Wednesday, 31 January 2007
Tales of the Good Old Days - Part 2
Another excerpt from Bumming With the Furies: Out on the Trail of Experience by Peter Leschak (pictured), as posted on the WCG Alumni board.
Bill stood up to ask a question in Theological Research, the third-year Bible class. He was genuinely puzzled, and politely (I thought) disputed the conclusion we were supposed to have reached as the result of completing a homework assignment concerning the canonization of the Bible. The instructor, a minister named (Benjamin) Chapman, immediately bristled. I could actually see him stiffen, tensing up as if for a physical battle. If he had been a dog, his hackles would’ve risen. An argument ensued, with Chapman not addressing Bill’s question, but rather accusing him of arrogance and insubordination. Bill stated repeatedly that he wasn’t challenging Chapman’s authority (though the question by its very nature of course had) nor showing disrespect, but the irate professor ridiculed him, demanding to know if he even believed in the Bible. A few students told me later that they had grown increasingly bewildered, amazed at what they considered to be a serious overreaction by Chapman. They said that if Bill had walked out, they’d have followed. (There’d been many complaints about the class among students.)
But finally Bill decided to just shut up and sit down. He was shocked, genuinely perplexed by what vehemence and contempt of Chapman’s reaction to what Bill considered a legitimate question. This public attack by a superior, an ordained minister of God, was so distressing that Bill felt the whole thing must’ve been his fault. That evening he went to Chapman’s home and apologized. This humbling, magnanimous effort received a cold, “Well, you should apologize” response. There was no sense of warmth or conciliation, and absolutely no admission of at least partial wrong. Bill left angry and humiliated, violated once again. He believed that at “God’s college” there should be some recourse, so he made an official appointment with Chapman through his secretary, and asked if I could tag along. We discussed the “mission” at length and decided our purpose would be to respectfully inform Chapman that the majority of his students were dissatisfied with the way his course was run, and to propose some changes we felt would be beneficial. We believed the attitude of the class, especially after Bill’s excoriation, was ugly and that Chapman should be aware of it.
Unfortunately we were not granted an audience for three long weeks.
On a Friday evening in December, we finally entered Chapman’s office, nervous and intimidated…. We spent two hours discussing these matters, and all was serene and friendly, at least on the surface. We shook hands as we left, and Bill and I were satisfied that all had gone well. We congratulated each other, convinced we had accomplished some good. Silly boys.
Next morning at Sabbath services, Chapman delivered the sermon. The standard length of a sermon in the WCG was one to two hours (though I sat through some as long as three, and heard about a few legendary five-hour marathons). Chapman all but personally attacked Bill and me for nearly an hour and half. I was stunned. Bill had opted for the afternoon services and thus missed another public thrashing. In a vicious assault upon those who question and doubt, Chapman referred to several points we had discussed only several hours before in the apparently benign atmosphere of his office. I expected to hear our names spewed out at any moment, held up as pariahs or perhaps insidious dupes of Satan. He set up straw men and violently knocked them down, quoting excessively from an outside theological work, which was obviously sloppy and in error as far as his audience was concerned. He used the book as an intelligent scapegoat, a means to ridicule contemporary scholarship in general (and hence thinking in general). He lambasted and belittled those who critically examined what he billed as the Truth. He laid it right out, asserting clearly, without equivocation: “IT’S NOT YOUR PLACE TO QUESTION WHAT YOUR TEACHERS TELL YOU!” So there it was - the true face of AC and the WCG. The hierarchy was not after truth, but power. They had all truth; there was no need to seek more and there was especially no need to take any gruff from mere students - lowly sheep of the flock.