Doing What Is Right May Mean Being Ineffective

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.


  1. "Preaching, teaching, advocating, and writing about an inclusive gospel is the just, good, and right thing to do."--you do this well and with great passion,love, acceptance and diginty.

    Integrity of spirit,mind and heart you have in abundance--hopefully some of this will rub off on and sprout just a little in me.

    As a former SBCer I know it was always numbers, conformity, an undoubting certainty that I knew what it was that God wanted--more followers just like me. God loved me but if you wanted to be loved, you better shape up, tithe,do whatever it took to escape judgment and march the Roman road. What a relief after all those years to be able to see it's all about unconditional love and acceptacne--God's and mine.

  2. I believe we all want to think we are making a difference, that we are being effective. But ultimately, this is not in our hands. Letting go of wanting to make a difference is supplanted by just doing the next right thing. And if we can just keep doing that, all will be well.

  3. I agree -we're called to be faithful and persistent, not called to be successful, though this is hard to deal with in our success-oriented,number-driven society.

  4. I cannot imagine a more effective preacher and who shares the compassion and unconditional love that God bestows on EVERYONE. Not everyone teaches that and while they draw numbers in the beginning, everyone loses in the end. Continue to be faithful and persistent and know that not everyone you have touched can be there with you every Sunday.

  5. I know you not, Chuck, but I like your words and your direction. This blog and the next one strike me as insightful and personal in your journey and sharing. They were meaningful to me. It pains me to see the negative reaction such thoughts draw from so many "Christians." One can at least understand a portion of Anne Rice's motivation to make her recent pronouncement.


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