Monday, July 30, 2012

Is this a hill on which to die?

By now most SBCers who stay in touch have heard about the church in Mississippi where a black couple was to be married and how the day before the wedding they were told they could not because they were black.

A local news outlet gives an update on the story here.

The basic outline of the story is that the couple, not members but attenders at the church, were scheduled to be married there. A wedding rehearsal was held at the church but the pastor informed the couple that some in the church objected to the wedding on the basis of their race and that they had to move the wedding to avoid controversy.

The wedding was moved to a nearby church. The pastor performed the ceremony.

The couple ended up telling their story to a news outlet. Viral, is the word for it, I think.

One member said that a small group in the church "intimidated the pastor and created a situation that had him in a bind and he was trying to do the best he could to work it out."

The pastor said Sunday morning that the congregation should
"have [the] faith to lead them through this storm and community unity" and that  he hoped "it will be a situation where the end result, the long term result, will be a win, win for everyone, and that our church will certainly have the reputation that we love people and we want to minister to everybody."

The pastor has been roundly condemned for not standing up to the unnamed members of his church who forced the decision.

After reading reactions on the various comment streams, I never knew there were so many bold and Southern Baptists who would declare that they would have stood up to the racists and died on that hill. Of course, they might have but we will never know.

It is cheap courage that boasts of how one would have been bold and fearless in that situation. Spare me the tawdry and shameless chest thumping, please.

Calls have been sounded for the church to be excluded, no matter that the church did not make this decision.

Calls have been sounded for the church to repent, no matter that the church did not sin in this.

More properly, calls should be sounded for the unnamed member or members to repent.

Call it cynicism, realism, or experience, but when someone comes to me and says, "Pastor, some of us are upset about..." my first thought is that it may be just a single person, maybe two or three that are upset, but almost never any sizable group in the church.

Although the pastor's comments above have an air of unreality about them, he has my sympathy. Here is a guy who needs a bit of grace and a friend.



Tom Parker said...


It sure sounds like a lot of self righteous talk by many.

What would they do if an African-American couple came to them and requested to be married in their church?

It is too easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

Tim Bonney said...

I konw William you don't want to hear "I would have done…" I agree that until you've been in such a conflict situation you don't know what you will do.

But in 2012 isn't what this church did far beyond reasonable Christian behavior? Frankly the pastor would be at least risk for the future of his ministry if he had resigned than he will be staying there. There will be many churches that won't want to see his resume if he stays because he'll be tainted by this congregation's reputation for racism.

For this pastor the bigger risk is staying associated with this congregation which over time is going to have a hard time surviving this scandal. In one fell swoop they've destroyed their reputation and made themselves a national laughing stock.

If he'd knocked the dust off his shoes and walked out the door I can think of quite a few churches who would not only applaud his courage but would consider him good material for a job.

Anonymous said...

"Calls have been sounded for the church to repent, no matter that the church did not sin in this."

Who were the people, that is, what positions did they hold in the congregation? Who did the pastor contact? The pastor had an opportunity, but he missed it, but he is advised to use his failure and subsequent repentance as a model for others in the congregation. No desire to condemn him, but he does not get a pass, either. Whether the church sinned, I don't know without information requested above, but now that this has happened, whether or not it sins from this point forward is an open question. If it does not speak to this as an affront to God's love and as a congregation called to embody it, then, yes, it has sinned. In any event, parties in the church and lack of reasonable foresight in the congregation as to this possibility, suggest brokenness at some level or levels exists. The only way, with integrity, forward for this congregation is to acknowledge the brokenness, repent as necessary for such, and then commit itself to relationships of all races and ethnicities. We are decades past this kind of thing causing a problem and decades behind behind other issues that cause many in the world to wonder why the church insists on being irrelevant for meaningful living.

Dave Miller said...

In my view, if we are going to have any credibility on racial issues, we have to see racism as a "hill to die on."

This is one thing on which we cannot waffle.

Anonymous said...

"... we cannot waffle."

Did SBC take up the Land issue at the recent convention? Electing the current President, while a step forward, does not alleviate the convention's responsibility as the convention to lament a convention official's conduct. But then, again, it was who it was and not some rank and file SBC official of little influence or ties.

Tom Parker said...

I am in no way trying to contradict what was said earlier, but I found it very interesting how the Land issue was handled at the recent convention--which was--How was it handled? Did he get preferential treatment because of who he is?

Tim Rogers said...


I know we have been on opposite sides in the past, but I think I am falling on your side of the line here. While I believe the pastor should have taken a stronger stand I do not know all of the issues he faced. Could it be there was a church policy that was violated the pastor knew nothing about that had absolutely nothing to do with race he was violating? I do not know, but it is apparent the pastor told the couple it was the color of their skin. For the pastor to use the term win/win it certainly seems strange. Could it be he believed the wedding would be interrupted by a racist group if it was held in the church facilities? Could it be the pastor was protecting the integrity of the couples day by suggesting they move it? This win/win language has me thrown.

However, that being said, you are correct no one knows what they will do until they are starring racism in the face. You think the Pastor would like a do-over on this one?

Jonathan said...

This is just one of the many reasons that I admire William (and why I need to share meals with him and his wife more often). I like the way he wants to use Grace in this situation.

On the other hand, I see Land being mentioned in the comments. Can we get to reality on this? He was disciplined by the SBC for accusing the Obama administration and certain civil rights leaders of using the Trayvon Martin death to stir up racial tension and "gin up the black vote" for 2012.

Thoughtful and non racist people can agree with Land on this (even though it might not have been the most delicate thing to say out loud).

Stephen Fox said...

Two things. To Rev Thornton I add my kudos for rightly dividing a word of truth on this matter.
To Dave Miller here is a challenge. As 2nd VP of the SBC begin in earnest an honest race history of Paul Pressler, Jesse Helms, Albert Lee Smith and other leaders in the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC