Knowing when it’s time to leave
|by Diane Singer|
The recent controversy over Sen. Obama's pastor, Rev. Wright, has undoubtedly made all of us ask questions about what we we are willing to tolerate from the pulpit. Frankly, if you agree with everything your pastor says, you are probably not using your own brain to think about and through various issues. Jesus wants us to experience unity, not unanimity (that's the mark of a cult, not a church). We're simply not going to agree on everything, and there are any number of "non-essentials" that we can simply let pass.
However, what happens if your pastor is teaching something that is essential and his stance is clearly anti-biblical? On those occasions, we must have the courage and integrity to ask hard questions and make hard decisions, especially when we have children.
My husband and I know this from experience because, many years ago, we left a church due to the pastor's teachings on marriage, which we knew could lead some husbands to physically and/or spiritually abuse their wives and children. We did not make the decision lightly or quickly. Over a period of several months, we both spoke with the pastor on numerous occasions to respectfully express our concerns, but our words had no effect on him (he saw his marriage as the model for all).
So, one Sunday morning, when the pastor began to give a list of rules for husbands and wives -- rules that had NO scriptural basis -- we walked out. As my husband said, "I don't want our son and daughter growing up thinking like that."
Like most Americans, I've been disturbed by the hate-filled, paranoid rants of Rev. Wright. And I think I'm justifiably concerned that a major candidate for president has been sitting in his church for 20 years listening to this nonsense, and excusing it, because Rev. Wright has done so much "good" in other areas. Mostly, I'm distressed that Sen. Obama would allow his daughters to be exposed to it. The good news in all this mess has come from Christians in the black community who have rejected Rev. Wright's rants -- making it clear that his views are neither in line with Christ's teachings nor a reflection of what their pastors teach.
The whole situation has reminded me of an essay I read many years
ago by the civil rights activist Lillian Smith, who painfully saw the
contradictions in her own Southern-church upbringing and the ugly
realities of segregation. In "When I Was a Child," Smith writes,
I do not remember how or when, but by the time I had learned that God is love, that Jesus is His Son and came to give us more abundant life, that all men are brothers with a common Father, I also knew that I was better than a Negro, that all black folks had their place and must be kept in it ... [and] that a terrifying disaster would befall the South if ever I treated a Negro as my social equal .... I had learned that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that we might have segregated churches in which it was my duty to worship each Sunday and on Wednesday at evening prayers. I had learned that white southerners are a hospitable, courteous, tactful people who treat those of their own group with consideration and who as carefully segregate from all the richness of life "for their own good and welfare" 13 million people whose skin is colored a little differently from my own.
Smith had the courage to face the contradictions in the ideals she
was being taught in church and the way her Christian family members and
neighbors were consistently failing to live by those ideals when it
came to segregation: she knew that Christ-like love simply can't
co-exist with racism in any form.
I can only hope that members of Rev. Wright's church will have the courage and wisdom to learn the same lesson, and that they will begin the process of undoing the harmful effects of his words in their own souls and in the souls of their children. I know that Rev. Wright has recently retired, so I'm praying for the pastor who has replaced him and the role he can play in this healing process. If he's simply another man in Rev. Wright's mold, however, I can only hope that people in the church will know that it's time to leave.