Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
For the section about Christianity, I ended up talking to two different men, a pastor and interfaith leader, and a former pastor who is now an elder and school teacher. Both of them serve very different roles in their community, but they both have been affected greatly by Christianity and have devoted their lives to it.
Dr. Bob Cornwall, pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He is a Disciples of Christ pastor who has been ordained for 25 years and has been pastoring for about 14 of them. He’s a graduate of Fuller Seminary with a PhD in Historical Theology.
His passion is ecumenical interfaith conversation and building bridges between people of different faiths. He also does a lot of writing for a living. Along with being a pastor of a church, he has written a couple of books, done a lot of academic writing, and a few years ago he wrote a regular column in a local newspaper.
Curt Motsinger is a school teacher and an elder at Grace Chapel Church in Waterford, Michigan. He spent his teenage years living at a youth camp that his parents ran in Rose City. He attended Liberty University. “I had hoped to get onto the wrestling team, but since I had to pay my bills somehow I auditioned for a student missionary singing team,” he said. He met his wife Arli, a Philippine woman, while travelling on tour with the team.
He used to be a full-time pastor at Shepherd Fellowship Church, but he left a couple of years ago and now teaches a class for adults and is an elder at a small, non-denomination church called Grace Chapel. He also teaches K-12th Physical Education and 7th and 8th grade Math and Science for a classical style school.
Coming to Faith
Dr. Bob’s family was Episcopalian growing up and he doesn’t remember having a moment where he came to faith specifically. However, in high school he did have a type of conversion experience which lead to him leaving his Episcopalian background and become a Pentecostal.
“Changing from being an Episcopalian to being a Pentecostal was a major change for me. It came out of a deep need for me to be more connected with a community that really took my faith seriously (which I didn’t feel what happening at the Episcopalian church),” he said. Episcopalians are much more liturgically based than Baptist or non-denominational churches. Pentecostal churches are charismatic, which often have boisterous worship services, and practice things like speaking in tongues and healing (which is generally unique to their denomination).
Dr. Bob said, “I pretty much went from one extreme to another.”
Dr. Bob eventually found the Pentecostals to be overly emotional and not very intellectual based. He knew he needed to go someplace else, but he wasn’t quite ready to go back to the Episcopalians. “So that’s how I ended up with the Disciples of Christ, who are non-creedal, so it has a lot of freedom. It allowed me to be me.”
Curt was also raised in the faith, but he remembers one moment from his childhood that changed his understanding of life.
“When I was eight years old I was given a BB gun for Christmas. One afternoon I was hunting big game in my backyard. I squeezed the trigger and a robin dropped onto her nest. I ran over and picked up the nest and she was just lying there over those powder blue eggs. I gave it to my mom and she said, ‘Oh Curty, that’s the Michigan state bird!’ And I just knew the cops were coming to take me away.”
Curt explained that he was a good kid, so the concept of sin didn’t make much sense to him at the time. “I believed that Jesus died on the cross for me, but I didn’t need him at that point, and then suddenly I did. And that was what showed me my need for a savior. I knew all I needed to do was trust in him.”
A few weeks after this happened, there was a man who came to Curt’s church to preach on the different levels of Hell. He said that Cain would be hanging onto the bars saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The man went through a few more examples when he came to King Agrippa. Paul gives his testimony to Agrippa and he responds, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:28) The speaker said that’s what Agrippa would be saying in his room in Hell. The message was concluded with the question: “What would you be saying?”
“I wanted to jump up and say, ‘I didn’t know it was the state bird!’” Curt said.
Christianity is an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion which claims 2.07 billion people across the globe. This makes it the largest religion in the world with over 32% of the world’s citizenship. Below are some of the basic beliefs that Christian adherents believe (there are variations and exceptions between sects):
- God is the creator of the universe
- God is omnipresent (always present), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful)
- God sent his son, Jesus, to be born into the human world
- Jesus was born fully God and fully human from a virgin woman
- Since Jesus was fully God, he was incapable of sinning in his lifetime. When he was put to death by the religious leaders and people of his time, this meant he died 100% innocent. Because he was 100% innocent when he died, he was punished undeserving.
- Jesus was put to death on a cross and came back to life three days later and ascended into Heaven, showing that even Death has no power of God
- Sin is anything that separates man from God (sin means crime, “missing the target,” or an act that violates the nature of man or God) and all people have sinned
- The penalty for sin is eternal death (Hell)
- God is holy, meaning he cannot have sin in his presence (Heaven). Since all people have sinned, they cannot ever be with God. But since Jesus was took a punishment he didn’t deserve, he took the punishment for the sin of people across the world so that they would not be sent to Hell and could enter into Heaven
- Salvation is not obligatory or automatic. Christians say things like “Salvation is a gift. You can accept the gift, or deny the gift.”
- To be saved you must believe that Jesus is the savior of the world and is the way to God and eternal life
The holy scriptures of the Christian religion is the Bible, which is made up of 66 books. Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God (meaning man wrote it, but God spoke through them) and that it is infallible text. Christians also believe that salvation isn’t just a once-and-done, but a living part of their life. Thus, they strive to have a personal relationship with God.
“Back in the day there was a computer term called ‘GIGO’ (Garbage In, Garbage Out),” Curt said. “My dad always said that the world feed us all kinds of garbage and we needed offset that with scripture. Romans 12 says to continually renew our minds. So I try to do that on a regular basis,” he added. He explained to me that he tries to live out the scripture in his life and express it to his students as well.
Dr. Bob answered, “I’m professionally religious. So everything I do is rooted in and connected to that.” He tries to pray often and study as much as he can. “I read and work with scripture all the time for teaching and studying.”
He said that he loves Christianity because he feels grounded and like he has a vision for his life. “I’m not in this on my own, and I know God is with me. It gives me comfort and confidence,” he added.
Curt loves being a Christian because of the brotherhood. In college he had some friends that met together for a Bible study, called the Agape group, which turned into a close-knit group of friends. He has remained in constant contact with them through adulthood and they have been there for each other through immense difficulties.
Misconceptions about Christianity
Dr. Bob mentioned that one misconception is that people think Christianity is narrow, and that Christians are narrow-minded and bigots. “I mean, a lot of them are. But the misconception is that people think that Christians are all the same, that Jerry Falwell or Rick Santorum represent everybody. Well, they don’t represent me and they don’t represent a lot of people.”
Curt says that there’s a misconception in the political arena that Christians are mean, angry, self-righteous and hypocritical. “Some of which is deserved, and I think some of mainline Christianity has created that,” he said. “But I hope to prove that wrong in my life.”
Dr. Bob and Curt are two people who seem to really be living out their faith. Dr. Bob is very active with the Troy Interfaith Group (along with Padma Kuppa) and he is bringing members of his congregation with other faith groups across metro Detroit together. Through TIG he is promoting understanding, education, and is helping others see how they can find good causes to work together on for make this world a better place. He was immediately willing to talk to me and invited me to stay for a TIG event after our conversation.
Curt and his wife tried for 7 years to have children, after which they decided to adopt a baby girl from a friend from high school who had a dream that she gave them her child. “We were on our way to get her when we found out that she had spina bifida. But we already felt that God had given her to us so we went and got her, and that was 18 years ago.” They are incredible parents to her and one of the reasons that Curt stepped down from being a pastor was to spend more time with his daughter, Abbey.
Curt has been very influential in my husband’s life and is a living example of the love that Christians aim to show. He also conducted our marriage counseling and presided over our wedding. Through it all it he was very kind to us and imparted practical wisdom for being better spouses and people.
I appreciate Curt and Dr. Bob taking time to talk to me, and for being the kind of people who are not armchair Christians. They don’t just give lip service; they are working every day to live out the kind of change they wish to see in the world.
Thank you to Dr. Bob Cornwall and Curt Motsinger for meeting with me. Also, if you’ve liked what you have read so far of Dr. Bob, check out his blog and his recently released book, “Faith in the Public Square: Living Faithfully in 21st Century America”.
Why do Muslim women wear their headscarves and what is Sharia really about? Find out in our next article with two Muslims from Detroit, Saeed Khan and Tuba Rizvi.
Photo credit: Dr. Bob Cornwall (used with permission), Curt Motsinger (used with permission), Flickr / swallroth (Jerusalem), Wikimedia Commons (Jesus in stained glass), aliwest44 (New England church), IK’s World Trip (Megachurch), fradaveccs (Jesus on cross), Steve Snodgrass (Cross)