Posts Tagged Marshall

A ‘heretic’ returns to a formative place that once was home: Molly Marshall*

I did not expect the visit to be as poignant and memorable as it was. After being away for nearly 25 years, I recently returned to the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Over the past year I have been working on a podcast series produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics that will narrate portions of my life as a minister, scholar, theologian, seminary president and troubler of Israel – at least the Israel that Southern Seminary became as it lurched to the right over the issue of biblical inerrancy.

I taught at Southern from January 1984 until December 1994, and then I helped several Ph.D. students finish their work after I moved to Kansas and Central Baptist Theological Seminary in August 1995. Part of the deal I struck upon departing was that I might continue their supervision. After all, if one is not in teaching for the sake of the students, one does not belong. Nevertheless, I was soon barred from using the library even though I was doing work for the school.

As video producer Cliff Vaughn and I walked onto the campus, memories welled up as I remembered being there as a Master of Divinity student from 1973 to 1975 and then another stint as a doctoral student from 1979 to 1983. Studying at Southern had been transformative for me. I had come from conservative Landmark country in northeastern Oklahoma, and the larger view of Baptist origins – or even the Protestant heritage in general – was not in my area of knowledge. A new theological world opened to me, for which I continue to give thanks.

“The administration did not want me to ‘poison’ any more students since I was not theologically trustworthy to teach.”

I did know of the school through my maternal great aunt who had attended the WMU Training School, completing her work in 1920. She attended prior to the seminary’s relocation to “The Beeches,” its current campus, in 1925. So she studied at the “House Beautiful” located in downtown Louisville. Although they could not be enrolled in the same degree programs as the men, the women were allowed to attend lectures. My aunt spoke of sitting at the back of the room (quietly of course) when the famed New Testament scholar A.T. Robertson lectured. Sixty-four years later, I could stand (for a time) at the front of the classroom to offer my gifts as a seminary professor.

For the filming, we began at the library because I wanted to visit my old doctoral office, see if my dissertation was still on the shelf and view a historical display that chronicled the founding, theological drift, depths of heresy and resurgence of the seminary as interpreted by the current administration. Friends had told me of the tableau as I figured prominently as exemplar of the HEResy that required the drastic measure of my dismissal.

Entry to the library now required a driver’s license, and I had left mine in the car. I handed my business card to the young man protecting entrance and remarked that I used to teach here. He allowed me to enter, but soon the archivist was hot on our tail, helpful but perhaps a bit suspicious.

I told him what we were hoping to see, but he said it had recently been taken down. I had seen a picture of it; my name was not spelled right, and I was the poster child for what was wrong with Southern. He was not quite sure where the display now was and suggested that we might look in the historical area of the McCall Pavilion, a relatively new construction on campus named in honor of the late Duke K. McCall, president of the seminary, 1951-1980.

Our next stop was in Norton Hall, the main administrative and faculty office building. I wanted to see my old faculty office and reflect on the joy of lining up on the main floor according to rank prior to processing to the chapel for convocation or commencement. Our names were put on the wall to designate where we were to stand, and the goal was to move up the line as one got promoted. I did make it to associate professor, with tenure.

“Studying at Southern had been transformative for me.”

One memorable graduation when the forces of antagonism were at their frenzied heights, David Wilkinson, then the director of seminary relations, planned a wonderful tribute to President Roy Honeycutt and faculty. He invited churches to write notes of appreciation and then had them taped to the corridor walls for us all to observe. I remember one card, written by a GA group (Girls in Action), assured us that they “had been preying for Dr. Honeycutt.” It struck me that that was precisely what the newly-elected majority of trustees had been doing as they opposed and undermined Honeycutt’s many overtures to find a way through the controversy.

We visited my office on the second floor of the east wing, and I pointed out how we turned the men’s room into a unisex bathroom with state-of-the-art technology – a key. I also pointed out how one day I walked across the roof to my classroom, thanks to a structure that made it possible, even in a dress. The trustees were on campus that day, and I simply did not want to be interrogated by them, as some had a habit of doing whenever they encountered me.

We visited my favorite classroom where I taught many a theology class, which always began with scripture and a hymn. And then we went to the classroom where I was scheduled to teach in the fall of 1994. Just a couple of days prior to the beginning of the semester, I resigned under threat of a heresy trial, so my Master of Divinity courses were canceled. The stated reason was that the administration did not want me to “poison” any more students since I was not theologically trustworthy to teach.

I went to the first day of class anyway and told the students why I would not be their professor for that semester and commended them to the care of Dr. Frank Tupper, who had been my first theology teacher. I enacted the sacrament of defeat and left the classroom tearfully. I was allowed to teach a doctoral seminar that fall, ironically “Liberation Theology.” Evidently, the administration believed I could not damage the doctoral students further.

During my recent visit, I did have a memorable encounter with President Albert Mohler. But I will leave that story for another day.

*Dr. Marshall lectured at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston twice. The congregation loves her and speak of her often.

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Putting God to the test – The Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall* – Baptistsnewsglobal.com

The study of the Hebrew language did not come easily to me. Perhaps it was because I waited until my final year of seminary to take it; perhaps it was because it met at 3 p.m.; perhaps it was because I sat near a window; perhaps it was because our professor was so bored teaching at this elementary level — I am sure I can come up with some other excuses. I did pass, even making an A, but only because I memorized the Book of Jonah, a particular interest of our instructor.

As I have been teaching my way through Exodus with my Sunday school class, I certainly wish I had loved the Hebrew language more. I am sure that particular nuances elude me, yet translations do capture the richness of the narratives. Specifically, I want to know more about the issue of “testing.”

Exodus itself is a patchwork of stories, which were gathered and edited over many years. These stories are complex reflections on how God’s purpose will be accomplished with flawed human actors, and how human choices will impact the character of the divine. Wandering, while being led? It is very hard to map how the wilderness journey transpired, and clearly the people made the trek more difficult through obstinacy and lack of faith.

The wilderness was a dangerous place, and the way God through Moses led was open to suspicion. A frequent refrain of the congregation of Israel was, “Have you brought us out here to kill us?” Moses usually deflected and suggested that their complaint was against God, not him (Exodus 17:2). Because he claimed to be sent by God to shepherd this people, he had to take the heat. He was a convenient target — like our pastors.

God tested the people, and the people tested God. Neither seemed pleased about this abrasion in their relationship, yet it was an unavoidable reality as a covenant was being forged in a context of peril. Could God trust the people to follow the appointed leadership of Moses? Could the people trust that they were accompanied by God’s own presence? Their insistent question was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” We can only imagine the ways in which that same query is being voiced in the daily heart-rending devastations.

They found themselves at Rephidim without water, and once again God provided through an unexpected means. God instructed Moses to take his staff, the one he had used to turn the Nile into blood, was now to provide life-giving water. God’s own presence was in front of him at Horeb, and through Moses’ action of striking the rock, abundant water flowed. The place where this occurs portrays testing and quarreling, Massah and Meribah, and becomes a cautionary note about how not to behave toward God. Israel’s remarkable lack of faith was on display in full force.

It seemed that Moses believed that God had the right to test the people, but they should have refrained from testing God. After all, God has prerogatives that do not belong to human beings. Brueggemann says that this text warns against a utilitarian view of God, in which the divine “is judged by the desired outcomes for the asking community.” In other words, human measures should not presume to assess the adequacy of God. Dictating how God must respond reduces the sovereign one to our level, a risky proposition, indeed. While immanent among us, God is also working in ways that transcend our comprehension.

Jesus’ own experience in the wilderness raises this theological question once again. When the devil tempted him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove his identity in a spectacular way, Jesus quoted, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). The rest of the verse is “as you did at Massah.”

This faith venture is not easy, and we are beckoned to trust what we cannot see. Walking by faith and not sight produces a bit of anxiety, even for the mature in Christ. We echo the treasured words of Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude:

“My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”

Thankfully, the one who was seen and touched by earliest believers, the very sacrament of God’s presence with humanity, walks just ahead of us, marking out the pathway. It is this reality that leads Merton to conclude his prayer with these words:

“Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

*Dr. Marshall spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. I place great store in her theological thinking and her Christian leadership.

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Baptist of the Year: Molly Marshall – Robert Parham – EthicsDaily

Baptist of the Year: Molly Marshall | Robert Parham, Molly Marshall, Baptists, Baptist of the Year

Molly Marshall is a Baptist trailblazer in interfaith and intercultural engagement at a time when the cultural and religious tectonic plates are shifting. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

Molly Marshall is EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2015.

A Southern Baptist by heritage and academic training, Marshall is now affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA, through her membership at Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. She is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

She is a Baptist trailblazer in interfaith and intercultural engagement at a time when the cultural and religious tectonic plates are shifting. She leads with word, institutional investment and a global presence.

Challenging the “nativist rhetoric” against immigrant refugees, she wrote in October, “It would be a wonderful Christian witness if each church would sponsor a family. It is an achievable and transformative action. Welcoming the stranger is at the very heart of the Gospel.”

Marshall wrote in September about Central’s partnership with Myanmar Institute of Theology, which was renewed under her watch.

In a predominantly Buddhist country where churches are burned and minorities are persecuted, her task that month was theological training in peacemaking.

The month before, she did something too few Baptists do. She spoke up for earth care and praised Pope Francis’ letter on the environment.

She was at the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Durban, South Africa, in July, delivering a presentation titled “A New Reformation: Challenging Gender Discrimination.”

Equally important, she was visibly networking with the global Baptist community.

Where was she in March? Back in Myanmar – where she asked questions of seminarians returning to the U.S. “How do you think you have cultivated respect for the lived religion of others?” and “Have you gained any intercultural competency?”

And that’s just in 2015. Read her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, for earlier moral reflections as well as her 24 columns that have appeared on EthicsDaily.com.

For example, she wrote in 2013 about improving Jewish-Christian relations.

She provided leadership also in 2013 at an event to facilitate conversation between Baptists and Muslims.

“Too often we demonize a whole tradition because of the actions of a few. A growing suspicion of the Muslim neighbor has become a part of the national discourse, and it will take great intentionality for this to abate. Joint humanitarian work and respectful speech can foster much greater understanding,” she wrote.

Noting Central’s wholehearted support of the event, Marshall added, “God has granted us the gift of common ground that we may plow together – for the love of God and the love of neighbor.”

We need more Baptist institutional leaders who trek globally, speak constructively, work collaboratively for interfaith and intercultural engagement and prepare intentionally seminarians for ministry in a much different world. Marshall has demonstrated such leadership.

For more than a decade, we have made a surprise announcement at the end of the year about our Baptist of the Year.

Don Sewell was EthicsDaily.com’s pick for 2014. He is the director of Faith in Action Initiatives at Baylor Scott and White Health in Dallas, Texas, which has been shipping containers of medical supplies and equipment to trouble zones around the world, including Syrian refugees and Ebola patients and families in Liberia.

Linda Leathers was our 2013 pick for the work she and The Next Door are doing to address the needs of incarcerated women and lower the recidivism rate of those released from the Tennessee Prison for Women. She was an interviewee in our documentary on prison ministry, “Through the Door.”

Glen Stassen was our 2012 Baptist of the Year for his lifetime of work on peacemaking and his focus on the “thick” ethic of Jesus.

Known as the “conscience of Alabama,” Wayne Flynt was named in 2011 for speaking without flinching when Alabama adopted the nation’s meanest anti-immigration law, and for working tirelessly on tax reform.

Babs Baugh was named Baptist of the Year for 2010. She was recognized for her philanthropic leadership. Social justice, moral reformation and advancing the common good happen because moral individuals with generous means make them happen.

We named Emmanuel McCall in 2009 for his leadership on race relations, recognizing his lifetime of commitment. In fact, the title for our documentary on Baptists and race – “Beneath the Skin” – was drawn from a quote by McCall.

Other recipients include David Coffey in 2008 for his leadership on interfaith dialogue between Baptists and Muslims, Al Gore in 2007 for his leadership on the environment, and Paul Montacute in 2005 for his being a global Good Samaritan.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: Marshall spoke with EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn about CBTS’ longtime engagement with the Myanmar Institute in a 2012 video interview, highlighting the vibrant Baptist witness that exists in the country. Pictures of Marshall from various global events are available here. Email pictures of Marshall to EthicsDaily.com managing editor Zach Dawes who will consider them for posting.

Baptist Center for Ethics will observe its 25th

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Thankful Thursday – Shawna and Scott Bumgardener

            On this Thankful Thursday I am thankful for Shawna and Scott Bumgardener. They are Carol’s niece and nephew. That is not what makes them special. They are very active members of their church and especially in youth work. Even though they already had two young daughters of their own, they adopted two other daughters including a teenager. Scott was greatly influenced by the movie, “Blind Side,” and told Shawna that they could follow the example. Of course, she agreed. What an example! They live in Huntington, West Virginia, where Scott is a partner with Edward Jones. They are both Marshall University graduates and huge football fans. They are shining examples of a can do attitude which is so desperately needed. On this Thankful Thursday, Carol and I are very thankful that this couple is in our lives.

            Thankful Thursday is a special day for you to recognize someone who is important in your life and to let him or her know of your gratitude. Write her or him a note. Call him or her on the phone or send an E-mail. Just be sure to do it. You will be glad that you did.

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