Hello and welcome to the “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog! We’re back to the single entry format today, but fortunately, we have a topic who offers plenty to discuss. As always, if you enjoy this project, like and share on Facebook (or the social media platform of your choice), and if you have any feedback or topic suggestions, let me know.
Fred Thompson, our subject du jour, is best known either as an actor or as a politician, depending on whom you ask. By profession an attorney, Thompson served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee for roughly a decade (1994-2003), finishing out Al Gore’s term and being elected to one full term before retiring from the office. He also appeared as a prosecutor on the famous network show Law & Order for several seasons, stepping away from that role to prepare for the 2008 Republican presidential primary season.
As you have probably guessed by now, Thompson also shows up frequently on lists of celebrities associated with Churches of Christ. Is there anything to the connection, though?
To cut to the chase, Thompson’s colorfully named book, Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances, includes numerous references to his upbringing in Churches of Christ and to the influence the religious body had on his political views. For instance, Thompson describes his constitutional philosophy as “strict constructionist,” linking it with the command-example-inference approach Churches of Christ often employ in studying the Bible. (1) Elsewhere, he compares the congregational structure of Churches of Christ to the loose connections between the states under the Articles of Confederation–that was America’s first “constitution,” in case it’s been a while since your last history class. (2)
Other sources confirm some sort of relationship between Thompson and Churches of Christ. A 2007 feature in the Christian Chronicle notes that the Congressional Record listed Thompson’s religious affiliation as “Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell)” and adds a comment from a childhood friend who worshiped with him at the First Street Church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Furthermore, the article recounts that Thompson once spoke at a benefit dinner for Freed-Hardeman University, which is affiliated with Churches of Christ, and that he used his speaking fee to endow a scholarship there in honor of his parents. (3)
Thompson’s religiosity was, however, briefly a source of controversy during the 2008 primary season. James Dobson, creator of Focus on the Family, said of Thompson that “Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for… (But) I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.” (4) Others pointed to Thompson’s divorce in the 1980s and his remarriage to political consultant Jeri Kehn in the early 2000s; the wedding was held in a congregation of the United Church of Christ, a theologically liberal tradition not historically related to Churches of Christ, despite the similar name. (5)
Further adding fuel to the fire was a satirical blog post written by Mark Elrod, a professor at Harding University, whose readers “have been kind enough to call my attention to the fact that former Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) may not be filling out an attendance card at a Church of Christ on Sundays.” In the entry, Elrod facetiously challenged readers “to provide ME with a somewhat believable Fred Thompson sighting at an assembly of a Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell) in the last twenty years…” Several news outlets reported on his post without picking up on the humor, though, claiming that Elrod was seriously attempting to disfellowship Thompson over the latter’s lack of attendance. (6)
What to make of all of the evidence, then? It is clear that Thompson’s remarriage and attendance (or lack thereof) at Sunday services raised quite a few eyebrows regarding his devoutness, particularly in the 2008 presidential primary season. It also seems clear, though, that Thompson continued to identify as a member of Churches of Christ throughout his life. For our purposes here, that’s good enough–meaning that this week’s entry is CONFIRMED.
(1) Fred Thompson, Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances (New York: Crown Forum, 2010), 57.
(2) Thompson, Teaching the Pig to Dance, 58.
(3) “Future president? Fred Thompson’s church roots draw interest.” Christian Chronicle, April 1, 2007, accessed October 6, 2017, https://christianchronicle.org/future-president-fred-thompsons-church-roots-draw-interest/ .
(4) Bobby Ross Jr., “INSIDE STORY: Fred Thompson’s church roots draw interest,” October 1, 2007, accessed October 6, 2017, https://christianchronicle.org/fred-thompsons-church-roots-draw-interest/ .
(5) “Future president? Fred Thompson’s church roots draw interest.” Christian Chronicle, April 1, 2007, accessed October 6, 2017, https://christianchronicle.org/future-president-fred-thompsons-church-roots-draw-interest/ .
(6) Although Elrod’s original post has since been deleted, a screenshot of it, as well as further analysis, can be found at “A Reporter’s Guide to the ”I Saw Fred Thompson at a Church of Christ’ Challenge,'” Hermits Rock, August 5, 2007, accessed October 6, 2017, http://hermitsrock.mgbales.com/article/a-reporters-guide-to-the-i-saw-fred-thompson-at-a-church-of-christ-challenge .