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Teaching Preaching In Theocracyland

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It hardly seems like a theological hotspot.

It's a modest house with a small sign that proclaims "The Craddock Center," just down Cherry Log Road from one of North Georgia's finest cultural establishments, the Pink Pig Barbecue. The town of Cherry Log itself is very unimposing, a small hamlet located between Ellijay and Blue Ridge. After a semi-super highway ripped through the mountain towns in the early 1990s, Cherry Log was relegated to a side road off of US 76, now distastefully monickered the "Zell Miller Mountain Parkway."

At about the time the road was being built, Fred Craddock retired from Emory University's Candler School of Theology, and moved to Cherry Log. He's an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — we'll come back to them — and he was finding religious life a bit uncomfortable in the tri-state area where North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia meet.

"We take a positive view of human capacity to inquire about God," Craddock told me on one recent chilly mountain morning. "I say, 'No sin is beyond the love of God.'"

That might seem, well, very Christian. But we are talking about the rural South in a time when Jesus has been kidnapped by aspiring theocrats whose political expression is: "Oppress the poor, enrich the already rich." These folks have little love for other religions, even other Christian denominations that don't buy into the hate gays/no-abortions/no-evolution/pro-war liturgy.

Craddock is a small man, the epitome of the word "avuncular." He's soft-spoken, hardly a firebrand. It's a cliché, but his eyes tend to twinkle. Although much of his career has been spent on campus, he is first and last a preacher.

When he moved to Cherry Log, he found that among the churches — well, the environment is such that Southern Baptists are almost the liberals and everything else is far off to the right.

"I felt I'd meet resistance, being from Atlanta and having taught at Emory," he says. But he nonetheless gathered about 60 fellow-thinkers and in 1996 he started a Disciples church in Cherry Log. Even that wasn't enough for Craddock. His academic area was teaching preaching.

So, he hung up the shingle for Craddock Center. And do you know who came to learn how to preach? Why none other than ...

To find out who learned to preach from Fred Craddock, go to www.johnsugg.com. You can contact Sugg, who often practices theology without a license, at john.sugg@cln.com.

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