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.