I get a lot of kidding about being Catholic. I even get some mean-spirited criticism. A year after I started working here one of my critics wrote in. To paraphrase, he said, “I detect, Mr. Holley, a strong, Roman Catholic emphasis on the religion page. You should know that most of your readers aren’t Catholic.”
I’m still scratching my head over that one. In the three years I’ve been here I can count the number of Catholic features I’ve done on one hand.
During my time here I’ve made a lot of friends among the ranks of Northeast Mississippi pastors. Ray Elsberry, the pastor at Tupelo Seventh-Day Adventist Church, is one of them. I liked Bro. Ray the moment I met him. He’s an old-fashioned country preacher, complete with walking cane and suspenders. He’s also a sincere, good-natured man who can laugh at himself.
One of these days I mean to ask Ray, given that Seventh-Day Adventists generally follow such healthy dietary guidelines, how, like me, he’s managed to become so rotund.
When I interview Ray he tends to start almost every sentence with, “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, Galen.” When he says that I know he’s about to lower the boom on the Catholic Church.
Ray will inevitably bring up how pope so-and-so, back in the 300’s, did something awful. I’ll say, “Well, OK,” and Ray and I will both end up laughing.
Perhaps Ray and I get along so well because we both belong to denominations that a lot of people around here think are weird.
When many people hear mention of Seventh-Day Adventists they think of David Koresh, the man whose insanity brought about his own death and those of dozens of his followers when the FBI raided their Texas compound in 1993.
As Ray explains it to me, the Branch Davidians, of which Koresh and his followers were members, are about as far removed from actual Seventh-Day Adventists as members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, many of whom are polygamists, are from actual LDS.
In both cases, the only connection between the groups dates back to a split that happened decades ago, and, in both cases, neither group today has anything to do with the other.
I don’t think Ray and the members of his church are weird. They hold some different beliefs than I do, but, when you stop and think about, most religious people hold some pretty weird beliefs.
Christianity in general makes some pretty outrageous claims. Most of its basic tenets are offensive to the rational mind.
In researching this story I discovered that the place where I attended graduate school, the roof under which I slept for a year, in cozy Takoma Park, Maryland, is the building that formerly housed the world headquarters of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The denomination’s current headquarters is one Metro stop north, in Silver Spring.
I’m pretty sure, based on the mutual distrust between Adventists and Catholics, that my school had to buy the building through a third party.
I haven’t mentioned a word of this to Ray, so he’s probably reading it now for the first time. It’s a small world, isn’t it Ray, old buddy?
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal