Carnell Reflects on God’s Call to Continue to Grow – Chautauqua Daily – Mary Lee Talbot

The Chautauqua Daily: August 28, 2015 – Our Father: Discovering Family –

9781498218733One of the ways that Chautauquans keep in touch these days is through The Chautauquan Daily online. Mitch Carnell reached out to me a few years ago when I took over the morning worship column after Joan Lipscomb Solomon’s retirement. Joan and Mitch have been friends since the mid 1950s, when they met at debate tournaments. Mitch had only heard of Chautauqua in his college days. Joan suggested Mitch teach some courses through Special Studies, which became his formal introduction to the Institution. Our Father: Discovering Family is Carnell’s reflection on the ever-widening, yet interconnected events of his life. Chautauqua is just one step in his journey from small-town South Carolina to a growing understanding of what it means to be part of the family of God. It was an experience in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London that set Carnell on the path of writing his spiritual autobiography, which he published in 2015. Carnell and his second wife, Carol, were on a trip to England, and one of the spots they stopped to see was the cathedral. Every day at 11 a.m., a priest asks the visitors to pause and say the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.” “Then the most unbelievable thing happened,” Carnell wrote in Our Father. “Voices belonging to people from around the world, of every language, of every color and hue, of every nationality, handicapped and whole, male and female, child and adult, gay and straight prayed aloud together.” The emphasis for him was on the “our.” He had never paid much attention to that three-letter word. Carnell’s reflections on his life spiral out from the small town where he was born. His eyesight was so bad it might have qualified him for disability but he decided he was never going to use his poor eyesight “as an excuse for not doing what I wanted or needed to do.” In fact, it surprised him to learn in college that most people did not know he wore glasses until he got a new pair.

Going to college was the starting point to knowing a wider world and expanding the definition of “Our.” Carnell graduated from Furman University, he worked in an outdoor drama called Chucky Jack in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and for the first time encountered openly gay and lesbian people. He also met his first wife, Liz. Carnell was raised a Southern Baptist and Liz a Presbyterian, and her parents were missionaries in the Philippines. He went to work at the Wheeling Home for Crippled Children in Wheeling, West Virginia, and then to Louisiana State University to work on a doctorate in speech language pathology and work at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Baton Rouge. He arrived back in Charleston, South Carolina, to direct the Speech and Hearing Center in 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He and his wife hosted the first integrated PTA meeting for their school. The PTA purchased a cotton candy machine to use at fundraisers, and the Carnells set it up in their bathroom. When the one African-American board member arrived, Carnell didn’t treat him any differently. “We are all in the bathroom, come on in,” Carnell wrote. “It set the right tone for the year.”

As his life and work grew, he continued to learn from others that the meaning of “Our” was about discovering the world family. Many of Chautauqua’s preachers have reminded congregations this summer that African-American preaching is about including everyone in the family of God. Carnell was learning that — even though it seemed like his life was full of meaningful but unconnected experiences. One of his more painful epiphanies came during the division of the Southern Baptist Convention and a break with his own congregation. In response, Carnell began promoting “Say Something Nice Sunday” on the first Sunday in June. In 2014, the Baptist World Alliance agreed to help promote the event. He also edited a book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. While at Chautauqua, he held discussions about Christian civility at the Baptist House. He wrote that his experience in St. Paul’s Cathedral unsettled his comfortable faith. At 80 years young, God is calling him “to learn more, experience more, love more, trust more, risk more, and to open my heart, my eyes, my ears, my brain, and my soul.”

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Lowcountry Live Interview – Our Father: Discovering Family



Our Father: Discovering Family Reviewed by Dr. Glenn Hinson – Baptist Seminary of Kentucky

I hope you will forgive me for not responding when I received a copy of your autobiography.  I intended to read it promptly and write, but several other jobs intervened.

The brevity of your memoirs chastened me.  I couldn’t help thinking that my autobiography, A Miracle of Grace, is nearly 500 pages. The conciseness of yours says something about you and your modesty. My expansiveness bears witness to either a big ego or low self-esteem.

That confession aside, so much in your story touched my heart and edified me.  One reason for that is the humble and honest way you told your story.  You told me something I had never noticed—that you have poor eyesight.  As I listened to your account, however, I heard echoes of a truth Douglas Steere often reiterated: Life’s interruptions often turn out to be God’s opportunities.” Coping with limited vision had a lot to do with the character and personality of the Mitch Carnell I’ve been privileged to know.

From the first time we met, Mitch, I’ve felt a sense of kinship with you, and Our Father has heightened that sense.  One thing that could account for it might be some people who’ve crossed both of our paths and left their mark on us.  John Claypool is the person who prompted me to do graduate studies at Southern, and he always remained a model figure in my life.  Several of those to whom you ascribe an important place in the shaping of who you are were my students at one time or another at Southern Seminary: Tom McKibbens, Mollie Marshall, Scott Walker, Scott McBroom, John Hughes.  All were among the very best students I ever taught, and I’ve maintained some contact with all except John Hughes up to now.

You and I have both borne a lot of pain in watching what has happened to the Southern Baptist Convention.  In reading Our Father I could see that you experienced the trauma at the local church level, whereas you will see that most of my agony connected with Southern Seminary, where I taught for more than thirty years.  As a matter of fact, a compulsion to explain why I did what I did prompted me to write an autobiography.  I had misgivings about doing so, as I suspect you have, for it takes a big ego to do that.  Like most autobiographies, it is an apologia pro vita sua, to borrow the tile of John Henry Newman’s autobiography.  I felt that others needed to know why I opposed fundamentalism so vigorously and predicted, as I think you can now see, that it would severely damage the work of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Southern Seminary is today the most glaring example of the basic objective they had in taking over the seminary: prepare ministers to lead churches and people in a culture that hasn’t existed for a century, if ever.  What says that more clearly than the Creation Science Center at Southern and insistence that the earth can’t be more than 7,000 years old!

Despite that bleak prognosis, Mitch, I’ve always felt that even churches headed by fundamentalist pastors had members who adhered to our basic Baptist tenets: the voluntary principle in religion (“To be authentic and responsible, faith must be free.”), religious liberty, separation of church and state as a way to guard it, and voluntary association to carry out the world mission of Christ.  Our Father confirms me in such thinking.  You may have engaged in fierce debate at FBC, Charleston, but you and others persevered and helped to right a listing ship.  For that I thank God.

My sincerest thanks for your friendship.Glenn Hinson, Professor, Baptist Seminaro of Kentucky

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Our Father: Discovering Family, Discussion at Presbyterian Village

On July 30, I had the opportunity to discuss my new book, Our Father: Discovering Family, at Presbyterian Village. Afterwards there was an excellent give and take question and answer period. Several longtime friends are residents at the Village and Rose and Bob Boston came just for the event.

One of the questions raised dealt with how considering my viewpoint on race relations had I managed to survive in a culture that did not always support my views. The answer is that it hasn’t always been easy, but that you just have to remain true to yourself. I gave several examples from the book.

A second much harder question was, “Do you think the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston would help to soften people’s attitudes toward race on a long term basis?” My answer is that I have serious doubts about a real change of heart. It is easy to say and do the right thing when the cameras are on, but much harder as time moves forward. I doubt that the white religious leaders will now campaign for expanded Medicaid, an increased minimum wage or more reasonable gun laws. In so many cases the congregations are ahead of the clergy. I discovered that condition when I was a student volunteer at Furman University.

It was encouraging when several of these attendees were still talking about our Say Something Nice campaign. That is part of the second portion of the book in which I discuss discovering the purpose for the remainder of my life: helping Christians communicate in a more Christ-like manner.

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