I was thrilled last year to hear my family’s friend, the author Katherine Paterson, interviewed on NPR. I was quite *interested* — but I wouldn’t say thrilled — to hear the contribution of another person I know, on NPR the other day. Another “Silver Bay person”, in fact.
This was Kendall Harmon; I guess these days, that’s the Reverend, Dr., Kendall Harmon. When I knew him, he was a kid at Silver Bay, NY, a couple years older than me. Just another of the “big kids”, into sports and stuff. His family’s very well known and respected in Silver Bay; his mom was a prominent, I guess you’d say, liberal social activist; she just recently died, and is much-missed. Kendall was, and is, very smart and eloquent; but his own personal direction and focus seems to be a little… different…I guess he is becoming one of the mainstays of the Christian Conservative movement; or so I hear. It seems his particular focus is the anti-gay crusade, bringing the Bible back into the Bedroom, that sort of thing. Funny how our paths have diverged…
So it’s not surprising that I’d find my views differ with Kendall’s, on most things. What is surprising is that I found myself *agreeing* with him, in his contribution to this story.
So this NPR story concerned a minister in Seattle, a woman of last name Redding, who is controversial because she is both Muslim and Christian. She started out Christian, but had a faith-moment where she also accepted the tenets of Islam, but you wouldn’t call it a “conversion” because she (in her own mind) still holds to Christianity as well. For her, it is not contradictory to accept both. But her church has suspended her from ministry, because *they* find it contradictory; well, the leadership so finds it: her congregation supports her. So it makes for a good story, and I’m interested that I didn’t know about it already as a local story, before hearing it on NPR.
Kendall’s point — which seems to be one of his running themes, bringing the church back to a stricter interpretation of scripture –was that regardless of what feels OK to this person personally, the scripture of Christianity is quite clear (he says — I don’t know if it is or it isn’t but I think it might be) that you can have no other messiahs or prophets than Jesus.
Read it all. Now, I bumped into this the other day and had a debate with myself about posting it since I really do not like to talk much about me on the blog.
So, why the post? A number of reasons. First, because it illustrates the complexity of the current debate in terms of where people are coming from. Who would guess that my Mom was like that? People don’t fit into pigeonholes, they are complex, and when the media stories try to portray things in terms of American politics or a two category scheme–this versus that–they miss key dimensions of the struggle and the people involved.
Second, this is a good example of what one of my friends calls the everyone-who-has-a-keyboard-is-a-Pope phenomenon on the Internet. You get partial information–sometimes very partial, but then the conclusions drawn do not necessarily follow. Nevertheless the person at the keyboard can and does make them. We have more information in the information age, but, alas, not more wisdom.
The conclusions drawn here are false, but they are typical. I know this author, he is very gifted and bright, and comes from a wonderful family. But how can he say: “So it’s not surprising that I’d find my views differ with Kendall’s, on most things.” Most things? Good heavens! How many things does he know we differ about? We have not even talked about it at all. One difference does not lead to a host of other differences. I have in my email bag from the last year a note from a communications director in one of the Episcopal Church’s dioceses which essentially says: “I differ with you on just about every aspect of the Episcopal Church but I thought you would like to know…”.–and then she sent me some information. The name and the diocese are not important. But how could she know we differ on all those things? I would lay odds that it isn’t true, but it is another example of the kinds of false assumptions and judgments made, all based on one issue and one stand. And this happens by reasserters in their evaluation of reappraisers AND vice versa.
Finally, this is a good illustration of the way in which caricatures get constructed. I am not actually about “bringing the church back to a stricter interpretation of scripture.” I am trying to enable the church of which I am a part to read the Scriptures with the church–both spread through history and throughout the world. Unfortunately I am in a church which is in the process of so losing the center of the Christian faith that to raise these questions means one is caricatured (falsely) this way. Actually, I am regularly accused of being a “liberal” in many settings (and was in fact criticized as one on the floor of one of our own diocesan Conventions at one time, for putting forward a resolution against a state sponsored lottery in South Carolina). That in any case is a longer story for another time.
I would like to see more provisional judgments, less caricatures, and less of a tendency to turn one or two observations or articles into a detailed evaluation of someone else’s perspective. Both the issues and the people involved get short shrift as that is done–KSH.