On November 31, 2013, The Vidalia Onion gave this year’s Queen Victoria Award to Jim High and Don Manning-Miller for their efforts in taking religious dialogue back to the 19th Century. Concerning the award, The Vidalia Onion’s Lawrence Brainbalm said, “Some of us here in Georgia really hated to see the 19th century go – that’s why we honor something 19th century each year with the Queen Victoria Award.”
The editorial staff of The Vidalia Onion stated that High and Manning-Miller, both residents of the state of Mississippi, have demonstrated that “we can still have good old-fashioned division over religious details.” Brainbalm elaborated that “in the 19th century religious division was at its height. Protestants were utterly fragmented. If any group began to feel any sense of unity, division would erupt. Church congregations split over which side of the aisle to put the piano; new denominations arose over the question of whether there should even be a piano. They all sang virtually the same hymns, but their real identity was in their differences. ”
Division over differences what not just a Protestant phenomenon. While Baptists and the Church of Christ argued over who was the true church, the Roman Catholics made it clear that everyone else was heretical. While Protestant zeal was generating a worldwide missionary movement, Catholics were doubling down on the Council of Trent, condemning the errors of the Reformation.
“The beauty of the 19th century was that you could tell the differences between groups,” Brainbalm explained. “And I’m not just talking about Unitarian and Methodist – that distinction was easy. With most Christian denominations, however, disagreement had to be elevated to an art form. That way, everyone knew each other’s tribe, so to speak. It was not like what we saw in the 20th century with everybody talking butterflies and moonbeams until you couldn’t tell a Nazarene from a Lutheran.”The Vidalia Onion found renewed hope in the art of disagreement in the online discussions between Jim High and Don Manning-Miller. “They have brought 19th century ideals of difference all the way into the 21st century,” Brainbalm exclaimed. “They are adept at modern communication and the latest in scientific discovery, but they have not forgotten the religious differences that have been the lifeblood of so many congregations. Just when we thought that modern faith would be condemned to boring platitudes of harmony, High and Manning-Miller have emerged as true masters of distinction.”
One participant in the theological discussions of High and Manning-Miller, Charlie Kinnaird, was contacted for a statement about the two online debaters. “It is certainly not like they are worlds apart,” Kinnaird observed. “In fact, there are usually many points of agreement, but you never heard such vituperous agreement as from these two.” One of the theological points on which High and Manning-Miller definitely agree concerns the existence of Hell – neither gentleman believes that there is an actual Hell even if there is an afterlife. “We’re both from Mississippi,” Manning-Miller calmly stated, “and we believe that’s Hell enough for anybody.”The Queen Victoria Award is not confined to theological areas. Past recipients include band leader Mitch Miller who orchestrated a revival of Gay Nineties music with his sing-along TV program (and his 19th century use of the term “gay”); song-writer Stephen Sondheim for making song and dance out of macabre 19th century retribution with “Sweeny Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street;” and actor Robert Conrad for his role in the TV series, “The Wild, Wild, West,” which demonstrated that 19th century steam is really all the power you need.