Last week, my commentary (entitled “Here Is What Happened”) stayed in place less than three hours. I took it down after my friends urged me to do so. Many of my regular readers did not see it at all, reading only my brief (also-controversial) explanation of what happened.
Let me give you an update.
I wrote the column about an unnamed church here in Glynn County wracked with tension triggered by a video and a sermon from the July 5, 2020 worship service. I used no names and those out of state readers had no idea I was writing about my own church.
Here are the opening paragraphs to that column:
Three white men in our county tracked down and murdered a young black man out for a jog in the neighborhood.
The failure of local authorities to arrest the perpetrators set in motion a local protest movement, which in turn lit the fuse that burned all the way through Louisville and New York to Minneapolis. There, it exploded into a worldwide movement for racial solidarity and social justice.
The pastor of a white protestant church in our county joined with other ministers and community leaders to lead this local protest. A member of his congregation made a video recording of his bike ride through the aforementioned community, which he then edited, adding the music of gospel artist Kirk Franklin, a prayer entitled “My World Needs You”. He posted it on FB where it has been viewed by at least 12,000 people. WATCH
A week later, the pastor played that video for his congregation during the morning worship service. He preached a sermon entitled “Peace in the City” inspired by Jeremiah 29:4-9. WATCH Besides the prophet, he quoted Jesus, the novel The Swan House, and a guest editorial in the local newspaper, in which a resident recounted an episode from her high school days when many bystanders refused to intervene as rude and angry people shouted racist insults to some of the citizens.
“Do not be indifferent,” the pastor implored his people. “Be the presence of Jesus in your corner of the community. If we all act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we can make great strides forward.”
That video and sermon (or one of the two) triggered an immediate and emotional response from members of our church which stirred up pre-existing complaints about our pastor. Together, these created a situation where elected officials in the church, lay and otherwise, were talking seriously about a pastoral resignation.
Ten days after the Sunday service in question I wrote my column. I described the worship service and the immediate response. I noted that the emotional fervor of the response seemed out of proportion to the perceived provocation. I suggested three sources for this emotion: personal but private trouble of some sort; or the generalized anxiety and anger that all of us are feeling these days; or the more traditional resistance to pastors in the South addressing the on-going issues of race, class, and public policy.
That column, I am told, enflamed passions even further, and I understand why, although I don’t retract my speculation about three possible (and subterranean) sources of the emotions and actions that overwhelmed our congregation. But I love and respect our pastor and, like all of us, care about the vitality and cohesion of our congregation. Upon the urging of my close friends, I took down the link to the column.
I am not sure where things stand now, as I am not part of any leadership group in the church nor of any ad hoc network attempting to forge any solution to this unhappy situation. I have agreed to meet (before the end of the month) with a few people to view the video in question and discuss our interpretation to it. We are all curious as to how and why the video served as a trigger for this congregational episode.
I have already apologized for certain things I wrote in the first column and am eager to do so again as I become aware of further need. I hope we all can be people who seek and offer forgiveness, in keeping with the most fundamental elements of our faith (and of the Prayer of Jesus).
Furthermore, I confess that I am a racist, and I suspect others in our congregation are predisposed to the same confession. Regardless of my convictions, I find myself assuming things, judging people, and prejudging events in ways that disgust and embarrass myself. It makes me ashamed, but it also reminds me that these responses are engrained too deeply in my psyche for me to do otherwise.
I often feel like the man who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief”. In such moments I identify with the great Apostle Paul who wrote in his letter to the Romans “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”
What I need is conversion! And when it comes to race, there are many of us who need a conversion. We need a conversion to the way of Jesus. Our country needs a conversion. Our county needs a conversion. Our church needs a conversion, a conversion to the way of Jesus.
Maybe these tense and trying times at our church on the island will open a way for all of us to be changed into the likeness of Jesus, who received everyone and loved everyone and died for everyone that we might live as one family while we are here on God’s good earth. May it be so, Lord, may it be so!