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March 27, 2008

Knowing when it’s time to leave

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. 

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Greg Rohrbough

Great posting.

One thing I think gets overlooked too often in the criticism of Wright is this: he praises Louis Farrakhan way too much from the pulpit and official church newsletters, etc., considering that they are supposedly a Christian church and, when all of the anti-Semitism and UFO loopiness are brushed away, Farrakhan is still a Muslim preacher, with a theology completely disallowing the divinity of Christ.

Maybe not a political point, but definitely a Church point. If Jesus is Lord, then what could you have in common with Farrakhan?


This post highlights the importance of genuine, Godly relationships. A Godly relationship (which might be with other people or even with God) is both more challenging and more substantial than our common culture today will even remotely acknowledge. A healthy and whole relationship puts a premium on understanding each other, but also recognizes that we must test that understanding against standards above our own appetites, inclinations and biases. God has given us the standards, but we all too often fail to genuinely bring those standards into the heart of ALL of our relationships.


I would prefer optimism, but when I remember the old Milgram "obedience to authority" experiments that showed 2/3 of the general population would administer a fatal electric shock to another human being, just because some guy in a white lab coat told them to do it, I would worry. Demagogues like Wright endowed with some outer semblance of authority are very dangerous, and it is frightening how sheep-like most people really are.

Joe Dalfonzo

Interesting that for all his rants and raves about unity, the Senator from IL has yet to mention the harmony that has been achieved between formerly "black" and "white" LA churches in the aftermath of Katrina. As described by Chuck in a recent Breakpoint, these pastors should be held up as an example to all of us. While the Senator continues to search for a Scriptural basis for either a "black" or a "white" church, let's forget about the "wrongs of wright" and turn our attention to and appalud genuine progress toward racial unity.

J. K. Jones

I agree with your post and comments. Sometimes we are forced to leave a church over important doctrinal matters, including ethics.

On the other hand, my father-in-law, a retired pastor who served the same church for over 25 years, says, "If you ever find the perfect church, don't join it, because you will screw it up."

dennis babish

One thing I haven't read much about is the theology, black liberation theology, behind Rev Wright's words.
I have done some research on this and am close to finishing an article about it and hope to have it out soon.
Once you learn about the theology you see that Wright's words are not just some "crazy uncle" rantings.
My concern about Obama is this, he has been sitting under this theology for 20 years. Why hasn't he rejected it already?
Or does he support it? The media continues to ignore it and shouldn't.

benjamin ady

To me, Liberation theology looks an awful lot like ... what the book of revelation is about. BICBW

I wonder how many of those denouncing Wright's sermons have taken the time to listen to an entire sermon from him?

Jason Taylor

Well if the whole of Christianity was based on the Book of Revelation it would be awfully different, now wouldn't it?
But Liberation Theology is a misnomer. It focuses completely on changing man's Earthly state and is really indifferent to what God is like. It also focuses on institutional sin(which really means the sin of others)rather then the individual's relationship to God, his fellows, and himself which.
Finally it is the preaching of animosity as a doctrine. As such it is certainly not a Christian theology.


AMEN! How timely that I would find this article after walking out and deciding to leave my church of 10+ years just this Sunday! How I wish Colson would address the Left Behind series and how it is changing the long-held viewpoint of the (greater) church - that God does not clearly outline any "end times" scenario.

And to preach or believe this ficitonal book outlines definitely what will happen so we can be 100% prepared is outright fallacy and heresy.

People need to wake up, read the Bible for themself and speak up and WALK OUT when they see the abomination speaking from their own pulpit as well from a fictional book!

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