Westboro Baptist Church to Protest 3 Churches in Malibu…but NOT Pepperdine, Church of Christ

Westboro Baptist Church will picket Malibu, CA, but is NOT picketing Christian Pepperdine University, nor the Church of Christ that meets on its campus.

Westboro Baptist Church will picket Malibu, CA, but is NOT picketing Christian Pepperdine University, nor the Church of Christ that meets on its campus.

I have been embarrassed on a few separate occasions to be associated with Pepperdine University, where I received my Master of Divinity.

But I have never been as embarrassed, nay, as ashamed as I was when I learned that Westboro Baptist Church, the überfundamentalist, homophobic, inbred family hate group church in Topeka, Kansas, notorious for picketing the funerals of fallen US soldiers while carrying signs that read “God hates fags”, is picketing three, count them, THREE different churches in Malibu this weekend, but NOT Pepperdine University and NOT the University Church of Christ that meets on its campus!

How humiliating must it be for anyone associated with Pepperdine when Westboro Baptist comes to picket in Malibu, and neither Pepperdine, nor the Church of Christ on campus warrant picketing.

How socially irrelevant and theologically impotent must you be in a community when Westboro Baptist comes to town and chooses to picket 3 other churches.

Then again, this shouldn’t surprise us: A Pepperdine Law School faculty member, Richard Peterson, was the poster child for the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in California. After an understandable public outcry against the school, Pepperdine’s President, Andy Benton, issued a number of press statements attempting to convince the public and the Pepperdine community that it was officially “neutral” on the issue of same-sex marriage. He stated:

“As a matter of established policy, the university does not take positions on partisan political issues, including ballot initiatives.”

But no sooner had he issued this statement, than Pepperdine’s Law School Dean, Ken Starr, agreed to argue on behalf of the Yes on 8 campaign to overturn and nullify those same-sex marriage that were performed legally between the time the court struck down Prop 8 and its announcement of a stay on same-sex marriages until the courts come to a conclusion on the matter.

Thus, it should be no surprise that Westboro Baptist isn’t going to picket Pepperdine or the University Church of Christ: they agree about same-sex marriage and gays!!

This isn’t difficult math: Pepperdine has become the banner institution in Los Angeles for the suppression of the rights of LGTBQ individuals, and this must please Westboro Baptist to no end!

In fact, Pepperdine still won’t allow LGBTQ students to have a club on campus. Pepperdine’s Dean of Students, Mark Davis, said the following:

“Pepperdine seeks to be faithful to this teaching because we believe it is God’s will…and therefore we cannot endorse another view or take a neutral position on sexual morality…we do not believe it is possible for a LGBT student organization to maintain a neutral position.”

What a tremendously sad commentary on Pepperdine and the Church of Christ in Malibu when Westboro Baptist comes to town and says, “Nah, they’re cool.”

A trusted mentor once told me, “You must live so that the right people praise you, and the right people curse you.”  I put it this way:

“We should always seek to live our lives in such a manner that Westboro Baptist Church would rush to picket our funeral.”

And yet, Westboro Baptist Church is coming to the small, seaside town of Malibu, and according to it’s “picketing schedule“, will be picketing Malibu Presbyterian ChurchWaveside Church, and Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, before heading to Santa Monica High School and the Academy Awards to picket the “Hollywood elite.”

But I’ll ask again: What does it say about the conservative Christian Pepperdine University that WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH looks at them and says, “Nah, they’re cool.”

How culturally inert does a university have to be to not get protested by Westboro Baptist?

So yes, I can understand why Westboro Baptist, while putting together a list of churches, schools, and organizations to protest, might look at Pepperdine University and the University Church of Christ that meets on its campus and say, “Nah, let’s not protest them. They’re with us on this issue.”

In the mean time, Pepperdine has invited Rick Warren, who recently announced that he regrets supporting the California ban on on same-sex marriage, to host a ministry pre-conference just prior to its annual Bible Lectures.

So for Pepperdine, Rick Warren is an invited guest, and Westboro Baptist doesn’t see any need to picket them.

I am equal parts saddened and appalled by this, but in the end, I am really just sad for my friends back at Pepperdine.

I would shake my head, but what good would it do? All I can do is shine a light on a place that not even Westboro Baptist Church finds worthy enough to picket.

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton and His Band, MidLife Crisis, Rock Pepperdine

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton performs with his band MidLife Crisis at Pepperdine. Screen capture from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q_fyO8m0ug)

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton performs with his band MidLife Crisis at Pepperdine. Screen capture from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q_fyO8m0ug)

Pepperdine University has been rocked by a MidLife Crisis – the band that is. Pepeprdine President Andrew K. Benton and his MidLife Crisis band mates, Jeff Pippin, Chris Stivers, Reber Carroll, and Logan Carroll performed at the President’s Brock House mansion last September, 2009, and professionally edited videos of the event are now available for public viewing on YouTube. It was a great performance and students appeared to have a great time as demonstrated by the large number of them dancing during the performance. (And if you can get kids to dance these days, you’ve got to be doing something right.)

You can watch videos of the set list on rrcarrol’s YouTube Channel.

Songs include “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World (original video here):

“Fire” by Jimi Hendrix (original song with lyrics here):

and “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby (original live performance here):

Let me state clearly that I fully support President Benton’s participation in a band (in fact, I wish I could play that well), and I love his band’s choice of songs. President Benton’s band was true to the original on their version of Jimmy Eats World’s The Middle (original here), and Jeff Pippin absolutely nailed the solo during Jimi Hendrix’ Fire (original here).

It is worth pointing out, however, that there are some in the Churches of Christ who would object, quite strenuously in fact, to these same instruments, same voices, and this same amplification equipment being used to sing songs about God. For some reason, using these instruments and voices to sing lyrics like Jimi Hendrix’ classic line, “You say your mom ain’t home, it ain’t my concern. Just don’t play with me, and you won’t get burned. I have only one itching desire: Let me stand next to your fire,” on the campus of Pepperdine University is wholly good and acceptable (and even a little bit rockin’), but using these same instruments and voices and microphones in a worship setting to sing praises to God and about God is somehow heretical and displeasing to God.

I fail to comprehend this so-called logic. Allow me to clarify the position of those who oppose the use of instrumental music in worship:

  • Play guitar to Jimi Hendrix = good
  • Play guitar to God = bad
  • Play piano during “The Way It is” = permissible
  • Play piano during “I’m Going That Way” = not permissible
  • Pep Band play in Firestone Fieldhouse during basketball game = scriptural
  • Simply play recorded instrumental music before worship service in Firestone Fieldhouse = not scriptural
  • Play piano in Raitt Recital Hall or Brock House or Elkins Auditorium anytime during the week except Sunday from 10:15 to 11:30 am = OK
  • Play piano in Elkins Auditorium on Sunday from 10:15 to 11:30 am = Not OK

I don’t know about you, but I find that argument hovering somewhere between hypocritical and indefensible. How is using these talents and tools for fun and dancing at the Pepperdine President’s mansion permissible “under the law,” but using these same talents and tools to honor God not allowable “under the law”? Go figure. I don’t understand why some would venture to make this obviously strained argument.

When someone can adequately explain this argument to me (with a straight face), I’ll stop raising the issue. Until such a time as this, I shall continue to raise the issue of why instrumental music is not permitted by the Elders of the University Church if Christ in Malibu during worship services.

I call upon the Elders of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to host a public forum on the topic of the occasional use of instrumental music in worship, and invite all student, faculty, and staff members to participate at a convenient time when all can be present and voice their opinions.

Until then, I thank President Benton and his band, MidLife Crisis, for continuing to bring rockin’ instrumental music to Pepperdine!!

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D. (UCLA)

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.

Why I Oppose the October 4, 2009 “Great Communion” Celebration of the Restoration Movement

The last time I checked, Luke 22:14 did not say, “Do this in remembrance of Thomas Campbell.”

Declaration and Address by Thomas Campbell. Published December 1809.

"Declaration and Address" by Thomas Campbell. Published December 1809.

I wish to question publically the decision to participate in the “Great Communion” celebration of the Restoration Movement churches as it is presently planned. The elders of my local congregation, the University Church of Christ in Malibu, CA, have decided to participate in a “Great Communion:” a bicentennial celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, and a centennial celebration of the first “Great Communion,” which was marred by nonparticipation due to sectarian divisions between denominations that once comprised the American Restoration Movement.

This second “Great Communion” is the brainchild of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, which according to its website is a communion and worship service designed to, “Remember Thomas Campbell, celebrate our movement, sing praises to God, and accept Christ’s invitation to his table.”

Some will no doubt question why anyone would object to a celebration of our religious heritage, especially a lifelong “born and raised” member of the Churches of Christ. However, I object to the purpose and the timing of this special communion not for sectarian reasons, but for ecumenical ones.

First, the idea of scheduling a communion service with the specific purpose of celebrating our movement is wholly antithetical to the original purpose of the Restoration Movement itself. (And yes, the Churches of Christ are a denomination. The sooner we admit that we are, in fact, a denomination, the sooner we can move forward with the progress of the church. The mere fact that a “Great Communion” has even been conceived is evidence enough that the Churches of Christ are a denomination separate and apart from the Disciples of Christ, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the International Churches of Christ.) The initial purpose of the Restoration Movement was to set aside denominational differences and worship together as Christians only. And yet, some want to celebrate our commitment to the elimination of denominationalism with a special communion dedicated to remembering our denomination. This is the equivalent of auctioning off slaves to celebrate abolition of hosting a keg party to celebrate prohibition; it is the very anthesis of the movement’s initial intent.

Second, the singular purpose of communion is to remember Christ crucified—nothing more. A communion is the celebration of a community of followers of Christ by reenacting the Last Supper, which Jesus established the night before he was crucified. The Last Supper was, in fact, a Passover meal, which Jesus and the disciples celebrated in accordance with their Jewish customs. The gospel of John invests new meaning upon the crucifixion by portraying Jesus as the Passover lamb sacrificed for the redemption of mankind. Likewise, Jesus invests new meaning upon the symbolic elements of the Passover meal—the bread and the wine—redefining them as his body and his blood broken and poured out for humanity to redeem them of their sins. This “blood of the covenant” mentioned in Matthew 26:28 echoes the traditional covenant found in Exodus 24:8. Thus, the bread and the wine of the communion celebration are to commemorate one thing and one thing only: Christ crucified.

The last time I checked, Luke 22:14 did not say, “Do this in remembrance of Thomas Campbell.” Communion celebrations should absolutely never be designed to celebrate anyone other than Jesus of Nazareth. But, according to the “Great Communion” website, the purpose of this special communion is to:

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

The order of these four items is striking (if not patently heretical)! We do not participate in communion to “remember Thomas Campbell”—ever! Matthew 26:13 does not say, “Wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what he has done will be told in remembrance of him.” We do not remember Thomas Campbell; indeed, Thomas Campbell is most likely rolling over in his grave! (Yes, he’s still there; we are a resurrection tradition.) The very purpose of Thomas Campbell’s “Dedication and Address” was to eliminate denominations, not to celebrate them!

What is next? Will we have a special worship service dedicated to Barton W. Stone? Will we have a special communion to remember ‘Raccoon’ John Smith? Shall we host a special communion to remember David Lipscomb? Can we next honor Kip McKean? Jeff Walling? Max Lucado? Richard Hughes? Where does it end? Why are we hosting a special communion service to “remember Thomas Campbell?” Again I must ask: why do we worship? To remember a man, or the man: Christ?

To hold a special, second communion on October 4th to celebrate the Restoration Movement after our regularly scheduled communion mocks the communion that our congregation regularly partakes of on Sunday morning. Is our regular communion not enough? I am the first to argue that members of the Church of Christ should learn their denomination’s history; for far too long, members of the Church of Christ have denied their own denominational history and have pretended to be the direct descendants of the early church. We should attend conferences, take courses, and join historical societies, but we should reserve the communion memorial to remember Christ, not Thomas Campbell.

Third, scheduling the “Great Communion” on October 4th, which is otherwise known to the rest of Christendom as “World Communion Sunday,” an ecumenical celebration of Christian congregations around the world, only underscores the sectarian history that apparently still persists within the Churches of Christ and the greater American Restoration Movement. Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address was given on August 17, 1809 and published on September 7, 1809. This means that the actual bicentennial would be closer to Sunday, September 6, 2009. However, the “Great Communion” website specifically references World Communion Sunday on October 4, 2009:

We are calling on churches all around the world associated with this movement to gather in their own communities on World Communion Sunday – October 4, 2009, to share in communion using the resources on this website.

Thus, it is evident that the October 4, 2009 date was deliberately chosen to coincide with or perhaps even replace World Communion Sunday with an intentionally belated remembrance of Thomas Campbell and celebration of the Restoration Movement.

Scheduling this special communion in the first place is bad enough, but to schedule a celebration of the Restoration Movement on the very day that has been set aside to celebrate ecumenicism within Christianity is a slap in the face to the very concept of ecumenical Christianity. In doing so, we bury our movement’s original concept of “Christians only” and resurrect the sectarian memory that we are the “only Christians.” What on earth possessed the leadership of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to sponsor a communion with our closest cousins—the Disciples of Christ—when the rest of Christianity—Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and many other denominations—reach out to all Christendom? To schedule this special event on the same day as World Communion Sunday creates the terrible impression that we are willing to reach out to other Christians, but only to those that are very much like us. The result is quite the opposite: while the elders may claim that this is an ecumenical effort, the fact that it is celebration of the Restoration Movement (regardless of whether members of any denomination are invited) betrays the underlying and persistent perception that the Churches of Christ in general—and the University Church of Christ in Malibu specifically—are a group of sectarian Christians that refuse to worship with Christians of other traditions, even on the one day that is set aside to celebrate ecumenicism in Christianity. Additionally, because the University Church of Christ in Malibu worships on the campus of Pepperdine University, where half of the students and faculty that consider themselves Christians do not attend a Church of Christ, this celebration further alienates those students who already may harbor feelings of resentment because they are not a part of the minority, yet ruling Church of Christ class at Pepperdine. Hosting the second “Great Communion” in celebration of the Restoration Heritage on World Communion Sunday only further increases the cynicism of an already skeptical Christian community that feels the Church of Christ students and faculty reap countless benefits at the expense of other, non-Church of Christ Christians.

According to the Pepperdine “Grat Communion” blog:

As heirs of this common heritage, the University Church of Christ will invite members from area Stone-Campbell churches to gather at the Lord’s Table with us on Sunday, October 4, at 3pm, in Elkins Auditorium on the Pepperdine University campus. We will recall our past and look towards our future as we remember our Lord, proclaim our faith, and affirm our baptism into God’s family. This Great Communion service will be one of many across the world on October 4, gatherings devoted to Campbell’s reminder of what it means to be called Christian.

The “ecumenical invitation” appears to be one that invites only “area Stone-Campbell churches” to a special communion, which is “one of many” Restoration Heritage celebrations around the world. Again I must ask: why not invite everyone and celebrate all Christianity and not limit the communion to just “Stone-Campbell” churches? Perhaps it would be better named the “Targeted Communion” if it celebrates Restoration Heritage churches. Or, does the adjective “great” describe the quality of the four denominations celebrated and not the quantity of other Christian heritages that are not the subject of celebration at this special communion?

There is still much beauty in the Churches of Christ. Likewise, I love my local congregation in Malibu, CA, and am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. We still have much to overcome in terms of our continued suppression of women and their roles in worship and church leadership, reaching out to homosexuals, and with issues of social justice and service to the poor. Issues of ethnic diversity are more a result of the lack of diversity in our location within the city of Malibu, and within the student population at Pepperdine University, where the University Church of Christ in Malibu meets. But, there is much beauty in both the denomination and specifically in my local congregation. The University Church of Christ in Malibu is a highly progressive and eccumenical church that regularly reaches out to other local churches in other denominations throughout the year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our holiday services are models of true ecumenical worship. Likewise, many of the Pepperdine students that worship on campus on Sunday mornings can be found at Malibu Presbyterian on Tuesday evenings worshipping and praying with Christians of other denominations. This is the true Pepperdine and the true University Church of Christ model. Again, why shut the non-Restoration Heritage churches out on World Communion Sunday by hosting a Restoration Heritage celebration?

Because it meets on the Pepperdine University campus, the University Church of Christ in Malibu is also a highly intellectual church. It is the kind of place where you can throw a rock and hit a Ph.D., which isn’t a bad idea given the decision our elders have made to participate in the second “Great Communion” of Restoration Heritage churches.

The University Church of Christ in Malibu is also quite autonomous, and does not cower to the pressures and opinions of more conservative and sectarian congregations within our tradition, or at least I thought so. The University Church of Christ in Malibu should celebrate its uniqueness among the congregations of Christ, and should seek to reestablish itself as a progressive, truly ecumenical leader within our heritage and not simply follow along to the sectarian beat of influential historical societies.

The University Church of Christ in Malibu should not participate in the limited-scope vision of the “Great Communion” as it is defined by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. Rather, it should participate in a truly ecumenical gathering: World Communion Sunday. It should do so during its regular Sunday morning worship service. We should celebrate together as a body the way we always do, and not participate in a limited, sectarian celebration of the Restoration Movement, which was by its very nature designed to do away with denominations.

It is not too late. I urge the elders of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to respond swiftly and embrace the true meaning of ecumenicism, exercise their autonomy and not yield to ideas from another church body, withdraw their sponsorship of the Restoration Movement “Great Communion,” and celebrate World Communion Sunday with the rest of the Christians around the world during our regular Sunday morning University Church of Christ services.

The beauty of our movement is that while we acknowledge our movement’s history, we don’t celebrate it. The entire Restoration Movement was based on the elimination of denominations; to celebrate our movement would be contrary to its very purpose. Instead, we should actively deny our movement’s history and place focus upon Christ himself.

Or to put it biblically, we deny ourselves, and follow Jesus.

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.

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