I rise as a baptized Christian, baptized in 1967 at the Pine Grove Baptist Church in Odena, Alabama, a little country church that taught me the basics and foundations of my faith.
I rise as ordained clergy, having stood in this call for 40 years.
I rise as the leader of a nonprofit organization, WomanPreach! Inc., whose primary work is to amplify the voices of preachers who speak on behalf of marginalized persons, the dispossessed and disinherited about which Howard Thurman spoke.
I rise as a religious biblical scholar and professor of bible and preaching at Methodist Theological School in Ohio in Delaware, OH.
I rise as a citizen, born in this country, who votes in every election that comes up. I rise as a black daughter of the blood-soaked soil of the Deep South of these United States, land stained with the blood of those Natives to this land and those brought here in bondage from Africa. I am a daughter of both of these peoples.
I rise to say “SHAME ON YOU” to those in Arkansas government and law enforcement and judicial branches who have falsely accused Judge Wendell Griffen of being biased. This accusation is inferred in your actions, and yet, in THIS country, we believe in the right of citizens to exercise their rights of citizenship: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to peaceful assembly, all protected rights by our constitutions, both states’ constitutions and the arbitrating constitution of the United States of America.
As a religious person, I believe in the right of soul freedom and of the role of the conscience to, along with the sacred texts of our faith, guide our faith and the actions that follow. Arkansas lawmakers have a history of trumpeting their “Christian faith” as the source of their morality. But there is no doubt that they mean a particular form of Christian faith, not that faith that guides my friend. I know this is so because there are Arkansas judges who have publicly denounced abortions, that was deemed law by Roe v. Wade, but none of them have been permanently barred from ruling on women’s right. There have been judges who have publicly voiced opposition to LGBTQ rights on their own time. They have not been so censured. So, Arkansas, you have crossed your own statements of “freedom of religion,” once again, showing you ONLY mean your form of Christianity. SHAME ON YOU.
Christianity consists of diverse traditions, precisely because of soul freedom. It is why Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, and the one who gave Baptists the strong stance of separation of church and state, insisted that civil servants are able to both obey laws and live their lives.
I call on the state of Arkansas to acknowledge that Judge Wendell Griffen has neither broken any laws nor crossed any civil or religious protocol. On his OWN time, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he lived out HIS faith. And he should be hailed for it, not punished for it. I call on this state to be consistent—not just with your “brand” of Christianity. DO the RIGHT thing. Do the CONSTITUTIONAL thing. Leave Judge Griffen alone to serve his God and do his civil duties. ■
Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D. is the Interim Dean and Associate Professor of Homiletics & Hebrew Bible at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She is also Founding President & CEO of WomanPreach! Inc. www.womanpreach.org