Left Justified: Artistic dissent strikes low

Left Justified: Artistic dissent strikes low


Some art I just don’t understand. To get into the Rockford Area Arts Council’s annual shindig, one had to walk through a performance piece that made little sense.

Five men stood with pictures of decimated babies and screamed obscenities at the arts patrons. This occurred in front of the Coronado Theatre while 500 people clamored to enter. At first I thought it was a protest of some kind, but I couldn’t make sense of it. Perhaps the artists should have been more explicit and less angry. Anyway, it was a non sequitur, which cast a hue on the proceedings.

Seriously, though, I’d seen these “protesters” before. They’d screamed outside the Woman’s Club at a controversial Episcopalian bishop. Now there’s not too many controversial bishops, much less clergy, in Rockford. This one was imported from Massachusetts. It was Bishop Shelby Spong, who’d been quoted in the newspaper as saying he wasn’t sure about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. This seemed to cause much consternation among one Rockford church, which sent five men with pictures and attitudes. They harangued the interested patrons who’d come to hear an old man speak about religion. The Bishop’s talk, I thought, was inspirational and encouraged people who believed in God to do good and treat each other with, if not love, at least fairness. Bold stuff!

There is another bishop coming who might be a little less controversial than Spong, but has had an equal amount of harassment. Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, from the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, will speak at Rockford Urban Ministries’ annual dinner this Friday. Since I work for Rockford Urban Ministries, I’m interested in attracting a good crowd for the fund-raiser.

Bishop Sprague was outspoken against the war in Iraq. He led the prayers for peace at many a demonstration in Chicago. He is quite a persuasive speaker, though. The last time he spoke was upon his return from Afghanistan. He encouraged the church to send aid as swiftly as possible, and the church responded with more than a million dollars.

The bishop wrote a controversial book, Affirmations of a Dissenter, published just this last year. He was immediately charged with heresy by some of the more conservative elements of the United Methodist Church. The Church Judicatory dropped the charges almost as immediately. Apparently, the virgin birth had something to do with it. I guess that’s a main tenet of some people’s faith. I call myself a generic Christian because I’m certain about what Jesus said and did, but I’m not sure how He got here in the first place. I think Jesus cares more about how we treat each other. He did say “Help the poor or go to hell” Matt. 25:41, 42, the only time he warned people about the afterlife.

The RUM dinner costs $20 and starts at 6:30 p.m., but I’m inviting people to hear the bishop when he speaks at 7 p.m. That’s this Friday, June 27, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St. I don’t know if the same five men will show up, but they’ll have to stay off church property. The Unitarians are very respectful of speakers of any ilk and will defend their rights in their congregation.

I’ll be guest preaching (if you can call it that) the following Sunday, June 29, at the 10:30 a.m. service at the Unitarian Universalist Church. I’ll be talking about “Visions of Peace.” I don’t think there will be any performance art out in front of the church, but you never can tell when those wacky Andy Warholists will show up.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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