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???

Sneak Peek of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on History, beginning Nov 13, 2013

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on “Bible Secrets Revealed” airing on History beginning Nov 11, 2013.

You can sneak a peek at the first teaser/trailer of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on the History web site.

Drs. Bart Ehrman, Candida Moss, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and Reza Aslan are shown inviting viewers to come and watch.

The series begins airing on Nov 13, 2013 at 10/9c. The series airs every Wednesday for the next six weeks.

I can also reveal a list of some of those scholars who will be appearing in the series. This partial list (in alpha order) includes:

Reza Aslan (University of California, Riverside)
Gary Burge (Wheaton College)
Robert R. Cargill (University of Iowa)
Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Lori Anne Ferrell (Claremont Graduate University)
Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University)
William Fulco (Loyola Marymount University)
Jeffrey C. Geoghegan (Boston College)
Bryan Givens (Pepperdine University)
Mark Goodacre (Duke University)
Bradley Hale (Azusa Pacific University)
James Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Amir Hussain (Loyola Marymount University)
Alvin Kass (NYPD)
Chris Keith (St. Mary’s University College)
Peter Lanfer (University of California, Los Angeles)
Jodi Magness (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Dale Martin (Yale University)
Candida Moss (University of Notre Dame)
Bob Mullins (Azusa Pacific University)
Elaine Pagels (Princeton University)
Yuval Peleg (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Pnina Shor (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Jordan Smith (University of Iowa)
Daniel L. Smith-Christopher (Loyola Marymount University)
Francesca Stavrakopoulou (University of Exeter, UK)
James Tabor (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
David Wolpe (Sinai Temple, Los Angeles)
Jennifer Wright-Knust (Boston University)

I invite those of all faith traditions, sects, and denominations, as well as atheists, agnostics, secular humanists to watch the series, as History presents a scholarly look at the difficult texts and traditions within the Bible.

New History Channel Documentary “Bible Secrets Revealed” Begins Airing November 11

History logoI’m pleased to announce that a new documentary series will begin airing on History beginning Monday, November 11, 2013 at 10:00pm / 9:00 Central.

The series is entitled, Bible Secrets Revealed, and is produced by Prometheus Entertainment for the History channel.

The titles of the six episodes and their schedule of appearance are as follows:

“Lost in Translation” – November 11, 2013
“The Promised Land” – November 18, 2013
“The Forbidden Scriptures” – November 25, 2013
“The Real Jesus” – December 2, 2013
“Mysterious Prophecies” – December 16, 2013
“Sex and the Bible” – December 23, 2013

The documentary features dozens of the world’s top biblical scholars, religious studies scholars, archaeologists, and historians, who offer different points of view while addressing some of the more difficult readings in the biblical and extra-biblical texts.

It is also worth note that portions of the documentary were filmed on site during the 2013 season of archaeological excavation at Tel Azekah.

Please tune in to this documentary, which seeks to address difficult biblical scriptures and teachings in a responsible, academic, yet entertaining manner. The series is certain to be compelling as much for its scholarship as for its examination of secrets buried deep within the biblical texts, that have often traditionally been known only to scholars.

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.

lest we forget: what happens to steve moore and to pepperdine now that amanda knox has been acquitted?

Steve Moore, Amanda Knox, and Pepperdine University

Steve Moore was fired from his job as Deputy Director of Public Safety at Pepperdine University shortly after publicly suggesting that Amanda Knox might not be guilty of murder. Knox’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Pepperdine owns property and has an overseas study-abroad program in Florence, Italy. Moore sued Pepperdine for wrongful termination. Pepperdine settled the case out of court.

Now that Amanda Knox’s murder conviction in Italy has been overturned, the fallout from Amanda Knox’s acquittal has begun. And because of the peculiar actions of Pepperdine University in 2010, the case affects some of us here at home, specifically with regard to issues of free speech, intellectual freedom, and social justice.

Let us ask the question: what happens to Pepperdine now that Amanda Knox has been acquitted?

Pepperdine, which was recently ranked as the 5th “Douchiest school” in America by GQ, actually fired their own Deputy Director of Public Safety, former FBI agent Steve Moore, after he appeared on CBS News’ The Early Show and suggested that Amanda Knox might not be guilty of murder. Pepperdine administrators took him aside quietly and asked him not to comment any further on the matter, as they wanted to keep Pepperdine’s name out of the story in Italy. Pepperdine owns property and has an overseas study-abroad program in Florence, Italy, and may not have wanted one of its own speaking out against Italian officials.

Not long after Moore refused to be quiet about Knox’s innocence, Pepperdine fired him. Of course, Pepperdine claims they cannot comment because it is a “personnel issue,” and “wholeheartedly disagrees” with any characterization that Moore’s termination came about for any reason other than various job performance-related issues (and certainly not out of retaliation for not obeying orders to stop speaking out on behalf of a woman who was, in fact, not guilty of murder).

The question now remains: what happens to Pepperdine for firing an employee who was right?

Moore sued Pepperdine for wrongful termination, and after trying a few legal maneuvers to avoid going to trial, Pepperdine financially settled with Moore for wrongfully terminating him when all he was trying to do was stand for justice. So at the simplest level, the answer is that Pepperdine had to pay a financial penalty for wrongfully terminating an employee.

This is Pepperdine’s (and certainly many other organizations’) tried and true modus operandi: pressure someone into silence or departure on one issue by threatening them with another issue. While Pepperdine’s Director of Public Information, Jerry Derloshon, “disagrees wholeheartedly with Moore’s characterization of his dismissal,” Vice President and General Counsel Gary Hanson wrote in an e-mail regarding Moore’s termination, “We will of course respond appropriately to the lawsuit that Mr. Moore has filed.” Apparently that “appropriate response” included paying Moore a large amount of cash out of court for wrongfully terminating him without having to admit it.

But must Pepperdine also pay another price, say, to their credibility? Can a private Christian institution continue to pay mere lip service to issues of free speech and social justice when they immediately and consistently surrender both when they threaten Pepperdine’s private interests? Not only did a Pepperdine professor became the poster child for the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California, but then, after numerous attempts at damage control by Pepperdine to claim that the university does not pick sides on ballot initiatives (note they didn’t denounce Prop 8 as civilly unjust, just that they “don’t pick sides”), the Dean of the Pepperdine Law School joined and ultimately led Prop 8’s legal team to appeal a California court’s decision to overturn it. Apparently social justice is a worthy cause at Pepperdine until the donor base (or internet campaigns) say otherwise.

Will Pepperdine’s U.S. News and World Report rankings continue to wallow in the second tier of universities because, in addition to insisting that all research and tenure decisions be subject not only to the University Tenure Committee, but also to a “Religious Standards Committee” (which may or may not be comprised of members with advanced degrees in religious studies), the school also limits the intellectual freedoms of their faculty members by making a public example of non-tenured staff members who will not follow Pepperdine’s “suggestions”?

Will Pepperdine answer questions about why they fired a man for speaking out on behalf of a woman who has been found to be not guilty?

And how much longer will Pepperdine students, faculty, and staff stand idly by and hold the coats of the administration as it continues to cave in on issues of civil rights, freedom of speech, and social justice?

A portion of Pepperdine’s Mission Statement reads: “Pepperdine affirms … that truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.” Apparently Pepperdine relentlessly pursues truth as long as it is in their financial and religiously ideological interests to do so.

So, please allow a brief letter from a concerned alum:

Dear Pepperdine,

Please publicly apologize to Steve Moore.

Thank you,

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
Seaver Grad Alum, Class of 2000


More:

September 2, 2010 – ABC News – Amanda Knox is Innocent of Brutal Murder, Retired FBI Agent Claims

September 30, 2010 – CBS News – Amanda Knox Exclusive: Former FBI Agent Fired by School for Speaking Out on Knox Case

September 30, 2010 – Pepperdine Graphic – Casting doubt on Italian murder conviction got him fired Moore says

October 30, 2010, Pepperdine Graphic – Moore files lawsuit over termination

July 12, 2011 – Injustice in Perugia – Steve Moore Vindicated in Lawsuit With Pepperdine University

July 25, 2011 – Pepperdine Graphic – Moore reflects on newest findings in Amanda Knox trial

Ocober 3, 2011 – MSNBC – Amanda Knox Murder Conviction Overturned

on the virtues of doubt

question markI was invited by my friend Jason Boyett to write a piece on doubt for his blog, O Me of Little Faith. I wrote an essay entitled, “On the Virtue of Doubt: A Brief Autobiography of the Skeptic in the Sanctuary,” in which I discuss the influence that doubt, skepticism, and science have had in my life and career. I recount portions of my personal story moving from my Christian upbringing in central California to life as a scholar embracing science, evolution, and the critical method, and rejecting literalistic interpretations of the Bible. I describe my struggles with issues of faith and what I’ve learned from it all.

Please give it a read.

israeli-palestinian peace process during the first decade of the 2000s: an assessment

the following is the text of comments i made as a part of a march 10, 2010 panel discussion at pepeprdine university on the israel-palestine peace process during the first decade of the 2000s. the symposium was sponsored by the middle eastern peace and awareness (mepa) student group at pepperdine. other panelists included pepperdine faculty members david simonowitz, visiting assistant professor of middle eastern studies, and milton shatzer,  assistant dean of teaching and director of the center for teaching excellence, and loyola marymount’s najwa al-qattan.


Middle East Peace in the First Decade of the 2000s
March 10, 2010

My thanks to MEPA and the organizing panel for the invitation to speak to you tonight.

I am actually an archaeologist digging and researching in Israel, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. We work with and rent from Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Muslim, Druze, Christians, agnostics, and even good ol’ American Pepperdiners—everyone. And we did so happily and successfully. We respect and learn the languages and cultures of all of these peoples and I and my archaeological colleagues demonstrate how foreigners, namely we Americans, can work with and invest in the people of Israel and Palestine peacefully.

I shall be teaching a course on the History of Jerusalem at UCLA beginning at the end of this month. If you are interested in taking this course, fear not. Because I still love Pepperdine and remember dearly my time teaching here before moving to UCLA, I am making the course lectures available for free on iTunesU. Go to iTunes, go to UCLA, click on Jerusalem the Holy City, and watch or download for free.

~~~

The celebration of the Oslo Accords in 1993 raised the hopes of Israelis, Palestinians, and many around the world for a final resolution between Palestinians and Israel leading to a lasting peace in the Middle East. But while the turn of the millennium saw some opportunities for peace, the first decade of the 2000s will be remembered by most as a lost decade in the struggle for peace.

No sooner had Israel withdrawn from Southern Lebanon in 2000 under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, some Arab groups, namely the Shi’a militant group Hizbullah, began to arm themselves for potential conflict, against the wishes of many Lebanese Christians, Muslims, and Druze, Palestinian Arabs and Christians, as well as most Israelis.

Simultaneously, Israel took advantage politically of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City and couched all armed resistance or attacks on Israel as terrorism, and rightly so. However, the U.S. was compromised politically with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict because the U.S. could not rightly tell the Israelis not to respond to Palestinian armed conflict, while the U.S. was engaged in conflict with not one, but two entire countries-Afghanistan and Iraq-in response to the September 11th attacks. As long as the U.S. was on the attack against terrorists, Israel had political cover to attack what it believed to be Palestinian terrorists.

During this time of a war on terror, Israel continued to permit and build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and in 2002 began the construction of a border wall between Israel and the West Bank in order to delineate between the two territories and did so using a rhetoric of preventing terrorist attacks in Israel launched from Palestinian territories. Some saw this as a positive step towards the permanent recognition of a Palestinian state on the part of Israel, but many Palestinians saw the wall as an attempted land grab and have disputed the location and route of this border wall. Others have decried the logistical limitations the wall creates for Palestinians attempting to get to work at jobs inside Israeli territory.

In 2004, Israel, responding to mounting pressure and repeated calls for disengagement from U.S., Palestinian, and International communities, announced a unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2004, which was enacted in 2005, against the protests of many Jewish settlers in Gaza. Just as it had in southern Lebanon in 2000, Israel withdrew all Jewish settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip and relocated, forcibly at times, its own people to new settlements within Israel.

Despite some expected disagreement, a two-state solution and a realization of a secure Israel existing side-by-side to a permanent Palestinian state was begging to take shape, granted on many of Israel’s terms. But while the average Palestinian and the typical Jewish Israeli welcomed these gestures toward peace, many leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian, who derive their power and position from discord between the two peoples, and who regularly sabotage peace and incite conflict by playing on old wounds and religious animosity in an effort continue the conflict, began to oppose the march toward peace. These representatives attain and maintain power from chaos.

Following the death of Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2004, and accusations and revelations of widespread fraud on the part of Arafat’s Fatah administration, Palestinian militants stepped up their activity in an effort to stall a peace with Israel, which they felt had given away too much.

Tension escalated with the kidnap of two Israeli soldiers in Northern Israel, which led to Israeli retaliation and a full-blown war in July 2006, a war that I witnessed first hand from the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. The Israeli-Hizbullah War brought widespread destruction to much of southern Lebanon and terrified Israeli civilians in the exchange of Hizbullah Katyusha and Qassam rockets and Israel’s devastating retaliation. The war ended with a United Nations-brokered ceasefire, which called for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the withdraw of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Hamas shocked the world when it scored surprise victories in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Hamas quickly drew international condemnation, and its administration was quickly placed under widespread international sanctions for its continued refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist in contradiction of the earlier Oslo accords, which Hamas did not recognize as legitimate. With Palestinians suffering, especially in the Gaza Strip, and with Jewish settlers no longer present in the West bank to blame, Palestine broke into a Civil War in December of 2006, with the Fatah military fighting armed Hamas factions. The Palestinian Civil War, called by many Palestinians the Wakseh, meaning “embarrassment” to Palestinians because of the self-inflicted, self-destructive damage, resulted in Hamas driving Fatah out of the Gaza, leaving Fatah in control of the West Bank, while Hamas exercised control in Gaza.

Unable to govern effectively in Gaza both because of an inept administration and due to crippling international sanctions because of their stance against peace with Israel, Hamas militants began to provoke a war with Israel by firing Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel’s response was immediate and severe, with some calling it a grossly disproportionate exercise of retaliation. In a military response dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel responded in the winter of 2008-2009 with a devastating response to the Hamas hostilities. Many reports credit Israel’s crushing success to several Fatah and Egyptian informants, who actually wanted Israel to disable and destroy Hamas. Reports say that these Palestinian and Arab informants provided the Israeli military with the exact locations of Hamas rocket installations and smuggling tunnels. Israel soon declared a unilateral ceasefire in response to international calls for mercy against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, who were the unfortunate causalities of the Gaza War. However, Operation Cast Lead differed from previous armed conflicts in that the International Community did not decry Israel’s response to Hamas to the degree that was expected because of the international community’s disagreement with the provocative actions of Hamas. While many other countries did not like Israel’s military actions, they seemed at least somewhat justified on this particular occasion because of Hamas’ provocations.

With the recent election, again, of Likkud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel changed directions and began brazenly to announce once again the building of new settlements in the West Bank. This policy of Jewish settlement reached an embarrassing new climax for the Israelis only yesterday [March 9, 2010] when the Israeli government announced the permitting and construction of 1,600 new housing units in the West Bank while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel calling for a cessation of these very expansions. The Israeli government apologized for the timing of the announcement, but did not apologize for or rescind the decision to build new Jewish settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

This is the legacy of the first decade of the 2000s: conflict. Some argue that this is a step backward in the march towards peace. Others-both Israelis and Palestinians-argue that the Palestinian civil unrest is a tragic, but necessary and inevitable part of the evolution of the Palestinian National Authority from an organization relying too heavily on violence, intimidation, and mob or gang-like rule, to a responsible government accountable to its people and seeking peace and prosperity for its people and with other nations. We may be witnessing a step backward away from peace, or, we may be witnessing the necessary growing pains of two nations-Israel and Palestine-toward a lasting peace of mature nations.

Or, perhaps, we may be seeing the end of the struggle for a forced, two-state solution, and we may be witnessing the beginnings of a much more natural three-state solution, which I support. A three-state solution would formally separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, isolating Hamas from Fatah, and freeing the Fatah-controlled West Bank to make a much desired peace with Israel. While some West Bank Palestinians may initially oppose a secession from Gaza out of solidarity for the Palestinian people as a whole, many Palestinians realize that the fracture has become so deep between Fatah-leaning West Bank residents who are looking to make peace with Israel and tomove forward and Hamas-leaning Gaza Strip residents looking to undo much of what has been done, many West Bank Palestinians are ready to cut their losses with both Gaza and Hamas, and make peace with Israel on their own, which would place tremendous pressure on Israel to stop their settlement program in East Jerusalem.

Only time will tell. Insha’Allah, there will be peace. Until then, we must work hard for peaceful, fair, and just solutions to both sides, and we must continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Thank you.


update:
looks like somebody was listening: “Palestinian Authority To Hold Elections Without Gaza” by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR)

ken starr named president of baylor university

Kenneth Starr, Dean of Pepperdine University's Law School, has been named President of Baylor University.

yesterday, it was announced that pepperdine law school dean, kenneth starr, has been named president of baylor university. it was no surprise that the former solicitor general of the united states and former independent counsel, whose investigation led to the impeachment of president bill clinton, was named to lead a university. i just always figured he’d be pepperdine’s president one day.

regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, and regardless of what you think of bill clinton and the monica lewinsky scandal, and regardless of where you stand on california proposition 8 and gay marriage, dean starr is a wonderful man. he is kind and very sensitive to the opinions of others. in my interactions with him, i have always found him to be a fair and sincere man and scholar.

even though we disagree on prop 8 (he testified in defense of the measure, arguing that the same-sex marriages performed in california while it was briefly legal should be nullified, while i wrote against of the measure), i find him to be a wonderful thinker, educator, and leader. and despite the fact that one may disagree with him on a particular issue, dean starr remains a professional, open to debate, and always very soft spoken and kind.

and of course, he knows the law very, very well ;-)

i wish dean starr well on his new challenge at baylor, and thank him for being a wonderful leader during his time at pepperdine. baylor has certainly gained an incredible scholar and leader.

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.

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