Carter McNeese Posts
This was originally a post on FaceBook linked to this post. Read it first, then come back here.
When I was a kid growing up in a deeply Democratic family in a deeply Republican area in the south, I never understood the calls of “liberal elite.” After all, my family wasn’t elite. We were deeply working class in our ethos, even though by that time both my parents had put themselves through college and grad school. My parents, as white southerners who grew up in the Jim Crow era, were (and are) deeply committed to the Voting Rights Acts, Civil Rights Act, are extremely active in their local branch of the NAACP. We were pro-union, pro-New Deal, pro-Great Society, and anti-Reagan.
When I was about 5 my dad and I were watching one of the party conventions on TV (back then we always watched both), and I asked him why we were Democrats. He said it was because Republicans cared about big business interests and Democrats cared about “people like us.”
I was taught the importance of never crossing a picket line.
And then I went away to college. And for the first time, I saw and experienced what the Nikki Johnson-Huston wrote about from fellow white people. I was looked down for my southern accent, saw poor people, white and black, ridiculed for not buying fair trade coffee or for shopping at Walmart. I was even chastised for “racial insensitivity” for planning a picnic on Dogwood field (we are a farm school) because picnics are apparently racially insensitive, especially if they include fried chicken.
So I realized that while I may be left of center in many of my policy desires, I wasn’t a “liberal” and I certainly wasn’t a partisan Democrat.
I don’t know what I am, other than a deeply flawed sinner trying my best to follow Jesus in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. I believe that we are stronger together than as individuals, that the needs of the many should outweigh the desires of the few, and that every single person should be equal in the eyes of the law, has a right to cast a ballot, and shouldn’t have to live in fear.
We live in hostile and rage filled times. It terrifies me.
E Pluribus Unum.
Last Wednesday a man opened fire at a baseball field here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, wounding four people including the house majority whip.
On Friday, a jury acquitted a law enforcement officer in the death of Philando Castile, a man who had committed no crime and was, by all accounts, doing all that he could to comply with the officer’s requests.
These two, horrific events, are inexorably linked. They are two sides of the same coin of American violence.
On Wednesday, after news broke that the shooter in Virginia had been a volunteer on his presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders released a statement condemning the shooting, saying that violence, especially political violence, “runs against our most deeply held American values.”
With all due respect to Senator Sanders, no sentiment could be further from the truth.
When I was a child my parents taught me that your values were not what you said you believed in, but what you actually did. Values that are not enacted are pointless exercises in lovely rhetoric. This echoes James admonition that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
What good is it to mourn and cry and gnash our teeth, to claim that violence “runs against our most deeply held American values,” but then to do nothing about the violence that surrounds us?
The history of this country, including the political history, is bathed in blood. Our founding dates to a bloody war of rebellion, the genocide of the native people of this continent, including at the hands of our local, state, and federal governments, and the brutal and dehumanizing enslavement of Africans and their children.
We are currently witnessing fights all around the South about the placement of monuments glorifying men who took up arms against their government, many of them breaking oaths in the process, to protect their “rights” to keep those self-same people enslaved.
Since 1789, when George Washington took office, four Presidents have been assassinated, and many more have had attempts made on their lives. In that same time, only one British Prime Minister has been assassinated.
The Tony award-winning musical Hamilton ends with the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr in a dispute that was, at its core, about a rivalry born of politics.
Countless black men, women, and children have died, and continue to die, at the hands of white supremacists, each an act of political terror and violence.
At its core, the conflict that gave rise to the Great American Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona was between Democrats and Republicans and residual sectional animosity rooted in the Civil War.
There is a black wall in our nation’s capital with 58,318 names on it, each belonging to a service member killed in a war fought not against an enemy that attacked us, but a war started based on a political theory about dominos and bi-polar hegemony.
As of my writing, there have been 307 shootings in the U.S. in the last 72 hours. There have been 166 mass shootings since 1 January 2017. Fourteen of those have been in the last week. Five of the 166 have been in Virginia, all except the one in Alexandria within an hour’s drive of where I live, and one of those last Thursday.
America has a violence problem. We always have. This nation is bathed in blood, baptized in blood, swimming in blood.
I do not know what the answer is, if there is a panacea. I am pretty sure there is not one. I do know, however, that until we start telling the truth, until we own up to our culture of violence, until we are honest about who we actually are, there will be more bodies on baseball diamonds, more fathers gunned down in front of their daughters, more death.
It is time to get serious. It is time to admit that we have a problem and that guns, either fewer of them or more of them, are not the answer.
After the very first murder, fratricide no less, Cain, as way of defense, asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to that question is yes, I am responsible for my brother and sister.
Let us honor this responsibility, showing our values, even our very faith, through our actions.
Let us end the violence.
 Defined as a shooting in which at least 4 individuals are shot
These are the opening pages of Foy Valentine’s The Cross in the Marketplace. I recently purchased a copy. It came in the mail yesterday. It is hard to believe that these words were published 51 years ago in 1966. They could be written about our current time.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest, your know, when I get time.
There is a lot that we can learn from the past if we just allow ourselves to engage it.
Or actually: the Boss plays with the True King.
Elvis gets a lot of love. He even carries the moniker of “The King.” But the True King of Rock and Roll, the man that actually made it all possible, especially British invasion Rock with its heavy Blues influence that led, directly, to Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, even Punk, was Chuck Berry. I’m sure you are aware that Berry passed away yesterday at his home in Missouri.
While he did receive accolades, he never really got the ones that were due him. Maybe (probably) it was because he was Black. But he was also a multi-conviction criminal. He was a sex criminal, including raping a 14-year-old girl. Maybe that kept him from getting the artistic recognition that was due him. Can we honor his art while recognizing that he was, at best, a very troubled person? I don’t know. I have a hard time separating the art from the artist; something as personal as art is of the individual, a part of them manifest for us, the audience, to experience.
But I do know that much of the music that I listen to simply wouldn’t exist without Berry.
Here is a video of the Berry and Springsteen playing together in 1995 at a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Enjoy it. Think about the mess of his legacy tomorrow.
So, I just went off on a bit of a Twitter rant. I honestly didn’t mean to, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop.
This all came about because I pulled a book off the shelf to check something. The book in question, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, has, as an appendix, the text of the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, signed in 1973. I wasn’t all that interested in the text of the statement; after all, you can find the text online. But what the book has is a list of all of the initial signatories (I’m actually working on something about the statement and its signatories; it is quite the list.).
Today I saw a name that I had never seen before, that of Foy Valentine. Valentine was the head of the Christian Life Commission of the SBC from 1960 until 1988 when, in the middle of the SBC Conservative/Moderate controversy, the SBC pulled funding for the Baptist Joint Committee and relaunched the CLC as what is now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In that time, Valentine was a voice in the SBC for racial justice and reconciliation. Additionally, he was a longtime trustee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
My point here is that Valentine was important. His teacher, T.B. Maston, was also the major professor for James Dunn (the head of the BJC that over saw that organization’s transition into the organization it is today, after the cessation of SBC funds). Maston, Valentine, Dunn, and of course others all provided the intellectual underpinnings for what came to be known as the Moderate Movement.
As I express below, I am fearful that we are going to lose some of our identity and distinctiveness if we don’t reclaim our intellectual (and theological) roots and traditions.
(BTW, I don’t really know how to embed tweets into WordPress, so I am not sure that this is going to work. If you have a problem reading/following the thread, let me know and I’ll fix it, somehow.)
When we were cut off from our institutions of higher ed, we lost connection with our rich theological and ethical tradition.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
Maston, Valentine, and others were the ones that laid the intellectual seeds that would bloom into the #ModerateBaptist movement.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
This is not, at all, to slight our great seminaries. I am a proud student at @btsr4u. But we don't have indigenous PhD programs.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
#ModerateBaptists have an amazing intellectual tradition, and it is high time that we (a) own it, (b) preserve it, and…
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
I didn't mean for this to turn into a twitterstorm, but I guess it did. I'm done now. Now to Beauty and the Beast!
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
This should, in no way, be seen as a final and authoritative statement as to the state of intellectual and theological life within the Moderate Movement (and in particular the CBF), but I hope that we can, maybe with this, maybe with something else, begin a conversation about reclaiming a robust theological, ethical, and intellectual identity.
I feel like what we have to offer is too important to not have this conversation.
On it is the JCC in Asheville, NC. I have been there. I have attended events there. Somehow knowing that I had been in that building shook me in a way that all the other reports haven’t, and I’ve been shaken already.
It made it personal in a way that seeing video of a cemetery in Philadelphia or St. Louis just didn’t. And that greives me. Why is it that we need a personal connection to really be shaken to the core?
It probably has something to do with human nature.
Also on this list is a JCC in Harrisburg, PA, my wife’s hometown, a community that I’ve come to care about and pray for through my relationship with Audrey and her family, deeply rooted in that place.
This isn’t ok. I was reading an article in Haaretz earlier today that reported that there have been 190 anti-semitic acts like this in just the last 45 days (this press release has the number at 100, but that may be just for acts against JCCs). The article went on to say, as if it needed to be, that this is unusual and not simply the ways things have been. Also included in the article was an interview with a security consultant who stated that evidence suggests that these are not the acts of one person, but multiple and are, at best, copy cats but possibly a coordinated campaign of terror and hate.
This must stop. This has to stop.
Because of some of the community work that I’ve gotten involved in here in Williamsburg, I’ve dove head-first back into the world of Conflict Transformation, Restorative Justice, Nonviolent Communication, and Peace Studies.
We are looking at way of bringing these things into Williamsburg, in particular to our young people and maybe into the schools. Of course at the same time, my brain is going a million miles an hour about how maybe we could bring these things to Petersburg as well, what that might look like, and the effect that it might have on the community.
But what I have gotten the most out of this is how life giving this sort of work is to me. It is hard to explain it, but everything just sort of blooms in my brain when I am thinking about and working on this stuff.
I don’t know what plans God has in front of me. I do know that it is working in a congregational setting, but I am also more and more aware that this restorative work of Reconciliation and Peace making is a part of it too.
Also, I’m kicking myself for not staying on top of the field for the last, oh, 8 years or so…..
A week ago we were gathered and heard the good new about our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. First, Mary came back and told us all that Jesus wasn’t where He was supposed to be, that someone must have moved Jesus’ body. Not believing her, Peter and one of the others ran to the tomb and there they confirmed Mary story. There they
“went into the tomb. He (Peter) saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:6b-10)
They did not yet understand.
Then Mary, who stood weeping outside of the tomb after the others had left, had the strangest encounter. When she came back she told us a story that boggled the mind. She told us about she was standing there, weeping. And then she saw several men. One asked her why she was weeping, and she told him. But then another asked again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking that he might be the gardener, she asked him if he had carried off Jesus’ body. At that moment the man called her name “MARY!” She suddenly realized, she told us later, at that moment that she was talking to Jesus. After talking with Him a little longer, she came running back to us to tell us what it was that she had seen, who it was she had seen, what and who it was that she experienced.
Let’s be honest, we were all still a little skeptical. After all, who comes back from the dead, well besides Lazerus I guess. But then, that night, as we were all gathered and hiding behind locked doors, Jesus came to us. We got to see him. We got to touch him. He talked to us, and we got the experience that he really had Risen, just as Mary had told us that he had.
Well, all of us except Thomas. Poor Thomas wasn’t in that room with us. We don’t really know where Thomas was, only he didn’t get to experience Jesus. And when we told him all about it, he just didn’t believe it. He scoffed at us. Told us we were idiots. I don’t know if he thought that we were trying to pull one over on him or what, but he just didn’t understand what we did. He didn’t get it.
You know, I think that history has been cruel to Thomas. It has given him the unfortunate nickname “Doubting Thomas” when the text clearly tells us that his nickname was Thomas the Twin. We have turned Thomas into a figure that we hold up as lacking, as wanting. We tell this story about how Thomas was less than the others, as if the others hadn’t had the chance to see and interact with the risen Christ.
Remember what the text says about Peter and the others after they leaves the tomb: they did not yet understand.
They didn’t get it either. After all, they had seen the empty tomb but not yet the Risen Christ. How were they to get it. Empty tombs are great, but we can only put it into context when we meet the guy that was supposed to be in tomb and he is up and walking around!
The others got that. Thomas didn’t. And then we have the audacity to speak ill of Thomas. How many of us, if we are really honest, would believe it if someone came running into this sanctuary right now talking about a person we know to be dead and buried was up and walking around. I doubt many of us would take that person very seriously.
Now what would happen if that person, who we knew to be dead, came walking in themselves and right up this aisle. We might react a little differently, no?
I don’t blame Thomas. Thomas is just like all the others. And the ONE time he skips Sunday night prayer meeting EVERYTHING changes!
Now, how many of us, particularly those of us that came to faith as adults, when we were first told that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that Ressurection had happened, believed it? Be honest! I know I didn’t, and I doubt many of you did either. See, what I needed to believe was an encounter. I needed to meet the risen Jesus.
I’m not the only one either. It’s what Saul needed on that dusty road to Damascus. John Newton, the man who penned “Amazing Grace,” met Jesus for the first time on a storm tossed off the coast off the coast of Ireland. This encounter began his conversion, which he himself admitted took many years. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, met Jesus in a Moravian prayer meeting at Aldersgate Street in London. He later referred to the experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.” For me, I met Jesus in a church auditorium, in a group of people who accepted me totally and without pretense. And in that same auditorium, it was Jesus who broke my heart wide open, exposing, to me, the sin that lived there. I’ll bet that most of you have a similar story of some kind.
Salvation is not about intellectual assent to a set of propositions. We, as Baptists, have always known that. This is why we talk about a “personal relationship” with God, through Jesus. We know that it is the encounter with the risen Christ that changes everything.
It changed everything for Thomas, getting to meet Jesus again, for the first time.
It changes us, too.
What does this change look like? The Bible is always talking about making things new, and we are not the exception to that. We must, Jesus tells us in John chapter 3, be born again. And like Nicodemus we are left asking “how, what does it look like?”
It looks like transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Transformed. Changed utterly. Something new. Born Again.
Last week, Joe [ed: the Senior Pastor of Second Baptist] spoke of Jefferson and his “bible” where he literally cut and pasted the aspects of the Gospels that he wanted to ascent to. Jefferson called this volume The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Preface to a recent addition, Forrest Church, son of Senator Frank Church, describes his father giving him a copy of the Jefferson Bible when he was about 10 years old. His father gave him a Jefferson quote to go along with the book, “It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.”
Jefferson is an enigmatic figure. One biography of him is even entitled The American Sphinx. We all know the details, how Jefferson spoke out against slavery, even included condemnation of the slave trade in the first draft of the Declaration In Note On the State of Virginia, Jefferson expressed his belief that slavery was damaging to both enslaved persons and slave owners. And yet when he died, he owned a large number of enslaved persons, 130 of whom were actioned off to try and settle the estates grand debts.
I want to introduce you to another man of the founding generation, a man you may have never heard of, Robert Carter III, or RC3 as I affectionately call him. Robert Carter III was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter and probably the wealthiest man in Virginia at the start of the Revolution. At a time when most men in Virginia were in debt, one of the men they owed money too was Robert Carter. Even the royal governor owed Carter money. Carter had been on the Governors council, but as many did, even though he supported independence, we stepped away from politics as the war began.
It was during this time, and after a period of illness that almost cost him his life, Robert Carter began a period of religious seeking. Eventually this seeking would lead him down into the waters of Totuskey Creek on the Northern Neck to be baptized into Morattico Baptist Church.
As Carter would later tell the story, on Sunday, sitting in service, he heard Christ ask him how the men and women he worshiped with on a weekly basis could, inside the meeting house, be his sisters and brothers in Christ, but outside of the meetinghouse he could own them. Carter came to realize that he couldn’t justify it, and began a process that would result in the largest private manumission of enslaved persons prior to the Civil War.
What was the difference between these two men? How could two men, of the same generation and social class, who both saw the evils inherent in slavery, have two very different reactions to it?
“Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” That’s the end for Jefferson. If you remember from last week, that’s how Jefferson ends his testament. There is not empty tomb. There is no encounter with the Risen Christ.
Robert Carter III had that. He met Jesus. He was transformed so utterly that he risked everything, social standing, wealth, his family, his property, everything to follow Jesus.
When we meet the risen Christ, we too need to be transformed utterly. We need to leave the ways of the world behind us. The world says win, and Jesus says die, as a living sacrifice.
Of course, it is not our works that grant us salvation. Of course not, only God’s grace can do that. But when we encounter that grace, when we see the Risen Christ and can see the scars he bore for us, there is only one reasonable response: to allow everything about ourselves be changed and shaped by him.
“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)
In a few minutes, we are going to come to the table. When I was a child a had a pastor that would use the same words every time to invite God’s people to the table:
“All of you that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend” here he’d pause for a moment, “INTEND to live a new life, following the commandments of and walking henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith and take this table to your comfort.”
What an amazing reminder of the transformation we are called to.
I don’t often provide footnotes for my sermons, however, this time I do want to acknowledge sources.
Information from the Jefferson Bible, including the anecdote from Frank Church, are found in The Jefferson Bible.
Information about Robert Carter III is from The First Emancipator: Slavery, Religion, and the Quiet Revolution of Robert Carter. I can not recommend this book highly enough. If you have any interest in the founding of this country, American religious history, slavery, etc. this needs to be a must read for you.