Charlie Pearl, Staff Writer for the Frankfort State Journal, recently interviewed Wendell Berry in the aftermath of Berry’s decision to move many of his personal papers (which measure 60 cubic feet in volume) from the University of Kentucky archives. Berry, who is known for his passion for the land and for environmental issues, made the decision after the university accepted a $7 million dollar donation from the coal industry for a new basketball dormitory, agreeing to name it Wildcat Coal Lodge.
Berry said that he was willing to live with the university’s “manifest lack of concern about surface mining in Eastern Kentucky and its ecological implications, its implications for the forests, for the survival of the wild creatures and maybe preeminently for the rural people there that a land grant university is mandated to look after and help,” noting that this form of mining “is literally hell for the people who live near those mine sites.” Berry said that he was willing to live with their lack of interest in these things, but when they accepted the coal money and agreed to name the dormitory after the coal industry the university “passed over from indifference to manifest alliance with the coal industry.”
When asked if he had “any hope that mountaintop removal mining will stop before all the mountains are gone” Berry said: “Of course I hope it will stop . . . and I have publicly stated my willingness to do what’s necessary to stop it (including) doing nonviolent resistance.” After remarking that there wasn’t much room to be optimistic that this would happen, Berry says something quite profound and important: “I don’t think a person has a right to protest or work for change on the assumption that the effort will be effective. This is whether it’s right or not.”
The real issue, the heart of the matter, says Berry, is whether or not it is right. It’s not about effectiveness; it’s about integrity and doing what is good, just, and right.
I have sometimes wondered why I am doing what I am doing—challenging dualistic, exclusivistic, heaven and hell oriented Christianity in the context of presenting a more holistic, inclusive, and gracious understanding, rooted in the unconditional love of God.
In a Bible Belt town, where there is a church on every corner, I have certainly made more enemies than friends. (I don’t consider them enemies, but they consider me an enemy, or a messenger of Satan, as someone recently called me).
I have little chance of being effective. Many of those who sympathize with this message will not dare stand up to their family and friends; the pressure to conform to traditional beliefs and practices is too great.
I guess I’m doing what I’m doing because if I didn’t I couldn’t live with myself. Preaching, teaching, advocating, and writing about an inclusive gospel is the just, good, and right thing to do.
I have little hope of being effective. The church I pastor will probably lose more members than it gains. I probably will not see much difference in the community. Traditional, dualistic beliefs are deeply entrenched here. No matter. There is a kind of peace that comes when you do what you believe in your heart is right.