NOTE: The text of the following has been changed at the request of the author. In the original text the phrase “reject as acceptable” was changed at printing to “reject as unacceptable”. The phrase quoted by the author came directly from the original text of the documents she had been asked to affirm.
The following appeared in the May 9, 2012 edition of the Rome News-Tribune on page 4A, and is reprinted with permission. As of this writing, no electronic version was available.
Tenured prof rejects contract by Dr. Sherri Weiler, Guest Columnist
I WAS RAISED Southern Baptist. Because my mother was a church organist and my father a deacon, I was literally there every time the doors were open. I am no stranger to the Baptist tenets, and subscribed to them for decades.
Two things changed that devotion: the rise of fundamentalism and the power struggle within the SBC during Jimmy Carter’s time in the White House; and the fact that I became a professional musician and was hired to sing in a wide range of faith institutions including Judaism, Catholicism, and numerous Protestant denominations. Singing in every possible religious denomination gave me an overview of religion and why it exists; more importantly I understood that organized religion is a man-made institution.
This knowledge did not cause me to doubt my faith (rigid fundamentalism did that), but instead allowed me to see that mankind’s search for God is a noble, elegant, and extremely varied one. My eyes were opened to the beauty of liturgy in different modes, to the infinite possibilities inherent in any form of genuine, heart-felt worship, and that with all these different options, it wasn’t really possible for one select group to be “right” and all others to be “wrong.”
SURELY A KIND and loving God wouldn’t condemn to eternal damnation those who didn’t interpret the Bible in an “approved” fashion! I am grateful for teachers who caused me to question my faith; my own Baptist mother taught me that unless faith was questioned and tested, it really had no value. It was my spiritual doubting that allowed me to decide for myself what to believe and then commit to it wholeheartedly. And it is that very same fearless questioning that so terrifies and threatens the Pharisaical revival of today’s religious fundamentalism.
While living in Anchorage, Alaska, with my husband and raising our two children there in the early 1990s, a referendum came before the municipality to make homosexuality one of the “protected” statuses for nondiscrimination, along with such things as race, gender, religion, etc. This caused a huge uproar among the religious right, the Moral Majority, and me. I listened and watched as both sides slugged it out in the public arena; as one pastor bellowed from his pulpit on TV about eternal damnation, while another preached Christ’s love and compassion. Everyone who had an opinion was absolutely certain his was the only true and correct one.
I WAS literally sick about this, because I was conflicted in my own soul. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach in knots because I didn’t know what my response should be. This referendum challenged everything I thought I knew. It made me question what God’s stance truly was on this issue. I shed tears about this. I prayed about this. In the end I only wanted peace. I wanted the roiling stomach and the nighttime Angst to stop. I wanted the questions resolved.
God provided relief in the middle of one sleepless night with the realization that he had indeed created this 10 percent of his creation on purpose, and that it was his right, and his only, to judge them. That I could see immediate and long-lasting peace if I simply opened my arms to his creation in exactly the same way that Jesus showed us: with love for all of God’s imperfect, hurting, needy, and sinful creatures. So, as the cliché goes, I let go and let God, and found the peace I so desperately needed.
I STILL don’t know the “answers” to these questions, and I would not presume to tell others what those answers are; all I know is that I will not, cannot judge other sinners; all I know is that the only thing Jesus really taught was to love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself.
I cannot control the political side of this issue, and I make no effort to do so. Lest anyone think I am “promoting” homosexuality, please know that I am not. I am simply not going to judge anyone who expresses his/ her sexuality in this way. I was taught that Jesus’ coming was the fulfillment of the Old Testament law, and all he preached was love. Therefore, all I know is that I must love, and in so doing serve both the letter and the intent of Jesus’ commandment (Mark 12:30-31).
All I know is that I cannot sign a document that “reject[s] as acceptable” any one of God’s creatures, be they adulterers, sexual “sinners” of any stripe, or drinkers of alcohol in public. All I know is that I cannot “reject as acceptable” people who have sinned in any way, because I’ve sinned, too, and no doubt will again.
I AM saddened beyond belief that the situation at Shorter has progressed this far; if I had just once been “invited to the table,” as I felt I was before Donald Dowless’ arrival, I could have happily signed an affirmative statement of faith. Instead I was asked for my membership card at the door and found wanting. Where are today’s Pharisees and Sadducees? On the Hill in Rome, Ga. Where is today’s American Taliban? At Shorter University. Religious fundamentalism in any form (Muslim or Christian) is sheer lunacy in today’s divided, fractured, and tormented world. True peace is only to be found in opening the doors, not closing the gates. By creating a false “us versus them” mentality, religious fundamentalism actually promotes acts of violence against the “not us” group because the “us” group is told from the pulpit with moral authority that they are superior to all others. This superiority complex based on supposed “Biblical principles” is most certainly not “Christ-centered.” It is based on the Old Testament God of vengeance, not the New Testament Jesus of love and forgiveness. It is based on a thwarted concept of justice, and not on grace or mercy. To be sure, it is based on fallen man’s desire to control and coerce, not in redeemed man’s desire to unify and consolidate Christ’s kingdom of love on earth.
TO THE CURRENT Shorter administration: Please be assured that as a tenured associate professor of Music at Shorter University I “reject as acceptable” any contract which connects me with you when our current agreement ended on May 8, 2012.
I am grateful for the wonderful eight years I spent at Shorter and for the irreplaceable and talented students who touched my life. I am grateful that so many wonderful Christians spent decades building a program of such renown, and I go now with a sad but loving heart because I know that the lives that touched mine and were touched by me are forever positively changed by the loving support we all found at Shorter University. I am confident that the lives we touched in love will continue to reflect that love into whatever communities they serve. Thank you, Dr. Alan Wingard and Dr. Harold Newman for the true Christian leadership and loving-kindness you provided the students and faculty who served under you. Thank you, John and Helen Ramsaur, Bill and Mary Ann Knight; Phoebe Pomeroy and the great host of other Christian faculty members who dedicated their professional lives to build the Shorter that nurtured and sustained so many artists as they began their careers. Your steadfast love through Christ witnessed to these students so that they could become bearers of love to the world at large from a foundation of faith and true respect for others.
We will all be forever in your debt.
Dr. Sherri Weiler was until Tuesday, when her 2011-2012 contract expired, associate professor of Music at Shorter University.
Wow – I am in awe at your eloquence. Thank you for all of us. Sincerely,
Cecilia Hurley Raville
Class of 1981
No reply is necessary. You said it all and so well that anything other than a show of respect for your moral courage is appropriate.
Sherri – so well put into words. Thank you for sharing so many things I have been struggling to find a way to express. I admire you more than ever!
Shorter grad 1988
Thank you for your eloquent expression of my beliefs that I have such a hard time expressing. I commend your courage.
“True peace is only to be found in opening the doors, not closing the gates. By creating a false “us versus them” mentality, religious fundamentalism actually promotes acts of violence against the “not us” group because the “us” group is told from the pulpit with moral authority that they are superior to all others. This superiority complex based on supposed “Biblical principles” is most certainly not “Christ-centered.” It is based on the Old Testament God of vengeance, not the New Testament Jesus of love and forgiveness. It is based on a thwarted concept of justice, and not on grace or mercy. To be sure, it is based on fallen man’s desire to control and coerce, not in redeemed man’s desire to unify and consolidate Christ’s kingdom of love on earth.”
So beautiful. Amen and amen. Thank you, Sherri. I, too, have learned firsthand in unscripted ways about what it means to love–and how we learn this is by coming to know and be in relationship with people who are God’s loved creation–people who are so often different from us. Thank you. Jesus taught us to love, and to love more fully. Let us do so.
Dr. Weiler, repeating your last line…We are forever in your debt. Courage, Faith and Love so beautifully stated.
Thank you so much for your boldness, your beautiful words, and your kind heart. I couldn’t agree more. I’m so grateful I was able to be at Shorter with you as one of your students and wish you and Bruce the best for the future!
Thank you Dr Weiler for your very personal statement of faith and courage. I read this aloud in a group last night, fighting tears at times, we were all so very touched. I hope you do not go too far away as you will be sorely missed for your music and your loving Christian witness.
Thank you….God Bless you for your courage, eloquence and honesty.
More like you, please. More like you.
I’m grateful for your faithful service these past eight years. I understand that there are strong feelings regarding these issues, and I appreciate the spirit of open debate. I would encourage you to reconsider analogies such as comparing Shorter to the Taliban or other terrorist groups. It devalues the sufferings of the victims of such groups and undermines the charitable tone of any productive discourse at Shorter. I do sincerely wish you the best in your future endeavors, Sherri.
You don’t understand—our country is full of Christian Taliban types. Seems that you might be one…..or at least more Jewish than Christian. Walls beget more walls and the Jesus that I understand was into building bridges, not walls.
You’re right, Rick. It’s a slippery slope between criticizing an idea and ethnic cleansing. Today, Shorter is denying employment to those who don’t share their ideals. Perhaps tomorrow they’ll be dragging professors into the streets to stone them and razing their homes.
How bigoted and ironic: denigrate some Christians by comparing them to adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions. Is that you “building bridges”? Offensive to Jews certainly. Offensive to those Christians who don’t criticize members of one religion using comparisons to members of another.
The Words Sherri chose to use (or anyone elses for that matter) are not causing the lack of productive discourse at Shorter it is an administration who refuses to discourse that is the problem! Once faced with the backlash from the board’s vote the adminsitration shut down and refused to talk with alumni or concerned former faculty. Please do not blame others the the failure of Dr. Dowless to handle this situation effectively.
What a great article Sherri. I wish we could all just wake up from this nightmare of a situation, but you have done a great job of encapsulating the feelings of many who will no longer be working there. WELL DONE! We will miss you!
I am truly saddened but not surprised about your misguided views and lack of understanding of so many things. While your empassioned diatribe drips with the sentimentality of a life and career of a wandering, as well as wondering existentialist, it is a shame to see such a committment to the fallacy of a religion that has an appearance of godliness but denies the power of Truth. I believe Shorter University has been done a great service by your departure and I am thankful that the students will no longer be subject to such an inaccurate representation of Christianity.
Thus far, I have been honored to take part in a discussion where no untoward, personal attacks have been thrown from the sidelines. Apparently we failed to continue that here. Chuck, your comment is so full of judgement one would be easily convinced you were God himself, casting down judgement from on high. Perhaps some time in prayer BEFORE you reply on this site will conform your heart, and your comment, more to the mind of Christ, whom we are seeking through these discussions.
That is about as much restraint as I can show in this reply.
Blessings and prayers to you, Chuck
I have read virtually every article and post regarding the terrible situation at my Alma Mater. To date, I have yet to read a reply so nasty and disrespectful as yours to Dr. Weiler. How dare you judge her! Read Matthew 7 and see what Jesus has to say about judging others! By their actions the current administration has put Shorter in financial peril, at risk of losing accreditation, and made her the laughing stock of higher education. Shorter is losing Students and faculty in landslide proportions and losing the support of alumni in ever increasing amounts. By the way, a degree from an unaccredited university will get you nowhere. It will certainly not get you a teaching certificate, or nursing license. Everyone who loves Shorter should be fighting this administration tooth and nail! I applaud Dr. Weiler and the 59 others who have taken as stand and but will certainly not judge those who have chosen to stay!
Look in the mirror. Long and hard.
I used to feel similar to you on Truth. But, even as there is only one Truth, another truth is that we will never know the fullness or the extent of Truth on this Earth. Therefore, as Sherri has so beautifully opened her eyes to seeing shreds of it here and there in different places, I think her wisdom is of the highest degree to say that she doesn’t know some things, but knows the Lord’s beautiful heart, while you seem to believe you know all Truth, and that you have a patent on it, as those who don’t know it the way you do are misinformed.
The path to wisdom is not “absolutely knowing”, it is “absolutely understanding that I may not know.”
What an incredible statement. What an incredibly gifted instructor. I wish you all the best as you take on this new journey. Shorter has been blessed to have had your expertise in the world of music. Personally, my family is indebted to you for your guidance, support and your unwavering Christian walk. You will be missed but your impact on so many lives will be forever treasured. Again, thank you for showing the love of Christ.
Taliban is a strong word; I remember when the fundamentalists in the SBC winced about the use of the F word,, (Fundy) to describe them in the 90’s; but it fits, no less than Gus Niebuhr, the great nephew of Reinhold explained that to Bircher Albert Lee Smith in a conference in D.C. with the BJCPA.
I have listened in the last ten days to sharp afghanistani people on NPR explain their situation. One of them talked about fundamentalists in the provinces and I was thinking to similar situation the SBC faced during the takeover. Dr. Weiler and others will want to read Harold Bloom’s The American Religion. Lot of substantiation for the assertions Dr. Weiler makes here.
In place of my blog site I am going to link an NPR report on the status of women in Afghanistan. When you click on my name, the NPR report should come up. If the woman in this report comes to Birmingham next year for the 50th anniversary of the Children’s March; Rome, Ga and the Shorter community in exile should have her come to town; and hopefully Price and Dowles will take notice.
Oh, and this is beautiful. A Three Strikes Policy for radical preachers. Wouldn’t it be sweet if the tables were turned on Dowles and Price and the progressives in Afghanistan could administer at Shorter a much needed policy. Click on my name and read the transcipt.
God bless you Sherri Weiler, you will be missed in our lives!
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