We saw quite a dust-up on the Internet Friday on news that the wedding for a black couple had to be moved from their Southern Baptist church because objections were raised by church members.
We were all roundly appalled that such racism still exists in our circles. One would have thought such prejudice would have long since been eradicated, given the witness of Scripture that we are all created of one blood, that there is in the Body of Christ neither Jew nor Greek.
Actually, I wasn’t as appalled at the racist church members as I was with those who rushed to condemn the pastor for moving the ceremony, rather than insisting it go a head as planned at his church.
A seminary professor I greatly admire dropped a link to the story into Facebook and commented that he was embarrassed a church in his home state would still harbor such ungodly attitudes. The response was instantaneous, but the flood of comments he received reflected a spirit every bit as undesirable as that of the racist church members.
Commenters accused this pastor in Mississippi of denying the Gospel and caring more about his job security. “He needs to grow a backbone, and fast.” “His own words condemn him as one not willing to deal with this sin.” “Pathetic!!!”
Such harsh judgments were immediately dispensed on the basis of one short quote in a newspaper article: “I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding …. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day.”
Words like these directed at a Christian brother and pastor, in spite of the fact that the criticizers had practically no information at all to inform their opinions. (No news article should be taken at face value. These folks had no idea whether the reporter is competent or exercised any bias in selecting the quote he was going to use from the pastor. Besides what the pastor said that the reporter chose not to quote, there are the things a wise pastor would never say to a reporter, a blogger, or a gossip.)
The criticizers also had no clue about what pastor is doing or planning to do to deal with the matter. Leading a church through conflict is a complex and delicate process. Many lives, even eternal destinies, are at stake. Angels, as it is said, are discerning enough to not rush in.
What a pathetic irony that people, who have understood the heart of Christ well enough to turn away from racism, would so readily mount a verbal lynch mob against this pastor!
Sadly, some of those quickest to condemn the pastor were Christians who make much of the “doctrines of grace.” Like many of you who also spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet, I had been following the digital hoo-rah about Chick-fil-A. I had been astonished at how the mainstream media perverted Dan Cathy’s support of pro-family causes into ludicrous charges of anti-gay discrimination. But I was deeply saddened when some of the outpouring about the racist incident in Mississippi reflected no more of Christ’s spirit than the outrage directed at CFA by lost, blinded souls. I’m not surprised when irrational prejudice bubbles up out of that spring but, among the people of God, quick-to-speak judgmentalism should be as unexpected as racism.
We laugh at the irony of “tolerant” secular people being so intolerant of Christian conviction, but how are intolerant secularists going to experience the grace of Christ if Christians don’t live it out before them? When we rush to judgment of this pastor, we only confirm the prejudice toward Christians. We prove we are no different than the lost world, no more loving or compassionate, no more seeking redemption. Seeing the hypocrisy in us only sharpens the world’s hatred for Christ and good-hearted people who are just trying to live out Jesus’ values.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for church discipline. There has been too little confronting sin in our churches for far too long. That anyone would object to either the wedding or the location is ugly testimony to the nominalism in our ranks. For decades, we have taken in members far too easily, not examining prospects for clear evidence of having been born again. We have been lopsided in our preaching and teaching, neglecting to insist on the works of grace integral to saving faith, and placing little or no emphasis on the warning passages of Scripture. We have not helped our members understand that God requires his people to be holy as he is holy.
But if the time for judgment has come, remember it must begin with the family of God. (1 Peter 4:17) Take that personally, like I do. Read: “If the time for judgment has come, it must begin with me.” Yes, judgment needs to be communicated to others, both lost and found, but we need to do a compassion check on ourselves before we start in on others. If, when we fall short, we want to be dealt with in grace, we need to be channels of grace to others when they fail. That is especially true when dealing with controversial matters in the church.
Addressing conflict or sin in the Body of Christ is much like medical treatment: You begin with milder cures and less-invasive procedures, and work your way up the scale of intensity until you find an effective treatment. If nothing works and you finally determine radical surgery is required, you use a sharp scalpel, not a dull machete.
The goal, after all — whether you are dealing with a brother in Christ who has fallen into sin or a pastor who is struggling to live up to his high calling in Christ — is that the patient survive and be returned to good health. Our primary aim in addressing sin in the church must be redemption, long before we look to punishment. When other Christians fall into sin, Scripture admonishes godly believers to gently and humbly help them return to the right path. (Galatians 6:1)
If we are going to fly the flag of grace, our speech and conduct must be salted with grace. Otherwise, we prove ourselves unworthy of the one who wanted so badly for others to live that he was willing to die himself.