Wednesday, April 06, 2005

So, to atone...

Here's the transcript of testimony given by a Baptist preacher last week at a hearing on a bill to ban gay marriage in South Carolina. It arrived in my e-mail this morning.

I don't offer it as an endorsement of a religion -- as I said in my previous post, I am not a Christian. I don't offer it as proof that all Southerners are right on race or sexuality, or even that the preacher is representative of most Southern Baptist preachers. I offer it as an example of what speaking from love instead of fear can sound like... and why I believe so passionately that it's possible to imagine a less-divided society than the one in which we live.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Shrum
Pastor, Oakland Baptist Church, Rock Hill SC

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing
On the Proposed Constitutional Amendment Barring Gay Marriage
Room 306, Senate Office Building (Gressette Building)
March 31, 2005 (1:30 p.m.)
By the Rev. Dr. Robert Dale Shrum

Chairman Ford, Senator Hawkins, Senator Cleary and Senator Hutto: good afternoon, and thank you for hearing me today.

I am Bob Shrum, and I am a resident of Rock Hill where I have been the pastor of the Oakland Baptist Church for over 22 years. I have served two other Baptist congregations in Sumter and Pendleton. My pastoral service to Baptist churches in South Carolina has spanned more than 34 consecutive years. I grew up in Florence, and graduated from the University of South Carolina. I have deep roots here, and I love this state of ours. I am Sandlapper to the core. My remarks to you this afternoon grow, basically, out of two loves: my love of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and what I have learned through the years of him, and my love of this wonderful state where most of my almost 60 years have been spent. Please hear them in that light.

First of all, let me tell you that I speak for myself. I do not speak for the Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill or any other group or individual. If any of you are Baptist, you know that Baptists do not speak for each other. We're funny that way. We like our independence and resent it when others pretend to speak for us. Additionally, you should know that I am not gay, nor do I have---to my knowledge--- any family members who are gay. Quite simply, my remarks to you grow from conscience and deeply held convictions informed by Christian faith and over 40 years study of the Scriptures.

Let me tell you a story. When I was a little boy growing up in Florence, my Daddy was the manager of the Goodyear Tire Store on Irby St. He was good at what he did. Everybody admired him, and so did I. He was a Deacon in the First Baptist Church where we were members.

One night---long after we had gone to bed---the telephone rang. It was from one of the men who worked back in his service department. He was in jail over in Marion and needed somebody to come get him out, so he called my Daddy. His crime? He was black and driving around after midnight, and it was in the 1950's. They arrested him on the pretense of suspicious behavior.

In the wee hours of the morning my Daddy climbed into his '56 Ford with a T Bird engine and flew over to Marion. Not only did he get his employee out of jail that night, but the local sheriff got a real large piece of my Daddy's mind when he tried to laugh it all off and say "no harm done."

I asked him about it the next night. I was 12 years old, and I wanted to know why he went to all the trouble. His explanation, "Bobby, it just wasn't right."

I learned a lesson from my Daddy that night that I carry into this room today: IT'S JUST PLAIN NOT RIGHT TO TREAT FOLKS LIKE THEY DON'T COUNT---LIKE THEY'RE NOT REAL PEOPLE.

But there's something else I bring into this room today. I have to believe it's a big part of what my Daddy took to that jail in Marion that night. It's the life, influence and example of Jesus, himself.

Now, if you're not a Christian, maybe that's not all that important to you. But I am a Christian, and it's real important to me, so I have to speak out of what, in my heart, is foundational. And, for me, it's Jesus. It's not Leviticus. It's not even Paul because sometimes Paul sends mixed signals. It's not the Pope. It's not denominational headquarters. It's not the religious figures who speak so loudly and
authoritatively so as to drown out all those who would differ. I look to Jesus when I am puzzled and don't have all the answers like I wish I had.

I had a teacher in seminary. Old Testament teacher. Clyde Francisco was his name. Dr. Francisco used to tell us, "Now boys, remember this: whenever you get stumped trying to understand the meaning of something in the Bible, just let Jesus be your interpreter. Let the spirit of Christ be your guide, and you won't go wrong."

And that's what I try to do. And, to tell the truth, it's not always so easy. It's not easy because lots of times I would rather let my prejudices guide me. After all, I've lived long enough to know what's right and what's wrong, and I'd like to think that most of the time I'm right, and those who don't agree with me are wrong. That's why I have to try real hard to let the spirit of Christ be my guide. And whenever I've been successful at pulling that off, I never go wrong.

And I commend that to you today if you're in a quandary about what to do with this big, big question you're dealing with. If you approach it with the spirit of Christ, you won't go wrong.

So, what does the spirit of Christ look like? What does it smell like? What does it sound like?

It's a bunch of blue-collar fishermen. It's a despised tax collector. It's a colony of lepers. It's a hated Roman soldier with a sick son. It's hungry people being fed. It's the children who they tried to keep quiet and out of sight. It's a woman married five times that he made feel worthy. It's another woman caught in adultery that the religious establishment wanted to execute, but he set her free. It's a Samaritan man who the church people hated, but Jesus made him a hero. It was a little old lady so poor that she only had a few pennies for the offering plate, and Jesus held her up as an example for the ages. It was a woman of the streets who became one of his best friends. It was a thief on a cross that he took home with him.

You see, the religious experts of his time called him a drunk and a glutton because he went to parties with them, and they despised him because he hung out with the folks who were on the margins of respectable society---the disenfranchised ones---the ones they called the dregs of society. And they killed him for it. BUT THAT WAS HIS SPIRIT. And it was a spirit that ultimately would not, could not go wrong.

Last Sunday---Easter---amidst all our "Hallelujahs, He is risen" we reminded ourselves that it is that kind of spirit that will always, always prevail. Easter tells us that God will not allow the spirit of Christ to be defeated. We may try to kill it with our hateful attitudes, but at the end of the day, it will be our hateful attitudes toward "the least of these" that will go down to defeat.

Can't we see it? Jesus refused to marginalize any segment of society. They were all God's children and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. And he only reserved his harshest word for the religious/political establishment which had become quite adept at fixing their constitutions to separate the decent folk from the different folk. He said they were like tombstones---pretty and white on the outside, but dead and empty on the inside.

So, I appeal to you today. Let the Spirit of Christ guide you even if you are not a Christian. You won't go wrong if you do. Do not use the Constitution of our beloved state to marginalize a segment of our citizenry. Do not listen to the fear-mongers. They have always been among us throughout our history trying to scare us with their doomsday scenarios, trying to marginalize one segment of society and then another. And, they have always been proven wrong at the end of the day.

Trust the spirit of Christ. Trust Easter. Or as my Daddy might have said, "IT'S JUST PLAIN NOT RIGHT TO TREAT FOLKS LIKE THEY DON'T COUNT."

Thank you for your time.