Krista Tippett (Christian Century): My Grandfather’s Faith

Posted by Kendall Harmon

My grandfather was the Reverend Calvin Titus Perkins, known by all as C.T. He was a Southern Baptist evangelist—a traveling preacher in Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory. He arrived, when he was a very young boy and it was a very young state, in a covered wagon. That famous dry Oklahoma dust seems embedded in the few black-and-white photos I've seen of him and his unkempt, unsmiling siblings. Several of them went on to drink and divorce. He was a man of passion but also a lover of order, a believer in rules. The bare bones Calvinism that flourished on the frontier offered him not only a faith but a way beyond the chaos and poverty he knew as a child.

When I left home at 18 for Brown University—in part because it was farther from Oklahoma than any other school that accepted me—my grandfather epitomized what I felt I had to escape from. His was a small, closed world defined by judgment. I was throwing myself toward possibility, toward life with a liberating small "l." The Eternal Life that all his theology drove toward was really about the avoidance of death and damnation. As I grew older, this threat utterly lost its sense for me. How could every Catholic and Jew, every atheist in China and every northern Baptist in Chicago, for that matter—every non-Southern Baptist—be damned? Could God be so petty, and heaven so small?

The meanness of the God C.T. preached was contradicted, more poi gnantly, in his own person, though he would never have seen this in himself, nor did I have the words for many years to describe it. He was funny and smart and large-hearted.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenMarriage & FamilyReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesBaptists

4 Comments
Posted July 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. driver8 wrote:

The sad thing is how difference is, in fact, being erased in this piece. The more capacious, contemporary divine, whose views so wisely reflect the sensibilities of the author, is not expansive enough to include that old time faith. What has been gained is apparently bright and pristine before the author’s eye. It may be worth reflecting just a little on what has been lost.

July 28, 3:55 pm | [comment link]
2. driver8 wrote:

In other words the real poignancy of this reflection is not in what the author sees but in what remains unnoticed and unspoken.

July 28, 4:02 pm | [comment link]
3. DGus wrote:

I’ll take Grandpa’s faith any day.

July 28, 7:31 pm | [comment link]
4. John Wilkins wrote:

If the faith of the grandfather gave him magnanimity toward all conditions of other people, then bless him.  Unfortunately, there is the stereotype of evangelicals who relish and take comfort in the damnation of unbelievers rather than let God make the judgement.

What has been lost?  The comforts of provincialism; the security of knowing your faith is understood.  Alas, globalism has thrown that ancient world all amuck.  Still, the virtues of tenacity and commitment; the comforts of tradition had merit in their own right. 

Tippet describes the very real condition of individuals who do not share the cosmology of our fathers.  The old faith is less sustainable than it used to be.

July 29, 12:25 pm | [comment link]
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