The Scandalous Gospel

spiritoflordcollageI’m in the process of reading two books. One, “Brother to a Dragonfly” is a memoir by Will D. Campbell. The other is “Race, Rock & Religion” by Frye Gaillard, which I decided to read because it has a chapter on Campbell. Up until a year ago, I’d never heard of Will Campbell. That changed one day over lunch with Hugh Hollowell. Hugh is an ordained Mennonite pastor who runs an inner city ministry in Raleigh, NC called Love Wins. He’s also a good friend and even a bit of a mentor. He has been an enormous help to me in navigating this crazy path of faith I’ve chosen. He’s been a sounding board for ideas, an inspiration and even a shoulder to cry on (although, as a man, I DO NOT CRY). But, perhaps one of the most helpful things he’s done is to steer me towards good reading material. At the lunch in question, I don’t remember how it came up, but he asked if I’d read any of Campbell’s books. I said I hadn’t and he told me I should remedy that post-haste. He even threw in a teaser, telling me about Campbell’s relationship with a Klansman in prison for the things Klansmen did in the 60’s. Campbell was deeply involved in the civil rights movement and when some of the leaders took him to task for consorting with the enemy, Campbell answered that “Mr. Jesus died for bigots, too.” That is my kind of preacher.

Gaillard titled his chapter on Campbell “The Scandalous Gospel of Will Campbell”. I like that. I think the gospel is scandalous. The definition of scandalous is, according to Merriam-Webster, “offensive to propriety or morality : shocking”. I’d say that covers the gospel. The real gospel, that is; not that pie-in-the-sky we’ll all be playing harps in heaven stuff the church has shoved down our throats all these years. I’m talking about the gospel that is a message of hope to people who are in a hole and have no way to get out. I’m talking about the gospel that tells me to go find those people and pull them out of that hole, no matter how deep it is, no matter how much of my own resources it takes to accomplish. I’m talking about the gospel that tells us to leave the sanctuary doors open so the homeless have a place to sleep. As Campbell says, they’ll use bad language and maybe piss on your rug, “but, it’s scriptural”. Unfortunately, doing that sort of thing has become “offensive to propriety or morality” because we’ve settled for a mealy-mouthed, watered down version of the Jesus message. It’s high time we got back to what Christianity is really all about: upsetting the apple cart and turning the status quo upside down; you know, all that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” stuff? Let’s be scandalous and piss off the powers that be. But, also remember that “Mr. Jesus died for bigots, too.”