This week I read a sermon in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin by Stanley Hauerwas, one of the most provocative Christian theologians in the United States today. Here is part of what he preached:
How many of you worship in a church with an American flag? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
How many of you worship in a church in which the Fourth of July is celebrated? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving? I am sorry you tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1 as the “New Year.” I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.
How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day?” I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.
These questions and answers echoed in my mind as I watched on closed-circuit television what happened in the Loma Linda University Church on Wednesday morning, November 28. Students, faculty and members of the community convened to honor two Republican politicians. One of these was the late Congressman Jerry L. Pettis. The other was his widow, former Congresswoman Shirley N. Pettis-Roberson, who continued to represent the district that is the home of Loma Linda University for several years following his death in an airplane accident in 1975. She was present.
This worship service, which students were not required to attend even though it took place at the time and place of the mandated weekly chapels, celebrated the dedication of the papers of both members of Congress to the University. They were honored for their contributions to the district and university and especially for their support of environmental protection legislation, some of which they introduced. Their environmental concerns often led them to vote with the Democrats in Congress instead of their fellow Republicans.
Current Congressman Jerry Lewis, who succeeded Shirley N. Pettis-Roberson in representing the district, introduced the former Congresswoman. After her remarks, in which she reminisced about her days as one of the few women in what was then the “old boys club” of the United States House of Representatives, Mrs. Pettis-Roberson introduced the keynote speaker. This was Barbara Bush, wife of one president of the United States, mother of a second and longtime neighbor and friend of the Pettis family in Washington, D. C.
In her brief and often self-deprecating humorous remarks, Mrs. Bush shared with the worshippers some of the most important things she had learned in her long life. These included: seek the good in others, don’t buy what you can’t afford and love your children. She reiterated what she had been admonished as a young wife: get your youngsters the best possible education, be a good example and give them your intense love.
Mrs. Bush concluded her comments with the story of an expert in time management who astonished his students by adding gravel, sand and water to a large jar that was already filled with rocks. The point of the story is not that it is always possible to squeeze a little more into one’s schedule, he instructed. It is that the only way to get the rocks into the jar is to put them there first. She advised the worshippers to attend to the rocks in their lives, spending little time and effort on the gravel and sand. The worshippers applauded Mrs. Bush with a standing ovation, as they had Mrs. Pettis-Roberson.
Following Mrs. Bush’s remarks, President B. Lyn Behrens presented a medallion to Mrs. Pettis-Roberson in gratitude for her contributions to the LLU and the congressional district in which it is located.
The top administrators of the university and the denomination that owns and operates it led the worship service. From the campus these included B. Lyn Behrens, President and Chief Executive Officer, Richard H. Hart, Executive Vice President for University Affairs, Ruthita J. Fike, Executive Vice President for Hospital Affairs, Gerald R. Winslow, Vice President for Spiritual Life and Wholeness and Ronald L. Carter, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
Lowell C. Cooper, one of the Vice Presidents of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists who also serves as the Chair of the Loma Linda University Board of Trustees, greeted the worshippers in the name of Jan Paulsen, president of the world-wide church. History indicates that people who are anchored by deep faith can make positive contributions in public life, he observed. He commended the late Jerry L. Pettis and Shirley N. Pettis-Roberson for being the first Seventh-day Adventists to serve in the United States Congress.
Early in the worship service The Loma Linda University Commemorative Men’s Chorus sang “God of Our Fathers.” Toward the end The Brass Quintet of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine Class of 2010 played “America the Beautiful.”
As is appropriate on university campuses and in communities of faith, people will differ about the propriety of holding this political convocation in the University Church, at the time of the weekly chapels and with most of the liturgical elements of Christian worship.
Although I am cognizant of the impossibility and undesirability of building an absolutely impenetrable wall between church and state, my own view is that it would have been better to have held this political meeting elsewhere, perhaps at the Drayson Center at which LLU regularly convenes its multiple graduation services.
Although Stanley Hauerwas often exaggerates to make his points, his ideas are always worth serious consideration. “One of the great difficulties with being a Christian in a country like America—allegedly a Christian country—is that our familiarity with ‘Christianity’ has made it difficult for us to read or hear Scripture,” he preached. I agree.
Although to some extent one can be both, there is a difference between being an American and being a Christian and we should not confuse the two.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/150