Welcome to the blog of Bishop Will Willimon, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School. Here you will find articles, sermons, lectures and other offerings from Will Willimon.
Dr. Ozzie Ostwalt, Professor of Religious Studies at Appalachian State University, recently interviewed me about my book, Fear of the Other. I wanted to share that conversation with you, I hope you find it insightful!
I want to give public testimony to counter all of you who believe that all Republican politicians in Alabama are sexual predators. True, ex-Governor Bentley was recently hounded from office because of his sexual misconduct and misappropriation of state funds to finance his illicit affair. Now comes Roy Moore. I always heard rumors that Moore was a scoundrel. His blatant disregard for the Constitution got him removed as a judge not once, but twice. Now we discover that Moore is even worse than we thought.
I remember, when Moore was garnering publicity in his campaign to put the Ten Commandments in all courtrooms in Alabama, a Methodist layman said, “Roy needs to check out the Seventh Commandment before he gets ‘em posted everywhere. He could be vulnerable on that one.”
Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defends Moore by dismissing his sexual conduct as typical of any single, thirty-year-old male in Alabama. If that’s not bad enough, Ziegler blasphemously compares Roy to Saint Joseph—Mary was probably a young woman at the time that Joseph married her. And look, says Ziegler, “They became parents of Jesus!” Ziegler also cites Zechariah as a possible predator comparable in sanctity to Moore. That’s sure to go down in the annals of our faith as the worst biblical interpretation ever, worse even than Roy’s or Robert’s self-justification through scripture.
Robert Bentley got kicked out of the Tuscaloosa First Baptist Church for good reason, despite Bentley’s attempts to cover his sin with references to the Christian faith. Not sure where Roy goes to church, but surely the deacons are meeting. Jefferson Beauregard, beware!
Surely, few people expect Trump to display Christian values or morality—his exposure to and commitment to the Christian faith have been minimal at best. But the sight of Moore and Bentley, wrapping themselves in the cross of Christ, invoking the Bible to sanction their behavior, is disgusting.
Alabama is partly in an economic, social, and political fix due to its propensity to choose leaders who exemplify the worst in us. You would be justified in thinking that all Alabama Republicans are morally bankrupt. And yet, you would be wrong to do so. One of the greatest Christian politicians I’ve had the privilege to meet is Alabama’s former governor, Bob Riley. Now there’s an Alabama Republican, Baptist Christian who sets a fine example for us all.
In his years as governor, Bob Riley labored (often against his own party) to offer wonderfully responsive, merciful leadership inspired by Christ rather than by mean-spirited, self-interested racial resentment. A highlight of my ministry were my prayer sessions with the governor and his staff in his office in Montgomery in which Riley led us in prayer after thoughtful, intense study of the scriptures. Bob Riley said, in one of those sessions, “Maybe there are members of my party who can drive by the trailer of some single parent who is working two jobs and trying to keep her family together and say, ‘It’s not my business,’ but I just can’t do it.”
He asked every congregation in Alabama to help the state’s terrible back-to-prison problem by taking one recently released prisoner and helping that person get back on his feet. I’m sad to say, the governor’s faith in our churches was misplaced. We were unable to rise to the governor’s challenge.
Governor Riley fought for change of Alabama’s racist constitution, attempted to change the unfair state tax code (failing at both because of resentful people in his own party), and thereby gave me a glimpse into the huge challenges faced by a consecrated Christian leader, and almost converted me into voting Republican. Almost.
Before I moved to Alabama I remember hearing Governor Riley being interviewed by NPR on his fight to change the tax structure in Alabama. The interviewer said something like, “Governor, why are you doing this after your own Republican party has gone against you, when you have so little chance of changing their minds?”
“I just think this is right,” said Governor Riley. The reporter continued to express confusion about why Riley had taken on this fight.
“Er, I guess because I’m a Christian,” he finally responded. “This is what our Lord would expect of us.”
I nearly lost control of my car on the interstate.
Bless you, Bob Riley, for your Christian witness in a sad time in our nation’s life.
IWill Willimon was United Methodist bishop of the North Alabama Conference from 2004 until 2012.
When he received an honorary degree at the University of Aberdeen this past summer, my friend Stanley Hauerwas gave what may be the shortest commencement address on record. He said, in about five minutes, “Do not lie.”
Jesus said that he was not only the way and the life but also the truth. Christians don’t lie. We don’t lie because lying is the death of human community, or it’s impossible to be with one another in relationship when there is a pattern of lying. We don’t lie because it’s our job to show that Jesus Christ makes possible lives of truth in a world of lies. Continue reading
I had the chance to sit down and discuss Who Lynched Willie Earle? with Dean Timothy George and Beeson Divinity School. I appreciated the conversation with Dean George, and I hope you will, too! You can listen in here.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed writing for the Upper Room Disciplines. Our family thinks this is the best devotional resource. The devotions follow the texts of the Ecumenical Lectionary and are great preparation for hearing those texts preached in church on Sunday. I am the writer for this week and have enjoyed the responses I’ve received from readers. Here is my meditation for All Saints Eve:
Revelation 7:9-17 (Eve of All Saints)
“Halloween,” the psychologist explained, “is a creative way of dealing with our deepest fears by putting on a scary mask, a costume, and making fun of our fear that something horrible lurks in the dark.”
If that’s true, Halloween is a sad trivialization of the church’s All Saints Eve, a pitiful attempt to lay aside our deepest fears merely by mocking them.
“My mother attempted to reassure me, when I would wake terrified of the night, ‘Honey, there’s nothing to fear in the dark,’” recalled a friend. “After I lost my job, endured my daughter’s terrible illness, and my husband’s infidelity, I now know — Mom was wrong.”
Christians do not deny the darkness. We admit the reality of evil and pain even in this often beautiful world. We are able to be truthful about the forces that lurk because we have been let in on the last act of the play, the last chapter of the story, the outcome of the battle.
When Revelation 7 lifts the curtain on our ending, we catch a vision of the world when God at last gets what God has always wanted. In the end, when all is said and done, when the forces that cause us sometimes to suffer and weep are defeated, the once crucified Lamb shall reign “at the center of the throne.” Every fear defeated, every tear wiped away, not because of our creative denial of the darkness but rather because of the victory of the Lamb.
We don’t have to don a happy face mask and make fun of our fears. We have a story about where this wonderful, sometimes terrifying life is headed. At the end there is not fearful oblivion, evil’s triumph, eternal tears. In the end, God.
Let tomorrow’s All Saints good news be your comfort today and into eternity.
Lord Jesus, knowing that you not only love us but also will one day reign for us keeps us going today. Amen.
A Review of Who Lynched Willie Earle?
This is a small book, only 132 pages long, but as I read it I knew I was holding something weighty. Who Lynched Willie Earle? is, like the sermon from which the title was taken, a bold book. Will Willimon is a Duke professor and a retired bishop of the North Alabama conference of the United Methodist Church. He’s also a white southerner. The prelude to the book begins with Willimon recalling a defining moment he had as a college aged student seeking advice regarding his academic future. He stood in Dr. Jones’s office asking for help with his academic future when he first learned about the lynching of a young man named Willie Earle. This lynching, he came to understand, took place in his own community. Willimon writes, “Thus began my life with the dead: Willie Earle, who was lynched; Hawley Lynn, the Pickens preacher who spoke up; the Greenvillians who murdered him; the Greenvillians who acquitted the killers; and those who tried to forget–until God made me a preacher.” Continue reading
Once again Donald Trump has engaged in racial epithets in a vain attempt to distract America from all of his failures at leadership. He has chosen to refer to NFL players using a vile, profane term. It’s racism in full view: the NFL players are protesting racial animus in white America. They play in a game where about 80% of the players are African American while about 80% of the fans are white. So Trump not only uses profanity against them in public, but also calls upon team owners to fire them in response. Continue reading