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When Christians Go Bad

Last week I questioned the educational background of Eric Porterfield, the  Trump-loving, MAGA hat-wearing, WV State Delegate who made national headlines for railing against the LGBTQ community. The information I found through my “sleuthing” (aka Googling) wasn’t impressive. In fact, I was left wondering whether Porterfield actually had a legitimate post high school education.

This week, he revealed a bit more about his educational background.

In  a Charleston Gazette Mail by Jake Zuckerman, (How Porterfield Went Blind in a Bar Fight,) Porterfield said he earned his divinity degree at Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana. Since the article was about how Porterfield was blinded in a bar fight after leaving a strip club, I doubt most people paid much attention to that nugget of information.

But I did, and it inspired me to do some more sleuthing. (In other words, I did some more Googling. Writing is my hobby, not my profession, so please don’t judge me.)

At first glance, Hyles-Anderson College may seem more legitimate than taking a correspondence course from Belle Meadow Baptist College. However, on further research, it raised numerous red flags.

Hyles-Anderson College is operated by the First Baptist Church of Hammonds, Indiana, which has a sketchy history of sex abuse (Let Us Prey ) and misogyny (Video of Anti Women Sermon) as well as accusations of investment schemes (Lawsuit against First Baptist Church).

Interestingly, despite all this, now Vice President and Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence has visited there on more than one occasion. (Mike Pence visits First Baptist Church in Hammond)

I spent some time looking into the non-accredited Hyles-Anderson College, and I wasn’t impressed. But my opinion about the school isn’t as relevant as my concern about how such schools and their affiliated churches are creating a version of Christianity that people like Eric Porterfield embrace and want to force onto others.

It’s a type of Christianity I don’t recognize.

I was taught that Jesus wanted us to love each other not to condemn people who think or live differently than we do. He wanted us to help the weak not to prey on them. He wanted us appreciate the importance of people rather than money and material possessions. He wanted us to welcome the stranger instead of build walls, care for the sick rather than decide who is worthy of care, and to turn the other cheek rather than instigate fights.

When Christians go bad, they don’t work to create Christ’s vision of a community of acceptance and peace.

Thankfully, many Christians still do.

I reflected about this Saturday night when a friend invited me to go to the Spanish Mass at a local Catholic Church, I’m not Catholic and my Spanish is limited, but I was literally welcomed there with open arms. My white skin and poor language skills went unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. Instead of feeling like I didn’t belong, I felt like people cared that I was there.

And that’s exactly how everyone should feel both in church and in America.

Schooled

I’ve spent a lot time thinking about education lately.

Maybe that’s because my daughter, a senior in high school, hasn’t yet committed to a college, and her dad and I are getting anxious about her first choice. (It will require some financial gymnastics.)

Or maybe it’s because that same daughter missed school last week when West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in just over a year.

Or maybe it’s because the antics that led to the teacher’s strike made me want to dig into the educational background of the state legislators who think they know more about education than teachers do. Thankfully, the omnibus education bill that would have used limited public dollars to pay for private education and charter schools was killed, and the strike ended. But my curiosity about the legislators who supported the bill was piqued.

And when I looked up who voted to continue moving forward with the bill, a familiar name popped up.

Eric Porterfield.

I wasn’t surprised. He’s the guy who made national news earlier this month for railing against the LGBTQ community. What did surprise me was the difficulty I had getting information about his educational background.

I started by looking at his bio on the WV State legislature’s website.

There wasn’t anything there.

Faced with that roadblock, I did what any concerned voter would do: I used Google. That took some time as I had to wade through all of the news stories about his controversial comments. I finally found information on a website called “Vote Smart.” According to it, Porterfield received a DDiv from Belle Meadow Bible College in 2009.

Since I’d never heard of the college, I looked it up.

There’s a reason I’d never heard of it.

From what I could tell from the website, it’s actually a correspondence course offered by an Independent Baptist Church in Bristol Virginia.

(http://www.bellemeadows.org/home.html)

When I showed this to a friend, she encouraged me to spend the $75.00 for the course.

I passed on her suggestion.

I didn’t, however, pass on continuing to dig for more information.

I didn’t find much.

In a self-completed candidate profile that ran in the May 5, 2018, edition of the Beckley Register Herald, Porterfield reported that he had “a BA in Religion and Arts, a Masters in Pastoral Theology, a Masters of Divinity.” https://www.register-herald.com/news/candidate-profile-eric-porterfield-house-district/article_a133ba54-51d1-11e8-a22c-5fb381dcf5e7.html.

There was no information about where he received these degrees. The only other reference to his educational background is in a September 28, 2012 article in the Princeton Times in which he says he went to a Bible College at age 20: https://www.ptonline.net/news/local_news/porterfields-bring-blind-faith-to-south-sudan/article_fa0ea72a-6f9d-5634-ad5e-fcd5a74464b1.html.

That’s it. That’s all I could find.

Which bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

As citizens, we are giving legislators the ability and responsibility of making decisions about education, and therefore the future of our children. We have the right to know if they are educated enough to do so.

When Silence Is NOT Golden

For months, I’ve had an ongoing debate with myself that goes something like this:

Me: I need to tell everyone exactly what I think about President Trump and the antics of the WV State Legislature because their rhetoric and decisions are pandering to hate, greed and hypocrisy.

Also Me: There’s no reason to write about my opinions. I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. It’s just a waste of time.

For a while now, “Also Me” has been winning.

Then two things happened. First, I was privy to a debate regarding whether or not an organization should issue a public statement about the egregious comments made by a state legislator. The second was a brief conversation with my neighbor.

The issue concerning remarks made by state legislator Eric Porterfield began a couple of weeks ago during a debate in a legislative committee about a bill to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only did Porterfield make scathing comments about the LGBTQ community, but he subsequently defended those comments to the point of likening the LGBTQ community to the KKK. Much to the embarrassment of many West Virginians, the story went national, and individuals and groups from both sides of the political aisle condemned Porterfield’s comments.

The organization with which I am affiliated also decided to publicly condemn his comments. The statements didn’t go without some internal debate. A few individuals believed that Porterfield shouldn’t be given any additional attention for his hate-filled rhetoric. To me, the public condemnation was important. While I didn’t like keeping Porterfield in the spotlight, I was more opposed to keeping silent about any form of hate speech, particularly against a community that has fought so hard for equal treatment.

And only a day after that realization, a neighbor stopped me to casually ask why I wasn’t writing my blog anymore. I hemmed and hawed about being too busy, but I didn’t say “because I started to feel like what I have to say doesn’t matter.”

I’m glad I didn’t, because her response was, “I miss it. It’s good to know that other people think like I do.”

And I realized she was right.

So, even though I’m probably never going to change anyone’s mind about what matters, I can lend support to all like-minded souls about the current state of affairs in our country.

So this is for them:

  • I don’t believe that Americans are superior to people from other countries, regardless of their country of origin, the color of their skin, the language they speak, their profession, or the amount of money the do or don’t have.
  • I think building a wall is in opposition to everything America is supposed to be about.
  • I don’t believe that people who have money work harder than people who don’t have money. In fact, I believe that wealth is usually (not always but usually) more a matter of good luck than an indicator of perseverance, intelligence, or stellar character.
  • I believe that most privileged people don’t realize how privileged they are. (I’ll never forget last year having a friend show me a Facebook post by a middle-aged white guy. He was questioning the credibility of Congressman Joe Kennedy because he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” The guy ridiculing Kennedy actually inherited his own family business. For most Americans, that is exactly what a silver spoon looks like.)
  • I believe in public education. Period. I don’t think tax dollars should be used to pay for schools that include a curriculum based on religion or that teach a particular religious philosophy.
  • I believe good teachers are our greatest hope for the future, and they should be treated with the same respect and pay as other professions.
  • I believe in science. Period.
  • I believe that allowing industries to buy off politicians is damaging our country, And I believe that only people, not businesses or industries, should have opinions.
  • I believe too many people use religion as an excuse to hate and to feel superior to others.
  • I believe that a person’s sexual orientation isn’t anyone’s else’s business. You should be allowed to love who you love.
  • And to the Eric Porterfields of this world? I believe you are purposefully ignorant and use religion to hide all of your insecurities. Your missionary work is an excuse to share your hate with others. If you really understood Christianity and what Christ taught, you would be too busy caring for the marginalized to be concerned about whom they sleep with. And in doing so, you’d probably learn that they actually have a lot to teach you. So know this, my internal debate about sharing my opinions may have just ended, but my battle for the greater good is just getting started.