KOH2RVA: Day 211

argument-380x258I had coffee yesterday with a pastor from the area who said some unkind things about me in one of his recent blog posts. A friend in town asked me if I had seen it. I hadn’t, but when I read it my first thought was, “Well, this man just doesn’t know me!”

So, I called him and asked if we could have coffee sometime, and that’s what we ended up doing yesterday afternoon, at the Starbucks on the corner of Broad and Bowe.

The conversation was cordial. We spent some time talking about our families and about our ministry, but eventually we got around to the subject of his blog post, which was the recent decision by the Richmond Baptist Association to allow Ginter Park Baptist Church to maintain its membership, even though it had ordained an openly gay man to the ministry. His argument was that by speaking up for Ginter Park Baptist Church I had affirmed gay ordination.

I didn’t see it that way at all.

I told him that what I was speaking up for was missional partnership, and that it was something that had been reinforced through KOH2RVA. On this year-long, every-member mission trip I have discovered that there are a number of other churches, organizations, and agencies that have a similar mission—in their own ways they, too, are working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, for example, just across the street from First Baptist, has a food pantry for hungry and homeless people. St. Mark’s does church differently than First Baptist. They have some different beliefs than First Baptist. But one of the things we agree on is that hungry and homeless people need to be fed; we both see it as a way of bringing heaven to earth.

So, do we have to agree on everything in order to work together? Not at all, at least not where feeding hungry people is concerned. But I wouldn’t invite the rector of St. Mark’s to teach a class on our core beliefs at First Baptist and he wouldn’t invite me to do that at St. Mark’s. Our beliefs are different enough that it wouldn’t be helpful.

So I was telling this pastor as we had coffee yesterday that I didn’t think we had to agree with everything Ginter Park did in order to partner with them in mission—sending inner-city kids to Camp Alkulana in the summer, for example, seemed like something we could both get behind.

But he didn’t see it that way.

He talked about tribal identity, and said that what Ginter Park had done really put them outside the boundaries of the Baptist “tribe,” and that they could no longer be considered part of us. For that reason we could no longer work together; we were too different.

He had a point. I’m guessing he wouldn’t invite the pastor of Ginter Park to teach a class on core beliefs at his church, and the pastor of Ginter Park probably wouldn’t invite him to teach that class at hers. But couldn’t they agree that inner-city kids need to go to Camp Alkulana in the summer, and couldn’t they pool their resources to that end? Do we have to agree on everything in order to work together?

I’m afraid that what’s going to suffer in this dispute is not his church or her church, but those inner-city kids. And isn’t that always the way it is? We Christians start arguing about doctrine and neglect our mission,

And children suffer,
And people go hungry,
And the good news isn’t shared,

And Jesus sighs.

19 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 211

  1. I will share with you what someone shared with me in his wise counsel over coffee. Maybe it was in one of his sermons. More than likely, it happened both ways. Anyway he said this, “…if I ever get to that place where I am more concerned about the way you look at me than the way God looks at me, then I would deserve whatever condemnation might come.” I have no doubt Jesus is looking at you with His heart full of love. Thank you for being true to God, in heart, mind and spirit. Well done.

  2. It seems to me we Christians ought to do our best to separate ideas from ideals. Not doing so causes issues like this one arise, and the feuding to begin. There’s one all-important ideal all Christians ought to share, but there may be many ideas on which we disagree. The one ideal that should bind us together is the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” The folks at Ginter Park are our neighbors, aren’t they? We are all neighbors.

  3. I have a beautiful nine year-old daughter. She is part of my tribe. She is starting to have her own opinions and be her own person. You see where I’m going with this, but let me take it further. I have made sacrifices for her that she never sees. Most of what I do in that regard is invisible to her anyway. This is what parents do. I do not expect her to shower me with praise or gratitude, nor will I ever expect her to acknowledge my sacrifices. I love her, enjoy watching her grow and be her own person and that is enough. My God is no less than this. And this is just the beginning of how we love. I’ve learned that compassion does not come without cost. I am expected, as a Christian, to emulate that same love I have for my child to others not of my tribe. In the end, for me, there is no doctrine, creed, or confession that supersedes this absolute requirement demanded of me as one who would be a disciple. I is this one command (John 13) which will distinguish those who are willing to pick up the cross, and those who seek only solace in their religion. For Christians, it’s time to separate the sheep from the goats.

  4. As is often the case, I find it hard not to comment on your delightful, insightful, and thoroughly helpful blogs! The two previous comments say it very well indeed, and I would only add that last time I looked, the “Law of Unintended Consequences” hasn’t been repealed — I’m hopeful that this time one of the unintended consequences of this “some Baptists vs. Ginter Park Baptists” dialogue is that people WILL indeed begin to think BEFORE they proclaim THEIR truth as THE TRUTH — Happily, God made us all individuals, with the possibility of making rational (& irrational !!!) choices, so it is actually possible – though not guaranteed – for reasonable people to differ and still accomplish things together! I pray that living God’s love in such a way that others can see His likeness in our lives becomes a more universal loving way to live — way too many wars are fought, fueled by “religious” differences, and belief that there is only one sure way to find God!

  5. I believe that you have mentioned this idea in one of your sermons, if not more than one of your sermons, over the past five years that you have been at First Baptist, but I think that it is more important for people to concentrate on the things that they have in common than to concentrate on the things that divide them. This is true in church settings, politics, and in our own families. If we simply concentrate on what divides us, rarely will anything useful ever get accomplished, such as bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond Virginia. I understand where the other pastor is coming from when he talks about “tribal identity” and it is important to be a part of a “tribe” for the support that it offers and provides. Unfortunately, thinking in these terms invariably separates us from other people, other “tribes”, and this separation many times breeds suspicion, animosity and, in the worst cases, hatred of the other tribe. The racial divide that has existed and continues to exist in Richmond is a perfect example of how “tribal” mentality can harm a city and the people who live there.

    Jesus set the perfect example when he put himself in the midst of those that we probably would not think belonged to his “tribe”. The religious leaders of his time were appalled at this and chastised him for associating with such people, but Jesus did it because he loved these people and he knew they were desperately in need of his love. I hardly consider myself a perfect person and fall far short when it comes to living what most Baptist would consider a Christian life. However, after having spent all my life attending different Christian churches, different “tribes” as it were, I think that I have some understanding of what it means to be a Christian. We cannot live as perfect a life as Christ did but, if one is going to call themselves a Christian, they need to live a life that is at least Christlike. Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians, but engage in activities that tend to drive people apart as opposed to bringing them together are not living what I consider a Christlike life.

    However, all this is just my opinion, for whatever it is worth. Since I happen to live in a “glass house”, I hesitate to throw stones, but I thought that I needed to address the issues brought up in Jim’s blog. Have a good day.

  6. Hey Jim. I had read your blog earlier this morning, and my devotional reading brought home an interesting (at least to my mind) connection. The text was Hebrews 12:1-3. As I was meditating on a phrase in v.1, the thought occurred to me that doctrinal differences that prove to be inconsequential to the mission of providing for the disadvantaged around us in Jesus’ name might fall under the “everything that hinders us” category. Not that we ignore those doctrinal differences, but that we do not allow them to prevent us from working together with others who also seek to follow Christ, but who perhaps do it in ways that are not exactly like our ways. We may disagree on some things, but it is clear that Jesus wants us to feed the hungry and we can certainly do that together.

  7. The fact that so many have such an issue with homosexuality and the church is confusing to me. Whether homosexuality is a sin or not, it seems to me that our call is the same. To love one another. We have had many conversations about this subject in my own church. It is interesting to me as an academic question but doesn’t change what god expects of me. If we are to be Christlike in our faith, then it seems obvious to me that we are also called to reach beyond the barriers of our own tribes as Jesus did.

  8. I agree with you. We need to focus on the mission, not the core values of each other’s walk. Last time I checked, there was no “Baptist Tribe”. Baptists are inherently independent churches, even though many core values are similar. I will always remember that during your interviews before you came to First Baptist, the subject of homosexuality came up. You told us you felt that we must be hospitable to all. God will take care of what he has to take care of. I think that is why FBC is seen as much more open and “hospitable” now. We talked about this at Ralph’s “Radical Hospitality” session last night. Keep on leading us in the right direction.

  9. Seems to me that we all read the same great book, the Bible, and that Jesus gave us one great commandment, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself. Why then do we have to bring different phliosphies and theologies into play when discussing what one church does over what any church does. Are we not all Baptists with the same basic theology, are we not all taught to love our neighbours as ourselves regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. I think that Jim is right on track in this case and I am right behind him in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to RVA.

  10. That issue is a touchy one and I understand why. I wish we could all agree that God can touch us all no matter race, class or sexual orientation.

  11. Dr. Somerville,
    There is much I would like to say regarding your blog and the comments pertaining to it. I will, however, restrict myself to two:

    1. I continue to be amazed at the recurring implication that Christian love means never having to say ‘you’re a sinner.’ God is Love but He is also Righteous, Holy and Just. He will not be mocked. While we are admonished biblically to ‘love our neighbors’ and ‘to do good to those who harm us’, we are NEVER instructed to ignore sinful behavior. I can find no instance in the Bible where Jesus compromised his view of sin for the sake of ‘love’. Were I to come to you and FBC, asking to be ordained while I openly lived with my boyfriend, could you and FBC, in good faith, accede to my request?

    2. You stated that the issue with GPBC is not about homosexuality but about helping poor children have a happy, healthy summer experience. Your point then, is that the end justifies the means. You are willing to tolerate a certain level of unrepentant sin and/or apostasy in a church leader as long as the outcome is one of which you approve. Or am I misrepresenting your position?

  12. Since when is living in sin i.e., an openly gay pastor, a doctrinal issue. This is what will happen to churches they are watering down the gospel for the sake of culture and “good works”. The truth is the truth whether you like it or not.

  13. Sally: Good to hear from you again. We really do need to have a cup of coffee someday!

    I think the big difference in what I’m saying and what you’re hearing is this: You ask if First Baptist Church would ordain you while you were still “living in sin” with your boyfriend. That’s different than asking if First Baptist Church would let you help out at our food pantry under the same circumstances. In one situation you are asking us to give you our blessing; in the other situation you are simply asking us if you can help us with a mission we have already approved, and where the food pantry is concerned, I think you could help a homeless person fill a grocery bag without “corrupting” our mission.

    When the RBA met on March 19 it wasn’t to vote on whether or not churches should ordain homosexuals. It was to vote on whether or not we could continue to partner in mission with a church that had done such a thing. For instance, can we accept Ginter Park’s money to help send inner-city kids to camp, or not? Although ordaining homosexuals is an extreme example, we cannot make doctrinal uniformity a condition of partnership. No two churches—in fact, no two people—believe in exactly the same things in exactly the same way.

  14. Jim, am I misunderstanding you? You believe that accepting homosexuality or not accepting homosexuality is doctrinal? Help me with this.

  15. Sandi: “Doctrine” means “teaching.” For example, the doctrine of the church is the teaching of the church. Biblical doctrine is the teaching of the Bible. The Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong, but nowhwere does it condemn homosexuals. In the same way the Bible teaches that adultery and fornication are wrong, without ever condemning heterosexuals. Many churches teach that while sexuality, in and of itself, is not wrong, what we do with our sexuality can be, and it’s this—what we do with who we are—that matters most to God.

    Is that clear?

  16. Dr. Somerville,

    I understand what the vote on March 19th represented. Let me see if I understand what you are saying. As a church that follows biblical truths, FBC is willing to work with any organization that labels itself a ‘church’ as long as that ‘church’ is willing to work toward the same objectives as FBC? As followers of Christ, you and FBC would be perfectly content to work shoulder to shoulder with Westboro Baptist Church and accept her money becasue, after all, no two churches agree 100% on doctrinal issues? Dr. Somerville, what is the biblical justification for this perspective? You blog often about your concern over the decreasing membership in America’s Christian churches. I believe the very issue we are discussing is the reason for this decline.
    Many churches have altered or adjusted their doctrinal beliefs to reflect the current culture. Once that happens, those churches have lost their saltiness; they have chosen to live in the world AND they have chosen to be of the world. They have nothing to offer that sets them apart from any secular organization with philanthropic objectives. Jesus sighs, not because children can’t go to camp but because he has a bride who is unfaithful.

  17. Good question, Sally! I’m trying to think of an objective that First Baptist could work toward with Westboro Baptist Church and I can’t because Westboro Baptist has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. But the question itself helps me understand your position more clearly. I think you’re saying this (please correct me if I’m wrong): Westboro Baptist Church is not really a church, it’s a hate group, and First Baptist shouldn’t “partner” with a hate group in an effort to achieve Kingdom objectives. By the same logic Ginter Park Baptist Church is not really a church, it has given in to the culture, and FBC shouldn’t “partner” with what is essentially a secular organization in an effort to achieve Kingdom objectives.

    Is that your reasoning?

  18. I am chiming in here late but I was at a gathering of many churches with diverse backgrounds April 5-7 in Greenville, SC with over 400 in attendance. One of the messages was delivered by Darryl Aaron. Google him for his bio. The proclamation was titled “Don’t Stop The Gospel” based on Mark 9:38-50. The point here is in verse 40 – “if you are not against us, you are for us”. Welcome the people and churches that are with us. Ginter Park Baptist is. Don’t stand in the way.

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