Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Call to Manhood

Before I even begin this blog/letter, please let me state that it is with a burdened heart and a great deal of thought and prayer.  I want to state openly and before anything else, that I am sending a copy of this letter to both men involved and am, of course taking personal responsibility over what I am saying in this blog.  I do not believe that we have a right biblically, to handle things in an open forum when the Bible calls us to go to someone directly and, I do not believe we should be so cowardly as to post “anonymously” – but I will say that I have chosen to post this blog, rather than just send the letter, because both men have made their stands and beliefs in a very open and “public” manner, and I believe it should be called into question in an equally open manner to address the concerns.   I am not perfect, and do not claim to be.  I am infinitely fallible and capable of any sin known to man – including my heart’s desperate desire for peace and longing to avoid conflict – a sin I battle in my ministry often.  I write this letter and blog, not with the wisdom and knowledge of an expert, but as someone who has walked and lived in a ministry that has required me to stand on biblical truth many times and battle my desire for peace as I seek to glorify God in conflict.   There is a time to stand – even if it creates conflict, because it is RIGHT and BIBLICAL to do so. 

It should also be noted that the church, First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs and Pastor Stan Weatherford, issued a public apology this past Sunday for the actions that have occurred.  While the apology stated that they were sorry for “the hurt that was brought” to the couple, and that they recognized that the church is made up of people who “intentionally, at times, choose not to follow the Lord’s will”…this apology still falls short in dealing with one specific area – will our response to sinfulness be active and taking responsibility, or be passive and compromising in trying to avoid conflict at all costs.  I am so thankful that the Church and the local community are facing this issue and dealing with the harm it has caused in a positive manner, but I hate to think that a valuable lesson in manhood is going to be overlooked in the attempt to make peace. 

A Request for Mississippi Baptist Leadership to Evaluate the Definition of Manhood:

One of the most enjoyable things that I do as a Pastor is on Thursday mornings when I have the opportunity to lead Men's Fraternity. One of the first things we went through in this men’s Bible Study, was the definition of manhood. This definition was so good, I put it on the wall in our boys playroom (actually as teens, they now call it the “man-cave”). But the definition is: “A man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously and expects the greater reward…God's reward.”  My thoughts ran to this definition this week as I pondered the tragic decision that was made by the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, MS. to not allow an African American couple to have a wedding ceremony in their facility. However, I must confess after further reading and studying the matter, my concern for the church abated some as I saw multiple reports that this was a minority of the congregation that seems to have worked behind the scenes to disrupt such a Christ honoring event as a wedding ceremony. I have personally watched a small militant and divisive group cause great harm in churches working in cowardly, behind the scenes manner. However, as a believer (especially in Mississippi), I believe we cannot “gloss over” this issue and simply let it go: there is more going on than just a wedding here.   After much prayer and examination of this issue, and going based on just what these men have stated publicly, about their own beliefs and reasons, I believe responsibility falls to two brothers in Christ who I hope will consider the definition above. I believe these two brothers had a responsibility to act and react in a biblical manner regarding overt sinfulness; it is to these two brothers that I feel we, as believers, should respond as they have made their decisions publically:    

The first is to Pastor Stan Weatherford, who I am sure had no desire for the type of press he has received. I fully understand the difficulties of being a Pastor, and I have experienced first-hand, having to make tough decisions that I knew could most certainly endanger my job and may cause difficulty for our church in the short-run. I know the turmoil that this can bring to a family and I can imagine the pressure he must have felt in attempting to lead First Baptist Crystal Springs through this crossroads. However, this decision to acquiesce to the bigoted minority, or even a majority, and simply move the wedding away from the church, is to bow down to a complete compromise of the Gospel. If we hold to Scripture as being inerrant and we do, then we believe that marriage is not simply a gift from God to us as people, but we believe that marriage is a living, breathing illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Church. He is the creator and definer of marriage, not us, because He set it up. Therefore, marriage is a picture of the Gospel – of Christ redeeming His imperfect bride and making her without blemish for His glory.  We are His simply because He chose us to be for His glory and through His work of grace alone…we are a bride that is undeserving and in need of His grace.  And this same grace that is shown to us through the picture of marriage is the same grace that goes out to any race, any color and any nationality.  For Pastor Stan to bow to a "vocal minority" (his words) is not pastoral move, but a move of passivity to protect his job and, I believe also to keep his church from conflict.  However, this picture of the Gospel is too valuable and too important to make light of to simply avoid conflict.   

I find it strange that we had untold thousands support Chick-Fil-A for their biblical stance on marriage, and are “up in arms” about the issue of homosexuals having a "kiss in" at some Chick-fil-A's - but we have not heard alarm for this bigoted decision allowed by this Pastor and this Church (even in Mississippi!). My guess is the greater damage could be done from Pastor Weatherford's decision on allowing racial prejudice to dictate a church decision, than from a stance on homosexuality. While I wholeheartedly agree in the biblical definition of marriage, I think the point is moot if I don't have a biblical understanding of how that marriage illustrates the church and Gospel. The church is a local group of believers that are joined to together and united first and foremost, through the grace of Christ found through the cross (there is much more regarding doctrine accountability but this shortened definition will do for this). The point is that what unifies us is the grace of God, not our favorite football teams, nor our skin color or country of origin. To be silent or to compromise on an issue as crucial to the Gospel as bigotry, is to miss our calling completely. By allowing bigoted thinking to keep two individuals from celebrating this covenant of marriage before God in the fellowship of believers, is to mar the picture of the Gospel going forth to all nations. 

Now, for the individual who had an opportunity to clearly speak for Mississippi Baptists and give a uncompromising definition of marriage and how it relates to the Gospel; Dr. Jim Futral. When given this opportunity to speak with grace and boldness, here is his quote: "Mississippi Baptists both reject racial discrimination and at the same time respect the autonomy of our local churches to deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus." Well, obviously there is a misunderstanding of Lordship here. Christ is my Lord, therefore I can't hate someone for their skin color, for their nationality or for any other reason, because He is Lord - He forbids it; and, as a believer when I do something Christ forbids, I must repent. I certainly believe if Pastor Weatherford made the decision to have homosexuals marry in First Baptist Crystal Springs that Dr. Futral would come out stronger than he did on this issue.   I believe we make such an issue over homosexuality because we are more confident that we are not dealing with that in our own lives – it is an open, defining sin that the Bible calls sin (meaning you either are, or are not a homosexual)…but racial prejudice, well…we like to believe that is a little more “murky” and of course is not nearly as critical, right?   Even our Baptist Faith and Message sets the two side by side when it says in section XV:
"All Christians are under obligation to seek and make the will of Christ
supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods
used for the improvement of society and the establishment of
righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when
they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual  by the saving grace
of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose
racism, every form of greed...all forms of sexual immorality, including
adultery, homosexuality and pornography."

Now, if Dr. Futral heard of a church allowing homosexuality or showing pornography on couple’s retreats, I imagine he would not simply say: "We stand against all forms of sin, but it is a matter of church autonomy on homosexuality." No, if he did, his job would be on the line. But amazingly we are passive, with such tepid responses when dealing with open bigotry and racial prejudice.  I am not attacking Dr. Futral or Pastor Weatherford as we have all made decisions we wish we would have done differently, but a clear attack on the Gospel in this fashion demands a stronger response.  Dr. Futral had no problem stepping out and being one of few Executive Directors to sign his name on the controversial and potentially divisive "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation." This document caused a great deal of turmoil with brothers on both sides working in missions together; brothers that get the Gospel right. Dr. Futral made an amazingly strong stand on that issue with such potential divisiveness across the convention, yet such a weak response on this issue.  Given our State’s history in bigotry and prejudice, and what a disturbing misrepresentation of the Gospel this example of bigotry was, why not a stronger response here? Why choose to take such a weak stand on this issue?  To avoid conflict in your own “backyard”?  Or was it because it was not a group signing a document, but only one man being asked to respond and take a stand in the face of obvious sinfulness.  

In conclusion, this negative situation was an opportunity for First Baptist Crystal Springs, Dr. Weatherford and Dr. Futral to call for repentance and stand for the Gospel. It was as simple as "rejecting passivity" and when that isn't done, one can never accept responsibility. Here is an opportunity for God to use this situation to display His glory through His people holding to truth. Let's do so in one accord and pray that in coming days we all more aggressive in doing right.  


Brad Walker said...

Yes! Amen & Amen, my brother. Thank you for speaking up as a Mississippi Pastor in a time when silence has been deafening.

Bill Thierfelder said...

According to the news reports, the apology also fell short in that NO apology was given by the church leaders to the couple themselves. Alledgedly, they only found out about it because it was reported publically. If this is true, the apology itself was insufficient. If you can confirm or deny the accuracy of that news report, it would be important information for your readers to have.