Speaking of change…..

Today we read the news that a couple had their wedding moved from a Mississippi church because some of its Baptist members could not tolerate the notion of an African-American Wedding in their church. The first startling thing that hits you in the face when you read this is the realization that this can still even be a discussion in this day in age.  But after you get over that initial shock, there is another layer of concern that is at the root of what happened here.

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson

Pastor Stan Weatherford who performed the wedding, after moving it to another church, had no problem with the wedding.  He was not willing to weather the storm that blew through First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs when a few controllers spoke out against the wedding. He expressed surprise that their opposition saying, “This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that… “I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te’Andrea. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day,”

I watched an interview on CNN this morning where one church member suggested that Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson should come back and forgive the few who caused the trouble. What is missing in that call is the lack of an acknowledgement that they all need forgiveness. The entire congregation, pastor included, is responsible – not just the “small but vocal group” who caused the ruckus in the first place.

While it would seem easy to point the finger at this congregation and say “Shame.” Sadly, the behaviour that drove this decision is played out in most congregations all the time. This particular episode points out how very destructive this behavior can be at its very worst, but make no mistake, many churchgoers in many congregations have been hurt by church leaders who succumb to the controllers in congregations. Bill Easum calls the controllers ‘Sacred Cows’ and he suggests that we should use them to make gourmet burgers.

Bill Easum describes the sacred cow of control in Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers:

The life and spirit of established churches is being drained by mean-spirited people called Controllers. Controllers are those leaders who withhold permission or make it difficult for new ministries to start. Control and the abuse of power and authority have no place in the Body of Christ. It is time for us to either convert or neutralize the Controllers.

Hear the frustration of church member Casey Kitchens who was outraged by the church’s decision:

“This is a small, small group of people who made a terrible decision. I’m just ashamed right now that my church would do that. I can’t fathom why. How unfair. How unjust. It’s just wrong.”[1]

Many church members get tired of those who seem to always hold the congregations that they belong to hostage. We have all heard the hymns that Sacred Cows sing: “We have none done that here before.” “We have tried that here, it does not work!” “If that happens in this church I will withdraw my financial support.” “Play that music and I will quit the choir!” “If such and such changes, I will leave!”

I think the news of First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs refusal to marry a couple because of race highlights a leadership issue that we all face.  I pray that the pastor and the leaders of the First Baptist stop pointing the finger at the Sacred Cows and find the courage to fire up the BBQ and make some gourmet burgers of the control issues in their church. At the same time I pray that all of our congregations heed this as a warning that the loving, freeing , redeeming, healing, life-giving message of Jesus cannot be held hostage in our churches. Let us also have the grill ready!