the churches of christ are somewhat famous for their lack of religious icons, decorations, images of jesus, and in many cases, crosses in their buildings’ architecture and decoration. there is a long tradition of reminding members that the church is not a building, but the people who come to worship. this, combined with the fact that the churches of christ are traditionally poor and could not afford fancy buildings and organs and pianos (another contributing factor to the church of christ’s affection for a cappella music), has resulted in church building architecture and furnishings that lack images of jesus, crucifixes, or images portraying scenes from biblical stories.

The stained glass window of Pepperdine Universitys Stauffer Chapel. Note at the center of the window there is no cross, but a Bible, highlighting the importance of the text to the Church of Christ tradition.

The stained glass window of Pepperdine University's Stauffer Chapel. Note at the center of the window there is no cross, but a Bible, highlighting the importance of the text to the Church of Christ tradition.

(however, one may note that in the pepperdine chapel (not a church of christ, but a chapel on the pepperdine campus), there is a large stained glass window. many are surprised to note that at the center of the window a book appears prominently displayed, rather than a cross or an image of jesus. many have argued that this speaks to the church of christ’s focus on the text of the bible – for better or for worse – as opposed to the person of jesus.)

given my tradition’s loathing of religious imagery, you can understand my astonishment when i entered elkins auditorim and saw a glass box encasing rare books containing the signature and a graven image of thomas campbell, who is said to be the founder of the ‘church of christ’ as a movement. (conservatives will deny this and argue that the founder of the ‘church of christ’ is no less than jesus himself, but the restoration movement and its offspring, the ‘churches of christ,’ ‘disciples of christ,’ ‘christian churches,’ and ‘international churches of christ’ are said to be the product of thomas campbell, his son alexander, and barton w. stone, among others.)

note the great irony of this moment: in elkins auditorium, there is not a single image of jesus anywhere – no picture, no stained glass, and not a single cross to be found anywhere! but, there is a glass-encased, highly visible, carefully placed reliquary dedicated to thomas campbell. i thought to myself, ‘we finally have a reliquary in a church of christ. it is prominently displayed, under protective glass, and it contains objects associated not with jesus, but with st. thomas campbell.’ i sat and pondered the moment; there under protective glass was the graven image of thomas campbell, but i couldn’t find jesus anywhere!

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but there was a second travesty on this first sunday in october, 2009:

there was not a single mention of world communion sunday. not one!

for a congregation that has openly stated its commitment to ecumenicism throughout this ‘great communion’ debate, i found it incredulous that there was not a single mention of ‘world communion sunday’ during the 11:00 am service.

my close friend and preaching minister at the university church, dr. ken durham, gave a sermon that compared (i kid you not) thomas campbell to bono (the lead singer of the rock band u2). among other things, both call for unity and both wear pimpin’ glasses. the sermon centered on the song ‘one‘ by u2. i love the song. i like u2. and i applaud the social justice work bono does to bring about debt rescindment in developing nations. despite the obvious attempt to cave and mention thomas campbell on the same sunday as the ‘great communion’ service to be held later than day, i enjoyed the sermon.

there was, however, one glaring omission: at no time today during worship was there a single mention – or even an acknowledgment of – ‘world communion sunday.’ not one. ken’s sermon was about being ‘one’ and being united across that which keeps us apart. but, there was no acknowledgment that today christians around the world were setting aside their doctrinal differences to commune with one another as christians alone: no baptists, no lutherans, no episcopalians, catholics, methodists, or church of christ, only christians. we just forgot to mention it. i hope it was not intentional, but how could we not even mention ‘world communion sunday’ on a day dedicated to unity? instead, we mentioned thomas campbell a lot and we plugged the planned alternative to world communion sunday, ‘the great communion,’ celebrating the restoration heritage with a special announcement pleading with members to come to the special service. but on this sunday dedicated to unity and being ‘one,’ there was no mention of ‘world communion sunday.’

i sat in silence, disheartened.

we talk a good game. we speak of ecumenicism and unity. but apparently, unity is only something you can experience with the university church of christ in malibu if you are a part of the restoration heritage. it is easy to be friends with our friends; even jesus says so (matt 5:46). i left the 11:00 am service saddened. i was not angry, just sad. we can be so much, but the leadership of our congregation appears to be far too focused upon the ‘brand name’ of the ‘churches of christ,’ rather than focusing upon using this church’s unique talents to lead and define what it means to be a congregation on a university campus committed to christian higher education. we are too worried about preserving ‘the brand,’ and not focused upon serving others and teaching our students to think critically about our own movement.

it makes me wonder: how committed was the presbyterian minister thomas campbell to preserving the ‘presbyterian’ brand? he knew all too well that those church leaders who seek to preserve their denominational heritage can only look backward, never forward. perhaps this is why our numbers are dwindling, core members are moving elsewhere, and students are looking elsewhere to worship. campbell left behind his denominational brand and sought a new ecumenical start by establishing a movement focused on christ, not a denominational brand. yet, here we are 200 years later, arguing that our students aren’t familiar with, aren’t honoring, aren’t remembering, and aren’t maintaining the ‘church of christ’ brand. there is a reason they don’t want to honor their denominational brand; ironically, it is the same reason thomas campbell failed to honor his.

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as for the great communion service at 3:00 pm, i know very little. i did not attend. i hope they filled elkins and had a great time. my goal was not to undermine the service, rather, from the beginning i have sought only to ask people to consider why we worship, what it means to be a member of the ‘church of christ’ (as a denomination), and what it truly means to be ecumenical. i hope that in writing these words publicly, i can continue to contribute to the conversation about the present and the future of the churches of christ, come what may.

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