New book chronicles colorful history of Kentucky’s oldest church

August 5, 2014

140730Anders-TE0022Mickey Anders, the recently retired pastor of South Elkhorn Christian Church, in the 1870 old sanctuary. He recently wrote a book about the church’s history. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Church histories are usually of little interest outside the flock. But when I heard about a new book telling the story of South Elkhorn Christian Church, I thought it would be worth a look.

The church has been located on the banks of South Elkhorn Creek — now 4343 Harrodsburg Road — since 1784. But the congregation was formed in Virginia in 1767, making it arguably the oldest in Kentucky.

“This church has an incredible story that needed to be told,” said Mickey Anders, who recently retired as pastor and is the author of An Ever Flowing Stream ($18, Amazon.com). “I felt like this could be my legacy gift to the church.”

Earlier books, in 1933 and 1983, had told some of the history. But Anders thought he could do a better job with the wealth of information now available on the Internet. It helped that he had access to almost all of the church governing board’s minutes going back to 1817.

Lewis Craig started Upper Spotsylvania Baptist Church near Fredericksburg, Va., in 1767. But he and other Baptist preachers soon angered officials of the Anglican Church, the government-sanctioned religion of colonial Virginia.

Craig was jailed for his preaching, and Patrick Henry is said to have interceded to free him. Craig soon led his congregation over the Appalachian Mountains to Kentucky in what became known as “The Traveling Church.”

Colonial Virginia’s persecution of Craig and other Baptists was a big reason framers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 included the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedoms of speech, religion and the press.

Craig’s brother, Elijah, was also a Baptist minister who came to Kentucky. But he is more famous as an early distiller of bourbon whiskey. “We’re probably the only church with whiskey on display in our history cabinet,” Anders said, pointing to a couple of bottles of Elijah Craig bourbon amid other artifacts.

The church’s attitudes toward some social behavior have changed over time, Anders said.

South Elkhorn paid its second pastor on one occasion with 36 gallons of whiskey, and he was expected to keep an ample supply on hand for guests. A few decades later, the church dismissed members for excessive drinking. Now, Anders said, alcohol is usually “not an issue.”

Two South Elkhorn members were reprimanded for betting on horse races in 1895. A year ago, Anders preached the funeral of church member Robert Moore, a Thoroughbred trainer who broke four Kentucky Derby winners.

Lewis Craig and other early members owned slaves, who attended church with their masters. The 1819 minutes included this entry: “Lucy (Capt. Berry’s woman) charged with fornication and murdering her own infant. The church took up the matter and excluded her for the same.” Anders wonders: Was it her master’s baby?

South Elkhorn reached peak membership in 1801 during the so-called Second Great Awakening. The most famous of those revivals was at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, but on the same day, 10,000 people gathered at South Elkhorn.

Anders was especially fascinated by 19th century theological disputes, which now seem esoteric but then caused bitter divisions in congregations and even families. They led to a split in South Elkhorn’s congregation in 1822.

“Reading the minutes, it was difficult to tell what the fight was about,” Anders said. “It took me months to piece together that it was really over Calvinism and Arminianism,” two views of Christian theology.

The Elkhorn Baptist Association expelled its mother church over theological differences in 1831. South Elkhorn became an independent Church of Christ and later affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination. Over the next century, congregational disputes would involve everything from instrumental music to evolution.

After the 1830s, the area’s religious center of gravity moved to a growing Lexington. South Elkhorn spent the next 150 years as a “sleepy little country church,” Anders said. It didn’t even have complete indoor plumbing until 1961, when the men’s outhouse mysteriously burned down one Sunday morning.

South Elkhorn began growing again in the 1980s, when it was surrounded by Palomar, Firebrook and other new subdivisions. In 1985, a larger worship center was built beside the historic 1870 sanctuary.

“I think it’s a story worth telling,” Anders said. “It connects with so much of Lexington’s history, with the nation’s history, with the history of religion in the area.”

 


As campaign season officially begins, a call for civility

January 28, 2014

The filing deadline for Kentucky elections was Tuesday, and you know what that means: Radio and TV will soon be awash in attack ads for the Senate and Congressional races, and even some local campaigns are likely to turn ugly.

The Kentucky Council of Churches doesn’t think it should be that way. The 66-year-old organization that represents more than a dozen Catholic and Protestant denominations and fellowships has launched a year-long initiative to try to raise the level of civility in public discourse.

“The idea emerged from a sense that their congregations are often torn apart by conflicts with roots in the larger culture,” said the Rev. Marian McClure Taylor, a Presbyterian minister and the council’s executive director. “Faith can escalate the level of intensity of debate about public issues.”

Taylor, who earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University before going to seminary, thinks the intensity of partisan politics may be the biggest cause of incivility today, and it often is amplified by opinion media and social media.

“One of the strategies to win political races now is to drive wedges on a few issues that people will get intensely emotional about,” she said. “You win elections by convincing people they need to go to war against people who believe differently.”

This isn’t a new topic for the council. In 1995, its board approved a Statement of Campaign Ethics, which it hopes to bring new attention to it. The statement begins with passages from the Bible’s book of Exodus, warning against bearing false witness and spreading false reports.

Among other things, the statement rejects personal attacks, “innuendo and lies”, secrecy in campaign financing, single-issue voting, media promotion of “undue polarization” and voting for self-interest rather than public good.

The council devoted its annual meeting last October to the topic. The council is asking for nominations for awards it plans to present this October for people who are good models for civility in public dialogue.

Taylor has been preaching on the topic, and more programs are planned later this year. She also is considering whether the council should call out politicians whose campaign tactics violate the Statement of Campaign Ethics. Even if the council doesn’t find a way to hold politicians accountable, she said, voters should.

Religious leaders aren’t the only ones concerned about this issue, which has made politics nastier and governing more difficult.

Jonathan Haidt, a social scientist at the University of Virginia and author of the 2012 book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, sees incivility as a natural result of polarization. Today’s political parties are more “ideologically pure” than in the past and compromise is often seen as a betrayal of principle.

Haidt thinks part of this is the result of demographics: the generation that came together to fight a common enemy during World War II was succeeded by Baby Boomers who grew up fighting each other over the Vietnam War, civil rights and social issues.

It also is easier now for Americans to segregate themselves by where they live, who they associate with and what media they read, listen to and watch. Media choices often create “confirmation bias” rather than exposing people to divergent views, driving people to extremes rather than bringing them to consensus.

Haidt writes that one way for conservatives and liberals to better understand each other is by focusing on the way they perceive and balance six basic moral concerns: care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

So how can we make public and political discourse more civil?

Haidt thinks the first step is to make political “demonization” as socially unacceptable as, say, racism or sexism. It’s also a matter of acknowledging that those we disagree with are not crazy or evil. They just disagree.

Taylor urges politicians and voters to focus on issues rather than personalities; to talk with people and discuss ideas rather than simply labeling them; and to avoid assigning motives to those with whom we disagree.

“The blind spot we have is thinking everyone else needs this,” she said. “If we can get to the point where we realize we all need this, then we’ll be getting somewhere.”


Wendell Berry talks gay marriage with Baptist ministers

January 18, 2013

Wendell Berry, at his home near Port Royal, Ky., December 2011. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

As an elder statesman of American letters, Wendell Berry is being given some good platforms to speak his mind. He isn’t letting these opportunities go to waste.

Chosen last year by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the annual Jefferson Lecture, the Kentucky author gave a thoughtful indictment of corporate domination and the industrial economy, saying it has abused the land and people and threatens our very survival.

On Jan. 11, Berry spoke at Georgetown College to a gathering of Baptist ministers. The lifelong Baptist used the forum to sharply criticize his denomination’s opposition to the legalization of gay marriage.

Berry’s writing doesn’t lend itself well to sound bites. So here are some extended excerpts from his remarks, which created an Internet stir after Bob Allen of Associated Baptist Press News reported them:

“My argument … was the sexual practices of consenting adults ought not to be subjected to the government’s approval or disapproval, and that domestic partnerships in which people who live together and devote their lives to one another ought to receive the spousal rights, protections and privileges the government allows to heterosexual couples.”

“The Bible … has a lot more to say against fornication and adultery than against homosexuality. If one accepts the 24th and 104th Psalms as scriptural norms, then surface mining and other forms of earth destruction are perversions. If we take the Gospels seriously, how can we not see industrial warfare — with its inevitable massacre of innocents — as a most shocking perversion? By the standard of all scriptures, neglect of the poor, of widows and orphans, of the sick, the homeless, the insane, is an abominable perversion.”

“Jesus talked of hating your neighbor as tantamount to hating God, and yet some Christians hate their neighbors by policy and are busy hunting biblical justifications for doing so. Are they not perverts in the fullest and fairest sense of that term? And yet none of these offenses — not all of them together — has made as much political/religious noise as homosexual marriage.”

“The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals. If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.”

“If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians. When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.”

“Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.”

And those are only the highlights. Read APB’s full story here.

 

 

 


A sign of the times, seen today in Paris, Ky.

July 23, 2010


Christian-Muslim group talks past religious divides

November 21, 2009

People love labels: black, white, Democrat, Republican, Protestant, Catholic, conservative, liberal, Jew, Christian, Muslim.

Labels tell who is similar to us and who is different.

Human conflict — from ancient wars to the terrorism that dominates today’s headlines — has often resulted from people focusing on their differences, rather than their similarities.

For nearly a decade, a group of Central Kentuckians has met once a month to do just the opposite.

The Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group isn’t complicated. Once a month, a diverse bunch of people meet in the basement of Hunter Presbyterian Church to talk about their beliefs, their cultures and what’s important in their lives.

This month’s meeting Saturday morning was bigger than usual. It was the group’s second annual Thanksgiving potluck lunch, with turkey, dressing and the usual American trimmings — plus several Middle Eastern side dishes.

Among this month’s group of 40 were eight refugees who recently moved here from Iraq. Kentucky Refugee Ministries is helping them resettle because their lives were in danger after years of helping American soldiers and journalists in Iraq.

Other participants ranged from Muslim graduate students from Turkey to Christian retirees, several of whom have lived and worked overseas.

The Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group was started in 2001, but it took on new urgency after Muslim radicals launched the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and America launched the war in Iraq in March 2003.

The mass shooting Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly committed by an Army psychiatrist who is Muslim, has underscored the dialogue’s importance.

“We were approached after 9/11 by a lot of Christians who wanted to know more about Islam,” said Mohammed Nasser, a Muslim from East Africa who worked as an IBM electrical engineer before retirement. “Some people just wanted to know, ‘Why are you doing all these nasty things?’ But others wanted to understand more.”

The main goal of the dialogue group is to “understand more.” By talking, getting to know one another and developing friendships, participants hope to help transcend religious and cultural divides.

“Anyone can come, and anyone can speak,” said the Rev. Philip Troutman, a Church of the Nazarene minister and former missionary in Africa who is working on a doctorate at Asbury Theological Seminary.

While the focus has been on dialogue between Christians and Muslims, Jews are welcome to attend, and some occasionally do. Dialogue leaders hope to encourage more Jewish participation, although they acknowledged that meeting on Saturdays — the Jewish Sabbath — isn’t ideal.

“I’ve really benefited from this time,” said Omar El-Amin, a Muslim. “We all have different beliefs and understandings. But we are all human, and we are all in this boat together.”

Shahied Rashid, the imam, or spiritual leader, of a Muslim congregation on Russell Cave Road called Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah, said many Americans don’t realize that Islam is at least as diverse as Christianity, and that the vast majority of Muslims reject radical Islam and terrorism.

“Islam has good people, bad people and crazy people,” Rashid said. “It’s the same with any religion. This re-establishes for me that the most important identity for each person is human being.”

Before lunch Saturday, participants sat around tables that formed a rectangle and talked about how they thought their belief in God was more important than adherence to a specific faith tradition.

Muslims talked of appreciating Christians’ tolerance, and Christians said they admired Muslims’ discipline and devotion to faith. Several remarked that people of all religions should be more active in helping societies find common ground.

“It’s a shame we have to wait for a bombing or war to get us together,” said Troutman, the Church of the Nazarene minister. “Whether we see eye-to-eye or not, we can come to know each other as people, and that can make all the difference.”

  • Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group

    Next meeting: Jan. 23, 10 a.m., Hunter Presbyterian Church, 109 Rosemont Garden

    For more information: Mohamed Nasser, (859) 885-9593