Dean Arnold – Orthodox Writer and Activist Discusses His Work and Journey to Orthodoxy
WRITTEN BY NICHOLAS CHANCY
MONDAY, 28 APRIL 2008
OB: Let’s get a little background on you. What was it that got you interested in Orthodoxy?
Dean: Well, my father was a Protestant Theologian. He got his doctorate of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. And I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a kind of independent Bible church kind of a home. He later became Presbyterian Church in America, which is the conservative strain of Presbyterianism. So I grew up in all that.
I felt like there was a real problem in the Protestant Church. My father was involved in some church splits and I got my own taste of some of the craziness and chaos that can take place in the Protestant Church.
And I didn’t like the fact that if you didn’t like what you were getting in your church you could just go the next one, or start your own in your house. If it was good enough for Martin Luther – then it’s good enough for me kind of mentality. And I knew that Protestantism had a fatal flaw. So that was kind of the Theological reason that brought me into the Church.
I was also going through some personal problems and I went to my first liturgy and I heard Lord have mercy about 500 times. That was a very healing thing to hear. That was sort of my first taste of the wisdom of the Fathers. The rest is history I suppose.
OB: How did you discover the Orthodox Church?
Dean: My first awareness of the Orthodox Church was Frank Schaeffer’s conversion. In my Presbyterian background, Francis Schaeffer was kind of the big icon. So when his son Frankie Schaeffer converted to Orthodoxy, I took note of that and read a couple of his books and some materials. But really, it was a friend in my town who was a youth pastor at a young life intercity ministry. He read one of Frederica Mathewes Green’s books and went on a long journey, finally becoming Orthodox. He and I would have a lot of long talks in a coffee shop. I was really intrigued and I had already known that there was a need for a better Theological and historical argument for the Church’s authority. He convinced me to start attending church and it kind of went from there.
OB: So, tell us a little about your books. You’ve had two books that you self-published.
Dean: Sure. I was an investigative reporter in Chattanooga for 10 years and had my own publication. I did some other types of writing and after about 10 years of all that I got tired of it. At one point I decided that I wanted to write a couple of books. So I decided to figure out how to do that.
The first book was called, the first title was, Cherokee Betrayal. I later changed the title to America’s Trail of Tears. It was about the group of events around the Indian removal West and the trail of tears that commenced in Chattanooga Tennessee, my hometown where I spent 20 years.
That story is quite a drama. There were three leading Cherokee chiefs that had converted to Christianity, and had really led the Cherokee nation into an acculturation and civilization that no other Indian Tribe had achieved. The whole nation became literate, learning how to both read and write. They developed an alphabet for the Cherokee language. They sent their best and brightest to New England schools.
A couple of the leading chiefs married white women. That was very advanced for their time. That was a story I had become quite familiar with in Chattanooga and I really wanted to write that story. You can buy that now. You can go on Amazon and look up America’s Trail of Tears and get that book. I’ve been able to sell a few thousand of those. That’s a book that is owned by me. It was a straight for-profit business venture.
But the second book that I really wanted to write, that I had a bee in my bonnet for, was a book called Old Money New South The spirit of Chattanooga. It’s Micheneresque (as in James Michener) in a way. I took a geographical spot, Chattanooga, and talked about all aspects of that geographical area. Going back to 10,000 BC and the early archaic Indians and then spending a lot time on Chattanooga during its glory days, which is turn-of-the-century. Coca-Cola bottling was started there. All these billionaire fortunes from Coca-Cola bottling really shaped the town. Actually more money was made in Chattanooga than Atlanta for Coke.
And so this kind of aristocracy rules the town and it’s kind of a mystery. It’s an interesting and intriguing thing. The book is creative non-fiction using interviews and story-telling.
In order to finance the project, one of the things I did was start a non-profit corporation. Since this was sort of a community story, I figured I could find people who wanted to tell this story. I raised, I guess, probably around 100,000 dollars for the printing and to help subsidize the project. Then I sold several thousand books too. So I made some money off that.
That was sort of a creative way to finance a book project. It was quite a success. For the Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga, it was their leading selling book for several weeks. For the bookstore downtown in Chattanooga, it’s their number one seller of any book. I was really grateful for the success of that project.
OB: Did you have several large sponsors for your non-profit or did you do that off low dollar donations?
Dean: I think it was more large. Probably total donors was maybe 40 to 50. I was blessed to know some people who had some means who wanted to see the project take off.
OB: Doing some research on the book, I noticed the official tourist agency in Chattanooga has a link over to that book.
Dean: I guess it sort has become a phenomenon in Chattanooga. It didn’t take much time before it became sort of the definitive book on the town. I gave it just enough kind of intrigue and spice to make it interesting, but not enough to be an expose so it’s something the chamber of commerce can endorse.
OB: So Chattanooga seems to figure prominently in your writing?
Dean: The projects I have done so far have largely, but not totally, focused around my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Old Money New South was obviously about the Coca-Cola bottling fortunes that are there. The Trail of Tears came out of my focusing on and studying the history of Chattanooga as it started there. But I actually moved to Chattanooga when I was just out of college. I spent a lot of time praying for the city and I had a love for that geographical area. I think that is more an Orthodox perspective, where you focus in on your local community and really try to embrace that. As Orthodox, I think that our writing projects are better if they are more organic and start from the ground up. So I would encourage people involved in writing to get involved with the stuff that is immediately around you and graduate from there.
OB: What kind of projects do you have planned now?
Dean: I’ve written a movie script on the close relationship, the love-hate relationship, between J.R.R. Tolkien who is the author of Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis, who was author of, among other things, the Chronicles of Narnia. Notice these are two big, hot movies series.
That’s been written. I got an endorsement from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. I wrote it while I was over in Oxford last year. It’s been looked at by several movie houses. There’s been a good amount of interest, but it hasn’t been picked up yet. I’m hoping to see that happen and praying to see that happen.
I spent the Fall writing a documentary on Hillary Clinton and her affair that she had with Vince Foster, who was a White House attorney found dead outside the White House in 1993 under suspicious circumstances. That documentary hasn’t been made yet, because we don’t know if Hillary is going to be the nominee for president. So those two projects are in limbo at the moment.
I have been spending Lent as a time to kind of step back and let the Lord tell me what He is going to have me working on next.
OB: In addition to writing, you’ve also been involved in politics. You were a volunteer for Mike Huckabee up in New Hampshire, right?
Dean: In the late 80’s and early 90’s I was a very intense pro-life activist. I never got arrested but I was hanging around with those Operation Rescue folks quite a bit. I actually ended up running a national organization called the American Life Coalition that sued abortionists and abortion clinics under medical malpractice. When we started it was just me and the founder. A couple of years later we had a staff of 12 and chapters in 48 states.
So it was quite a movement and I was caught up in all that. My life and my views were forever shaped by my exposure to the importance of preserving human life and not murdering little children. That shaped my political views. I don’t think I’ve been completely one-issue, but that has certainly been the main issue that has shaped my political views and who I support. I haven’t been real excited about the Republican Party over the last five to ten years. But Huckabee, I thought, was very articulate and pretty principaled particularly in that area and I was happy to support him.
OB: And you actually did something that most people don’t do, you went out and volunteered in an early primary state.
Dean: Well, I was up in Philadelphia and I was actually headed towards Orlando and I had a little time to kill. I looked at everything and thought, “Well, I’m only seven hours away from the most important presidential primary in the country. It only happens once every four years. So I think I’ll just go up there and try to do my part.”
And that’s what I did.
My concern on this ultimately is that I don’t think it matters who’s the president at this point. I think the country has made a decision to be a country that allows abortion to take place. And one of the reasons that I’m glad to be Orthodox is because I have less faith in political reform than I did fifteen years ago. I now have an institution that I can put my faith and trust in that is larger and more important than the United States of America. So, I’m very happy to be Orthodox.
OB: Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Dean: I think my writing so far and what my projects have shown is that the digital world and the technology allows someone like me to make an impact that maybe I would not been able to have twenty or thirty years ago. I think that should be an encouragement to other people. If they have some ideas, some visions of some things they want to write or some projects they want to accomplish, they can make an impact in their community and in the broader world. Because of technology there is a real chance to be able to do that.