Everything I knew about the Church of Christ, better known pejoratively among Baptists as Campbellites, is probably wrong.
What I experienced recently at a spectacular event at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was contextually prophetic, musically energizing, mockingly delightful, profoundly Christian.
Truly a rarity in Christian entertainment, the show was irreverent and reverent with first-rate performers and no money-grubbers, making all faiths feel welcomed and remaining faithful to the university’s tradition.
Between the country music festival in Nashville, known as CMA, and a music festival out in the country, known as Bonnaroo, was a festival of hope for the best of the Christian tradition.
Its name is Tokens – a mustard seed conspiracy to advance the common good through good Christian theology, music and comedy.
CMA Fest had 70,000 in attendance and generated more than $30 million in revenue. Bonnaroo drew a crowd of 80,000. Tokens had a sold-out audience in a cozy auditorium for a program that will be distributed nationally to public TV stations.
The evening began with a confession for why the Church of Christ tradition is so well known for four-part harmony.
“One way to escape the wilds of lust was to sing,” confessed Lee Camp about his teenage years in Alabama.
Camp, the university’s ethics professor with a doctorate from a Catholic university, conceived of the program several years ago, has perfected it and hosts the evening.
At one point, a comedy group complained that the upcoming presidential election forced Christians to choose between a Democrat and a Mormon, much to the delight of the audience.
During an interview with Camp, Yale University professor Miroslav Volf, a Croatian and author of “Allah: A Christian Response,” told a painful story about a woman who had been raped during the time of ethnic cleansing in the splintered former nation of Yugoslavia.
“A soldier has urinated into her mouth. And then she swears she is going to birth a child. When she gives birth to a child, she’s going to name him Jihad. So that he can exact vengeance on those who have humiliated her,” said Volf to a completely still audience.
“If you want to reconcile, you can’t ignore that which is the cause … you can’t paper things down,” warned the professor. “Forgive and forget is a very interesting phrase. If you forget too soon, you haven’t done the work of forgiving … Forgiveness requires remembering.”
In another interview, Camp asked Saeed Khan, a Muslim scholar at Wayne State University, “Do you think President Obama is a very good Muslim?”
The audience roared.
“There are things that the president does that can be seen as being very Islamic,” replied the good-natured Khan. “His concern for social justice. I think his concern, his empathy, for people who fall through the cracks of society is very much a Muslim, very much an Islamic virtue.”
Then, Khan turned on Obama, a self-proclaimed Christian: “On the other side of it though, I think that there are things that he has done that are quite un-Islamic. The idea of depriving American citizens of their due process rights by targeting them doesn’t seem to be a very Islamic thing.”
After referencing the U.S. drone attacks that kill innocent civilians, Khan said to much applause and laughter, “I think the jury is still out on the president and his Muslim faith.”
An audience favorite was “Brother Preacher,” who noted that the room was full of BS – Bible scholars.
He informed the Bible scholars, who were on campus for a national conference, of the fact that they didn’t have to read the Bible in Greek anymore because it is now available in English.
“I’m no scholar,” he proclaimed. “I’m a preacher.” Then, he pounded an imaginary pulpit.
“Oh Happy Day, When Jesus Walked” closed the show that revealed a hopeful future for goodwill Christians who can listen to the prophetic word, laugh at themselves and maybe, just maybe, dance one day.
Even if you don’t dance, the next program is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18, at country music’s historic Ryman Auditorium. It’s already on my calendar.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.