In my 48 years of existence, I have been accused of many things, some of which, I will admit, I am guilty of doing. However, it is the latest thing that I have been accused of that has prompted this letter. I have been accused of tilting at windmills. I have been told that fighting the fundamentalists running the Georgia Baptist Convention, the same ones who are hastening the demise of my beloved alma mater, Shorter College/University, is effort wasted. After all, trying to sway the mind-set of fundamentalism is about as effective as trying to teach my cat to bark. I take issue with that conclusion.
During this entire debacle I have read comments from people who obviously have no clue what Shorter and her heritage mean to the thousands who have walked her campus. They have no clue what Shorter has meant to the community. I have seen Christian people on both sides of the issue swatting Scripture passages back and forth like a tennis ball during the final match at Wimbledon – each side firmly entrenched in its beliefs; both sides right, both sides equally wrong. In all of the discussions in which I have both partaken and observed, one thing has become very clear. A good many people have gotten so wrapped up in the details of what has happened they have missed the big picture: what has happened at Shorter matters to each and every one of us.
Once you strip away the individual details that have become rallying cries and look at the heart of the problem, you can focus on why the fight for Shorter matters. By not speaking out against what has been done to her, you are saying that it’s perfectly acceptable for one group of Christians to turn on another group of Christians simply because they do not attend the same church. By not speaking out against what has happened to Shorter, you are saying that it is perfectly acceptable to berate, degrade, and cast aside people who are not just like you. By not speaking out, you are agreeing that a quality education can only be obtained from people who are just like you. By not speaking out, you affirm the insidious idea that only one faction of one denomination has the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Speaking out matters because then you say, “Enough!”
My friends, I have had enough–more than enough. I have had more than enough of individuals on power trips who are nothing more than puppets of one faction of one denomination on an even bigger power trip. I have had more than enough of these people telling me, my friends, and my family that because we don’t believe exactly as they do, we’re not good enough, or worse–that we are not the right kind of Christians. I have had more than enough of them telling people I love that they should live a lie, reject the way God made them, and defy His will for their lives, as if God had made a mistake when He created them. How can that be when each of has has been, to echo the Psalm, “fearfully and wonderfully made” in His very image? I have had more than enough of people who are willing to support sending troops halfway around the world to fight a mean-spirited faction of one religion, but who are unwilling to fight a mean-spirited faction of a Christian denomination because “that’s different.” Here’s what’s different about it. Instead of bombs and guns, this particular bunch uses the weapons of takeover, deception, coercion, and intolerance, all wrapped in the guise of “good Christian mission.”
I have learned several things about myself during conversations with others about this mess. I have learned that the wisdom my mother shared with me as a child is indeed very true. Your actions (or inactions, as the case may be) speak far louder than your words ever will. I have learned that far more people are watching your actions than you would have ever imagined, and they are learning all about you from the way you handle yourself and how you treat those around you. Words are very powerful; actions even more so. They wield even more power when combined. That being said, you need to make sure that your actions and your mouth have their stories straight.
I have made the argument, publicly and noisily, that Shorter has never strayed from her Christian heritage. I misspoke. The powers now ruling Shorter are guiding her down a path she was never intended to walk. She has indeed left her Christian heritage. She left it when men with no thoughts but their strict fundamentalist Baptist agenda began to lead her astray back in October, 2011. The powers now ruling Shorter don’t have their stories straight. The actions of these men speak far more of their personal agendas and of the people pulling their strings, the Georgia Baptist Convention, than the words of Christianity they proclaim from the top of the Hill.
This is why the fight for Shorter matters. The narrow gate espoused by the faction in control, the one that defines Christianity in exclusive and self-affirming terms, is the broad road to Shorter’s destruction. She was made for more. Shorter’s Christian heritage must be honored. If we don’t stand up for her and usher her back to openness and love, she will truly die. And when she dies, will they come after you next? If so, who is going to stand up for you?
Shorter University has been a light on the hill, a message of truth for nearly 140 years. Now the light is dimming and the truth being obscured. Shorter has equipped us to use our words and our actions to be a living Christian testament. Speaking out and doing what’s right will help us return the favor.
Felieca Cato Cordle
Shorter College ‘85
I don’t know about now, but Shorter always had some of the best professors. My tenure from 1982-87 as an off campus student are still some of my favorite memories. The religion department then consisted of only two professors, Dr. Robert Gardner and Dr. Joe Baskins. These two men of God gave their lives to teaching. From the first day of class, a student knew what was expected to reach his or her grade. With Dr. Baskins, the grade was established on a “1000” point scale. A score of 900 was needed for an “A”; a score of 800-899 was a “B”. I received a B++ once for a score of 898. In Dr. Gardner class, it was a contract. The student had to decide how much time and effort he/she would commit for their grade. As for me, Dr. Gardner would not allow me to contract for an “A”. He claimed that “Since I was married with three small children, I should not sacrifice the extra time that was required and deprive my family of this time.” As some of you may remember, my wife Deborah had surgery and went into a comatose state on February 2, 1986. (She passed on August 15, 2008). Dr. Gardner was right, again. The whole Shorter community and the town of Rome came to my aid. I wrote this, so I can say my heart breaks for the current students at Shorter. They may never experience the love I received there. They may miss out on some of the greatest learning experiences and memories of their lives. Even in the hardest time of my life, God work through the whole Shorter faculty and staff in ministering to me and my family. This is why it matters.
Class of 1986 & 1987