It seems harder and harder for our generation to think like individuals. We see it in our politics, where recent elections decimated many politicians who had strayed from their party fold. We see it also in our faith, where debate over the proposed “Ground Zero mosque” uncovered wide religious rifts that continue to grow wider. Beliefs are clearly delineated — outliers suffer the consequences.
Yet, some individuals continue to stick out like sore thumbs, and their actions continue to inspire. One such free-thinker cherished this outlier status and encouraged others to do the same. Five years after his death, his story still resonates. And it’s worth telling.
Once upon a time, my 68-year-old Southern Baptist minister — Rev. Charles “Bo” Turner — filed suit to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from the county courthouse. In doing so, he turned convention on its head and drew the ire of thousands of his fellow Christians. His conduct challenged tradition, showed respect for his opponents and embodied a set of beliefs that evaded easy labels of politics or faith.
Bo’s life defied stereotype. He was alternately a Marine, businessman, mayor and high-school history teacher. He rode a motorcycle and was extremely proud of the “Jesus is a Liberal” tattoo emblazoned on his right arm. It was only in his mid-40s that he attended theological school. His most rewarding accomplishment became his church, and he would go on to serve his parishioners for his last quarter century.
Even as Bo emphasized the centrality of the Ten Commandments in weekly sermons, he was unhappy when a plaque of the Commandments was posted in the public courthouse. As he said in the local paper, The Northeast Georgian, “You don’t want the state interfering with religion or religion with the state.” His subsequent legal challenge was a shot heard ’round the Bible Belt.
Outrage spread like wildfire. The result was an odyssey of rallies, protests and even the occasional death threat. To Bo’s many critics, his actions represented a contradiction of beliefs. It was a contradiction they couldn’t understand, and they demonized him for it.
At a meeting of county commissioners, the lawsuit was cast as a war between good and evil. As one speaker was reported saying, “We will not be overcome. Don’t run and don’t flee in the face of battle.” The elected officials voted unanimously to defend public display of the Commandments until the bitter end.
Meanwhile, angry calls occured at Bo’s household. Instead of becoming an annoyance, however, the ensuing conversations proved a source of enjoyment for the unorthodox minister. He could spend hours civilly debating — and sometimes convincing — even his most strident opponents.
Addressing the controversy head on, Bo wrote in The Northeast Georgian, “It would be a refreshing change if people would get as worked up over injustice and poverty and homelessness as they do over posting Bible verses on courthouse walls. What if we actually obeyed the Commandments rather than putting them on paper and granite and bronze?”
Roughly a year after Bo filed his lawsuit, the Ten Commandments were finally removed from the courthouse. Satisfied but not boastful, Bo returned his attention to preaching. Until his dying day, he still happily entertained the occasional belligerent caller.
In his challenge to the Ten Commandments, Bo exhibited the kind of behavior we all should follow. Like Bo, we shouldn’t be afraid to upend tradition, yet we should treat even our fiercest critics with respect. Instead of subscribing unconditionally to any given party platform, we should draw freely from across the political spectrum. And, instead of embracing every religious precept as ironclad truth, we should remember the importance of self-examination and critical thinking.
From college campuses to Washington, D.C., to everywhere in between, we’d do well to remember the legacy of the Rev. Bo Turner.
Emerson Brooking is a College senior from Turnerville, Ga., and a member of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is brooking@theDP.com Southern Comfort appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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