Visiting reverend shares views on violence, poverty

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson spoke Monday, Feb. 24 at February Meetings about gun violence in America. Nelson focused on the issues of poverty and freedom from political categories and called for students to be active. Photo Courtesy of Tobi Scott.
Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson spoke Monday, Feb. 24 at February Meetings about gun violence in America. Nelson focused on the issues of poverty and freedom from political categories and called for students to be active. Photo Courtesy of Tobi Scott.

Maryville College has been hosting February Meetings annually since 1877. The meetings are usually highlighted by guest speakers and special music ensembles.

“Every year, we have February Meetings which is designed to invite people from the community and the college to think about the connection between Christian faith and justice,” said campus minister Rev. Dr. Anne Mckee.

This year’s February Meetings consisted of two hour-long lectures given by Dr. J. Herbert Nelson and a performance by MC’s Voices of Praise.

Nelson currently holds the position of director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington D.C., an office that deals with issues such as the federal budget, gun violence and other activist issues that the Presbyterian (USA) denomination has been voting on for the past 60 plus years.

“I really have been passionate about the church’s relationship to the poor. That has been my passion since my first day in ministry,” Nelson said. “I continue to be committed to that from a political perspective challenging individuals who do not believe the church has a role in politics.”

Before taking on his position in Washington D.C., Nelson pastored in Greensboro, NC, for about 12 years and then started his own church in Memphis, Tenn., with the plan that the church was going to focus primarily on evangelizing the poor.

“What he’s best known for is being a very good preacher, he’s very engaging,” Mckee said. “He is also deeply concerned with issues of justice, especially gun violence and poverty.”

According to Mckee, Nelson is also on the road a majority of the time traveling to different college campuses, congregations, church meetings and other secular meetings on issues being dealt with by the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness giving lectures and speaking on behalf of the denomination.

On Monday, Feb. 24, Nelson spoke regarding violence in the United States with a focus on gun violence specifically. A great deal was about the fact that citizens can no longer walk the streets safely. Nelson disagreed with the notion that guns should be America’s safety. He feels that our first step in approaching safety should be the building of community, not violence.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, Nelson’s talk was a major appeal for students and others to become engaged and involved in political activity. He suggested students become involved by staying informed, reading multiple news sources and voting regularly.

“It is important that as we study, we study the political world around us and not to step back and retreat from the U.S. controversy and politics,” Nelson said.

He said that he feels it is important for young students to stay involved in political activity regardless of what discipline area they may be studying, because the spirit of politics engages almost every aspect of our lives.

Nelson said that he would like each of the students at Maryville College to consider two important messages.

The first message was that a personal and grounded faith is important for life. According to Nelson, while many people reject it, a grounded faith is important throughout life because we each hit rough patches.

“Having a faith to depend on and having a savior to trust has been a life saving piece to me on so many occasions,” Nelson said.

The second message was that students should all push back on this idea of categories. Nelson claimed that political parties such as Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc. are false notions.

“We all have expanded opportunities, minds and possibilities when we open our mind beyond the categories,” Nelson said.

He encouraged students to vote for what is right for the common benefit of humanity rather than what is right for them personally.

Before Nelson ended his talk, he called everyone at MC to take action, stay informed, and be involved.

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