Archive for March 2015

A Letter to Governor Hutchinson

March 27, 2015

Here is the letter that I sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson today regarding HB 1228:

Mr. Governor,

I am writing you in regards to HB 1228, which was voted on and passed by the Arkansas Senate today. As a native, and still voting, Arkansan, I urge you to veto this bill. Further, as a chaplain and candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., I believe this bill is a moral outrage.

If we take a good, honest look at the bill, it is nothing more than a guise for people who want to discriminate against others. The authors and proponents of this bill are taking a stance against something that scares them. And, they are using the idea of religion to push their views onto others. What the authors and proponents failed to take into consideration is the United States Constitution and how federal judges have interpreted the First Amendment. Religious freedoms of all are already protected by federal law. There is no extra need to extend said rights.

Instead, what this bill actually is, is the oppression of people. It is no secret that the authors and proponents of the bill are targeting people of the LGBT community. The Human Rights Campaign knows it. Yelp knows it. Everyone knows it.

As a Christian, I cannot stand idly by and let this bill become law without letting my opinion be known. Jesus tells us that there are two commandments greater than all the others. They are, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV).

If we dictate that people cannot be a certain way, that they cannot exist the only way they know how, then we are not loving them as we love ourself. I cannot tell someone they are not allowed to love who they love, be who they were born as, or dictate how they live their life, all while loving them as I love myself. In my view, that is the opposite of the commandment that Jesus gives. If Christ commands us to love our neighbors, that is what we should do. Unconditionally.

If we were to look to the business side of things, we can see this bill is a bad idea. Yelp has already taken notice of the bill, as noted above. Wal-Mart and Apple have also spoken out against HB 1228. Salesforce is about to leave Indiana. You should see this bill, Mr. Governor, as anti-business if you do not see it as discriminatory. Even if it is repealed in five years, those will be five years that Arkansas will economically suffer. Might I remind you that you will be the governor associated with that time.

Mr. Governor, I hope and pray that you will make the right decision. I want to see Arkansas succeed, because it is the place I do, and always will call home. If this bill is passed into law, the state will fail. We have heard the call from civil rights groups. We have heard the stance of the multi-billion dollar industries that you want to bring into our state. We have heard it from our own corporations that happen to be multi-billion dollar industry giants.

I fear for the future of Arkansas if this bill becomes law. Not only will businesses leave, but people will leave. This bill, if it becomes law, will make certain Arkansans feel that they cannot call The Natural State home anymore. This is a dangerous precedent to set, and I hope you choose to veto this bill.

Godspeed, and good luck with your decision,

Cameron Highsmith
Chaplain

Advertisements

I Do Not Want You To Leave

March 25, 2015

This past Saturday, March 21st, 2015, the Presbytery of New Covenant voted on amendments to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.’s Book of Order. Included in that vote was amendment 14-F. In case you are not familiar with this amendment, it is an amendment to the Book of Order that would redefine marriage. Instead of saying that marriage in the PC (USA) is only between a man and a woman, it changes that to “… a unique commitment between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” In order to pass this amendment, as recommended by the 221st General Assembly, a simple majority of the presbyteries (regional governing bodies) have to approve of the amendment. The Tuesday before the Presbytery of New Covenant met, the 86th presbytery approved 14-F, which put the PC (USA) over the line of the simple majority of 171 presbyteries. This means that, in June, the PC (USA) will officially recognize same-sex marriages and allow them to be performed in approving congregations/buildings (in states where it is legal, of course). On Saturday, when the Presbytery of New Covenant voted, the tally came out to 128-114, in favor of 14-F. Whether or not the votes were affected by the fact that the PC (USA) had already garnered enough votes is something to look into another time. Here, I want to address the people that spoke out against 14-F in the Presbytery of New Covenant as well as other places across the nation in our denomination.

I do not want you to leave. I want you to stay with us. I want you to be part of our collective church and faith journey. I value your faith journeys and each of you individually as a person. We are not our denomination without you.

I was born in 1982 and baptized into the PC (USA) that same year. As long as I can remember, there have been disagreements in our denomination. Even on a local, congregational level, I can remember members of my home church disagreeing on issues. And despite those differences, the members of my home church stayed. Even if they “lost.” They still came to worship. They still stayed for fellowship events. They remained friends with the members who “won.”

The people who did not get their way stayed because this is not about “winning” or “losing.” This is about being a church. This is about being members of the Body of Christ. I do not want you to go because I know that 98% of what we believe as Christians is the same thing. And, as Mike Cole, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant, said on Saturday, that should not keep us from working together for Christ.

Our polity is set up in a very distinct way. Our national denomination is intended to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. This amendment does that very same thing. In the last paragraph of the proposed, soon to be adopted, amendment, the language reads, “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” This amendment has passed and will be included in the Book of Order. But that does not mean that any congregation that disagrees with same-sex marriage will have to participate in same-sex marriages. This amendment was written with that in mind. We, as a national denomination, do not intend to force anyone out. Even though this amendment allows for other congregations to do something you disagree with, you will never be forced to do something you do not want to do.

And, if you disagree with this amendment and its purpose, then I encourage you to draft one with which you do agree. I am not saying that you will succeed, but you will encourage more dialogue. And that dialogue is how we grow. Why do you think the center of Reformed worship is the Word Proclaimed? So we can have dialogue around the Word.

I know that this is a painful time for you. Something is happening within the church that you do not agree with and do not wish to see happen. For many of you, the PC (USA) is the denomination in which, like me, you grew up. This change is painful because it is separating you from the denomination which you care so much about. And that sucks. But there is something you must know: The people who want an amendment like 14-F have been in pain much longer than you. This has been an effort that has been happening for over 40 years now. And all along the way, there was opportunity for them to leave. For years, they were dismissed. They were told their beliefs are not valid. They were told they were not welcome. They were told that their humanity was less than ours. And every time, they came back to worship. They came back to fellowship. They came back to friendship. They came back to The Table. And I am asking you, because they stayed, to stay.

The way churches move can be painful. Not everyone agrees with the way a church or denomination moves. I guarantee you that there will be amendments in the future that will be painful to me. There will be changes to the Book of Order which will make me question the way the church is headed. But I will not leave. I have not left before now, which I was certainly tempted to do, and I will not leave in the future.

If you go, we lose our collective voice. I have a friend who was fond of saying, “I don’t want a church where everyone thinks the same thing. That sh– would be boring!” And it would be boring. And there would be no conversation, forcing the church to grow. We would forget the humanity of the other side’s argument. We would forget what it is like to think about the other side before we spoke.

If you stay, we continue our “Big Tent” theology. A theology where everyone is welcome. A theology where we can be inclusive of all people who associate with Presbyterian. If you go, our tent becomes smaller. It becomes narrower. That is the opposite of the goals of the people who propose amendments such as 14-F.

I do not want you to leave.

 

I’m a Fraternity Man

March 9, 2015

This is a response to the video found in this tweet.

I am a fraternity man. I joined a fraternity when I was at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. The college has a long history with fraternities. Many of the several fraternities on that campus had alumni who financially bailed out the school at one point or another. The chapter of the fraternity I joined, Phi Delta Theta (PDT) – Missouri Beta, was chartered by Robert Morrison, who was the main founding father of the international fraternity. He also provided much-needed financial assistance for Westminster College. He spent the rest of his life in Fulton, MO and is buried there. Members of Phi Delta Theta come from all over the country, and Canada, to perform ceremonies at his grave and learn more of the history of the end of his life in the town of Fulton.

Robert Morrison and 3 of the other 6 founding members of the fraternity ended up being Presbyterian pastors. I did not know this when I pledged to the fraternity, but I do not take it as a coincidence. I grew up Presbyterian. I chose to go to a college affiliated with the PC (USA). I joined this fraternity. I have now graduated from a PC (USA) seminary and am looking to be ordained into the church. Joining the fraternity of Phi Delta Theta is a part of my life that almost helps me believe in predestination (at least earthly predestination).

The founding fathers started this “secret society” in response to the president of Miami University in Ohio shutting down Beta Theta Pi and Alpha Delta Phi and expelling most of their members when they “rebelled” against the school’s administration. Robert Morrison, John McMillan Wilson, Robert Thompson Drake, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rodgers started meeting in Wilson’s college dorm room to start Phi Delta Theta. In these meetings, these men decided that Phi Delta Theta should have the principles of, “friendship, sound learning, and moral rectitude.” That is, the fraternity was founded in order to provide a social way for its members to become better men.

As I learned about my fraternity and talked to other young men in my college class who were joining other fraternities, I learned that most of these institutions had similar stories. On our campus, we had the fraternities Delta Tau Delta, The Kappa Alpha Order, Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Each fraternity had its own national reputation and each chapter had its own reputation on campus. Sometimes, these reputations were perfectly in sync. Sometimes, they were starkly different from one another.

But, despite whatever reputation, there is something very important we need to understand. Most of these fraternities, like the ones on my campus, were founded by privileged, white men with the intent of “improving” privileged, white men. And, I believe, this only got worse before it got better. The military calls of the First and Second World War, and the subsequent return of college men to the institutions they left. The military influence of returning G.I.’s made the fraternity system much more patriarchal and, frankly, dangerous. It is my own hypothesis that the effort to prove one’s “manhood” in the military had a direct correlation to systematic hazing in fraternities in North America.

All the while, fraternities aimed recruiting based around people that would benefit the system. If you were rich and had ties through your family to a set of letters, fraternities knew about you before you even stepped foot on campus. If you seemed “cool” enough, you were bombarded throughout rush. If you did not fit in, you were simply discarded. The system, as so many others like it, found ways to establish and benefit themselves.

And I would like to tell you that with the integration of universities and colleges around the USA and Canada, that this got better. In some instances, it really did. Fraternities have become more diverse on some campus. But on many other campuses, fraternities only became more segregated. On campuses in the South, for instance, black fraternities had to be established on campus, because the traditionally white fraternities simply did not recruit black men. Sororities have the same narrative.

And, really, is it such a surprise? Robert Morrison, while he lived in Louisville, edited the True Louisville Presbyterian, which was suppressed twice for its staunch, pro-Confederacy views. I never knew that. I never knew that, because it is something we do not talk about inside the institution that is Phi Delta Theta. I would be willing to put money on the idea that most of the other fraternities that I mentioned had founding fathers that had similar views. And, we find ourselves surprised when a chapter of one of these institutions says or does something racist. Kappa Alpha Order chapters still have “Old South” parties. The chapter on my campus did it every year I was there. Members dressed up like Confederate generals.

Look, I honestly believe that most members of these fraternities are good people. I know a lot of people who were SAE’s at Westminster College, and I would not speak poorly of them or their chapter. I have met several members of Phi Delta Theta from the University of Missouri and University of Arkansas, and with just a couple of exceptions, I have not been impressed by their members.

The overall problem I have with the fraternal system at colleges and universities is this: these institutions have been entrenched in a certain way of thinking for so long, that it will take monumental effort to reverse the old way of thinking. On the surface, I know this seems like it is happening. Almost every major fraternity has a “no hazing” policy in place. But, I guarantee you that if you could see the system of pledging that still happens on campuses, it would shock you. Phi Delta Theta has a policy for all of its chapters in the U.S. and Canada that requires them to be substance free. Yet, the larger chapters have so many members and collect so many dues, that they can simply ignore this policy and pay whatever fine comes their way. It is hard to beat the system when you have so long been the ones perpetuating it. As a privileged, white man, I know this firsthand.

I will end by saying this: I do not think the fraternity system is necessarily bad. I believe that if we take the ideas of, “friendship, sound learning, and moral rectitude,” and apply them to ourselves, then they can be quite beneficial. I think having a close-knit group of friends to grow with during college can be extremely important. The community services that these groups can do (not all fraternity chapters do a lot for their community) can be invaluable to the colleges and communities in which they are located. And, housing in these buildings can be cheaper than living in a college dorm. It was at Westminster. But, despite the potential positive benefits from these organizations, much of the system that has been set up only benefits a few. There is much work to be done if these organizations are going to rediscover their relevance and start to affect more positively than negatively.