My brother, 45, recently graduated from Liberty University, after putting in a lot of time and effort to finish his bachelor’s degree.
Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell, an evangelical preacher and televangelist. The university is very well-known around the evangelical church. Being part of a mainline/progressive church, many of my beliefs are typically pretty different than theirs.
So I was a bit nervous about going to his graduation ceremony. I did not know what exactly I was getting in to, but this was not about me. It was about celebrating and supporting my brother.
We arrived in Lynchburg and onto the Liberty University campus. I was nervous. “Pray, Wendy, pray,” I would say to myself. “It is time to practice what you preach for real about Christian unity.”
The first service was that evening. Not only was I scared about listening to Jerry Falwell’s son speak, but another fellow who I knew of from my college days in Texas was going to speak as well. Let’s just say my radical idea that Jesus was about being radical and practicing radical love — no matter what — was not so much his idea.
And then the service began.
It was beautiful. Many people gathered. They sang and praised God.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some things said that bothered me. There were. But I prayed through them.
When we left, my brother, concerned for me, said, “So?”
(My brother is well aware of my progressive theology and was truly concerned I might feel uncomfortable.)
I said: “ Want to know what I am really feeling? In a couple of months, Disciples are going to gather in a similar fashion, and we will praise God with just as much love and power. And while I sat there seeing folks’ sincere love for Christ, I imagined what we could all do together. If we could put down our agendas and put Christ’s first, imagine how we could change this world for good and for God?”
And then, because I had to say it … I said to my brother, “You do know there was not a single woman up there in a leadership position?”
And he said, in all sincerity, “No, I did not notice.”
I realized that it was not my brother’s intention to make my work seem less than that of a man’s. Perhaps the leadership does not always represent the hearts of the group. As a matter of fact, I believe many of our current leaders, on all sides, and the media, try to fiercely divide us. If you engage with people of a different opinion, you may see that we are more similar after all.
So, my Disciples brothers and sisters did gather just last week here in Columbus — about 3,500 of us from the United States and Canada. My project was working on our local mission opportunity. We partnered with the Society of St. Andrew to deliver 42,000 pounds of food to central Ohio food pantries. Forty-two thousand pounds of love went out to the Columbus community.
The whole thing was amazing, but there was a very clear message I thought God was sending me.
As I made signs for Baptists, Catholics and Presbyterians and the many other church-affiliated pantries, God whispered to me that morning: “Look what you can do when you work together. You might disagree on a number of things, but it looks like you can all agree that people ought to have food.”
I know God was smiling. We came together to provide 170,000 servings of potatoes to people in need. And we prayed with our brothers and sisters, and worked with each other like we had nothing to be divided about. Imagine what else we could do. Praise God.