The letter that was sitting in my mailbox wasn’t the first to make me question my commitment to teaching in the UNC system. It was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or, I should say, almost broke the camel’s back - at risk of getting ahead of myself.
I called Frank and talked to him at length. He wanted me to resign and come to work at a school of journalism at a private Christian university. I thought maybe it was time. I decided not to write the letter of resignation until I got back from a three-day trip to Colorado. I was going there to teach at Summit Christian Ministries (www.Summit.org). That was Frank’s idea, too.
I packed my bags with a nice blue suit, my favorite Carolina blue tie, and a bottle of pills my doctor gave me to help me sleep. I hadn’t slept well for months as the turmoil in my life was being resolved slowly in the court system. So far, things were going well. But I still could not seem to sleep.
When I got off the plane in Colorado Springs I was taken aback by the beauty of my surroundings. Then I found out Delta had lost my baggage. At the time, I really needed to lose a little baggage.
I would later realize that God was sending me a message. I’d be lecturing in jeans and a polo shirt dressed like everyone else. God isn’t impressed by Joseph A. Bank. And He’s offended by insomnia. Insomnia is another form of worrying. All worrying (faithlessness) is offensive to God.
We ate dinner on picnic tables next to the old Summit hotel at the base of Pike’s Peak. I was enjoying the cool breeze and the lack of mosquitoes when Judson told me it was time to speak. I had just met Judson a few hours before but for some reason he seemed like a son to me.
I spoke for about an hour during which I felt the most awesome flow of energy from me to the audience and back. If it felt like the Holy Spirit was in the room it was probably because the Holy Spirit was in the room. I met so many incredible kids there afterwards and felt such excitement that I feared I would not get any sleep before giving two more speeches the following morning.
That night I slept like a baby.
The next morning I gave a speech called “Unequally Yoked.” I discussed the lengths universities will go to in order to infringe upon the rights of Christians at public universities. During the speech, I referred to the Southworth case, which, theoretically, prevents public universities from collecting mandatory student activity fees and then refusing to fund Christian groups and activities.
After the speech, Doc Noebel, the President of Summit, introduced himself saying “Mr. Southworth is a Summit graduate.” I already knew Summit was there to teach kids a Christian worldview – one that would help them survive a secular onslaught in college. Now I knew that Summit gave young men and women the courage to fight back. Even to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
After Doc took me to lunch we sat out on the front porch of that old hotel. I was enjoying the cool summer breeze that was flowing through the mountains. A man and his wife were there from Iowa spending the afternoon with their teenager who was enrolled in Summit. “How often do you hear from former students?” the man asked. Without hesitation, Doc replied “Every day.”
About ten minutes later, a fellow – I believe his name was Harris - came walking up the steps to shake Doc’s hand. “You probably don’t remember me,” he said. “I was one of your students back in 1962. Summit Christian Ministries changed my life.”
That afternoon I went with the kids to play sports – volleyball, tennis, etc. After a few minutes I took a rest because I hadn’t adjusted to the 7000 foot altitude. A few minutes later, someone - who knew I used to play for a living – shoved a guitar in my hand. I played a few tunes before we headed to the grill for supper.
I don’t know exactly what heaven is going to be like but I know it will involve perpetual worship – the type one experiences when admiring God’s creation. And I know it will involve joyful fellowship with one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. In that sense, Summit is the closest thing to heaven on earth I’ve ever seen.
When my luggage finally arrived, I called Delta to change my flight arrangements. They assumed that losing my luggage prevented me from finishing my business in Colorado. The truth is that I was having too much fun to leave.
When I got back to North Carolina I called one of my lawyers, Travis Barham, at the Alliance Defense Fund. I told him that far from wanting to quit I was ready to get back in the trenches and try to make things right in the UNC system. When he asked why I seemed so rejuvenated and full of fighting spirit I told him about my week at Summit. That’s when Travis told me he was a graduate of Summit Christian Ministries.
“I should have known,” I told him. And I really should have known.