What Would Jesus Say?

The latest action opposing the teachings of the New Testament has recently come out of a church in Kentucky where we read: “Nine members of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church backed their former pastor, with six opposed, in Sunday’s vote to bar interracial couples from church membership and worship activities. Funerals were excluded.” Reading this put me in mind of an incident that took place during my first year as an undergraduate in Annapolis, Maryland. One of my classmates, an African-American woman made the “mistake” of attending a Catholic Church near the college on a Sunday. She was met at the door by the priest after the service who told her that there was another Church on the other side of town that she should attend; she should not go back to his church.

What’s going on here? One must assume that members of the congregation are uncomfortable having to socialize with people who have a different lifestyle or different colored skin. But isn’t that what the New Testament is all about? — making people uncomfortable, people who have been aptly described by E.M. Forster in The Longest Journey, people who “live together without love. They work without conviction. They seek money without requiring it. They die, and nothing will have happened, either for themselves or for others.” Don’t such people need to be awakened, disturbed out of their complacency and self-absorbed, materialistic lives and led to higher, spiritual pursuits that will almost certainly require sacrifice and even, at times, unpleasantness, but which will almost certainly be  better? One begins to wonder if the Churches have forgotten their mission, which is to lead people to an imitation of Christ, and away from business as usual.

The pastor of the Baptist Church in Kentucky took the lead in building walls between his congregation and those would become members of that congregation, based, no doubt, on a selective reading of the Bible. As I read it, Christ preached love, not hate, charity not bigotry. In Matthew, Christ says “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Note the inclusive “all” here.

The vote of these pious Baptists echoes the political movement to foster hatred of gays — who are also God’s children — and prohibit marriages between couples who aren’t just like us. But it is clearly antithetical to the New Testament where Christ’s words are recorded and where one can find only open arms and a willingness to embrace everyone (including thieves and prostitutes) and where one cannot find proscriptions against universal membership in a church that pretends to preach His word.

Of considerable interest to me is the exception of funerals. Are these fools trying to say something? Or just throwing a bone to demonstrate that they are not complete idiots? Too little, too late.

2 thoughts on “What Would Jesus Say?

  1. The funeral part reminds me of something Bill Holm once said. Bill taught for a short time at a college in Hampton, Va., and had several encounters with Baptists who seemed to not live a Christian life — booze, sex, mistreating others. Bill asked one once about it, about why he went to church when he acted the way he did, and whether he really believed in salvation. The man responded to Bill that he wasn’t completely sure Christ had really existed but he attended church regularly, “just in case.” Covered his ass, in other words. But that’s one of the things with Christ: He’s not a big fan of hypocrisy. Read Matthew 22 and 23, where he rips into the Pharisees for just such behavior.

    Hugh, you raise important points in this blog, and what would Jesus do in the case of the Kentucky church? His words provide the blueprint. There’s a great hymn written by contemporary composer Marty Haugen called “All Are Welcome.” One of the lines is “all are welcome, friends and strangers, all are welcome here.”

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