Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Hindered Gospel

The youth of the Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas were scheduled to embark this coming Friday, July 3, on a long-scheduled music and mission tour to eastern Kentucky to sing praise to Almighty God and build decent housing for Appalachian poor people—two very basic things biblical faith commands followers of Christ to do.

They had carefully planned to work with Mountain Outreach, a mission associated with the University of the Cumberlands located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and to stay in dormitories on the university campus.

On Monday of this past week—two days ago— Broadway received a phone call from the university informing us that the youth group was not welcome at University of the Cumberlands. The subsequent facsimile sent to Broadway Minister of Youth Fran Patterson, in its entirety, said this:

“In light of the recent decision at the Southern Baptist Convention regarding your status and affiliation with the convention, we have determined that we must resend (sic) our invitation to participate in our summer program with Mountain Outreach beginning July 5 through the 11th. We regret any inconvenience that the situation has caused especially in such short notice.

“Any inquiries in this matter may be directed to the office of the President of the University of the Cumberlands.”

Presumably, only those affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention are qualified to do the work of the Lord at Cumberland.

Perhaps poor people who live in substandard housing in eastern Kentucky care about the denominational affiliation of those partnering with them in improving their lives. I lived and ministered in that lovely part of the world from 1986-1989 as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Albany, Kentucky, but I simply do not remember any such concern.

What I do remember is that the good people of Kentucky conducted themselves with the highest standards of Christian grace and hospitality.

When I delivered the Franklin P. Owen lectures on the campus of the University of the Cumberlands last September, during my tenure as Interim Pastor of Broadway, I received nothing but a respectful, gracious reception from the fine faculty, staff, and student body there.

Indeed, I discovered that the University of the Cumberlands mission statement, “to offer promising students of all backgrounds a broad based liberal arts program enriched with Christian values,” is put amply into practice.

So, I am puzzled by this impoliteness.

Furthermore, I am fairly certain, even in my limited understanding of the mysterious ways of God, that the work of the Gospel is not helped but hindered by Cumberland’s reactionary decision.

So is this is what it all has come to in Southern Baptist life, a moral absolutism so airtight that is has no room for a bunch of kids who just want to do something good for God?

The decision has left Youth Pastor Fran Patterson scrambling to make other arrangements so that the young teenagers eager to serve their fellow human beings would not be disappointed. I received the following email correspondence from Fran just now:

“Thank you so much for your support and help in this difficult situation. I think I have finally found a place for us to stay and serve in the Nashville area. The whole trip was planned around the mission project in Kentucky, so I needed to find a place that wouldn't upset the rest of the schedule. It is nice to know that there are friends out there who love us and support us in what we do. I am meeting with the youth tonight to explain the happenings of the last few days.”

I wish that youth pastor did not have to make such an explanation to people in such a formative stage of their moral development. Even the wisest moral teacher would have a difficult challenge making sense of this to an adolescent understanding. I have had two days to reflect on it, and my adult mind is still confused.

Perhaps the President of the University of the Cumberlands should give the explanation. He would say that the recent disfellowship of Broadway by the Southern Baptist Convention put him in a difficult position with regard to his trustees and donors. He would say that he couldn’t risk association with a church that receives all persons, regardless of background or condition, into its life and fellowship. He would say that he simply had the best interests of the university in mind.

But when he finished speaking those kids still would be confused. So would the poor folks of Whitley County. So would I.

And, I suspect, so would Jesus.

So, on second thought, save the explanation. Issue an apology instead.


James Aydelott said...

This fills me with sadness.

The real lessons taught by "moral absolutism" are often painful ones. And they are administered to people that are completely innocent. Collateral damage is what the military calls it.

It is shameful that this hurts the people who stood to benefit most, the young ministers of the love of God, and the people that were to be ministered to.

The world is one in pain and hurt. Its too bad that the wonderful youth at BBC weren't allowed to shine the bright love of God, due to a rigid dogmatic knee-jerk reaction.

Paul said...

Outrageous! How many of Jesus's parables addressed this issue--the "Thank God I'm not like that sinner" crowd; the religious leaders who avoided public association with tax-collectors and sinners who weren't members of their church . . . .??

I suppose that if the Pharisees who were contemporaries of Jesus could hear Him preach and see Him serve, and still reject Him, that our contemporary Pharisees will never exceed that miserable level of misunderstanding of the One who was "sent not . . . into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

Charlie Wilson said...

"Amen! Charlie, Amen!"

Just think, days after the SBC votes to "resurge" the Great Comission -- I never thought we needed to "resurge" something our Lord already said, but I digress -- this SBC University "desurges" the possible Great Comission and Kingdom Work these young students and ministers were going to do.

Once again the SBC continues to be a group that excludes rather than one that offers grace, mercy and love in the name of Christ.

My prayers to Pastor Fran and the youth as they continue on their mission. Thank you for being "salt and light".

Unknown said...

Jesus said "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven."

And so they came, and so they wished to serve their Savior. And they were rebuffed.

I have much to be accountable for myself, but Lord keep me from standing in the way of the children as they seek to serve you.

Ralph Atkinson said...

UC's president is James Taylor. His email address:
This is also the university that banned an openly gay student in 2006, only to have that decision overturned in court.
Interestingly, they offer a wireless products special from AT&T to faculty and staff, apparently endorsing the fact that AT&T is a Top 10 LGBT employer.

Anonymous said...

Its funny how the fundamentalists in the SBC have a way of ruining evangelism and missions outreach programs.
Remember "Bold missions thrust?" they REALLY ran that into the ground.

kc bob said...

Seems to be another example of corporate religion at its worst.. glad you are rid of the SBC Charlie.. never can tell what God will do outside of that box.

I'll bet freedom will take on a new meaning tomorrow.. Happy Independence Day Charlie!

Lyn said...

I suggested that since UC was "resending" its invitation, Fran should "reaccept" it and just show up. Somehow, she did not find that funny.

JennyRain said...

Pastor Charlie,

This just breaks my heart to hear for those kids. God bless ya'll as you endeavor to worship and serve even through this difficult season - I'll be praying for ya'll!

God bless,

Rigo said...

It's really sad. Our youth wanted nothing more than to spread the gospel and help needy folks in Kentucky, but the SBC and the university of the Cumberlands said we weren't welcome. Many people who call themselves Christians have absolutely no idea how to love others as Christ loved us all. I am sure that He is dismayed about the way Broadway, my church, and especially our youth, have been treated by the SBC and others who claim to speak for Him. Grace is offered to all, not only the morally pure,select few. I am proud of our youth, and I know that they are doing the Lord's work in Nashville. Too bad that the folks in Kentucky will not get to experience these gifts because of a few misguided moral absolutists. Thank you, Charlie, for your wonderful insight into this sad situation.

Anonymous said...

Oh Charlie, why can't the churchs/denominations realize they are running more people away from them than bringing in. I, myself, have almost been destroyed by legalism and prejudice leaving a lifelong stuggle with the question: am I saved or not?
I thank God there are men, ministers, like you who, first and foremost show the love of God before doctrine. Thank you, Charlie for being a blessing in my life in the truly rescued me from the brink of Hell. Keep loving, keep ministering and stay yourself.
We love you. June

Charlie Johnson said...

I keep thinking about Jesus' statement to the religious leaders of his day about the destruction of the Temple-- and the resurrection of it in a new order of love. When the religious institution loses its way of love, it will soon be dismantled, and replaced with a new movement properly motivated by agape.

This is what is presently happening in the Southern Baptist Convention.

kc bob said...

"replaced with a new movement properly motivated by agape"

..well said Charlie!