First, this post is long. I apologize. There is so much to say in response to what happened last week. Second, I know it’s tardy. It had to run through more eyes than mine.
In case you missed it, news came out that a Free Will Baptist church in Pike County, Kentucky that is a member of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, voted to ban interracial couples from being members of their church and being involved in worship services. No need to rehash what hundreds of media outlets have already stated. Google “Freewill Kentucky Interracial” and you’ll get hundreds of articles.
The Executive Office of our denomination issued a statement. You can find that here.
Since then, the vote was considered null-and-void by the Parliamentary Committee of the Sandy Valley Conference of Kentucky FWBs.
And since then, the church voted unanimously to welcome “believers into our fellowship regardless of race, creed, or color.”
If you’re a FWB, you and I have probably had the same feelings over the past week: disgust, frustration, embarrassment, anger, disappointment. I’ll not spend time discussing what many have said via Facebook or Twitter about how banning interracial couples from membership is a justice issue or that it’s non-biblical, as others have pointed out. Instead, I’d like to address a few issues I haven’t heard many mention that I feel are worth noting.
A Serious Theological Problem
Banning someone from fellowship is a serious issue. Although excommunication is different from banning someone from ever becoming a member, consider the implications of excommunicating someone from a local congregation. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul, referencing a man who was having sex with his father’s wife, urged the church to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). The way to do that is to kick him out of the church. Or how about in Matthew 18? Jesus says that if a brother sins against you, you should confront him alone, then with another, and then take him before the church. And if he continues to deny his wrongdoing “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17).
A church’s acceptance of someone as a member is a stamp that they give evidence of being right with God. It doesn’t make that person right with God (which is only by grace through faith), but it does act as some sort of confirmation. That is why churches are called to excommunicate members who consistently exhibit the marks of non-Christian behavior and refuse to change. And that is why the churches mentioned above were called to excommunicate those members. Consequently, that is also why churches are only to accept Christians as members.
The only grounds for banning or excommunicating a person is because they are living in sin. To ban Christians because they have a relationship with someone of a different ethnicity is to tell them that their lifestyle is sinful.
There’s just no other way of getting around this.
A Problem For the Gospel
It’s a problem the gospel can, and will, fix. We can be so angry and frustrated at nine people in one church that we forget that racism is exactly the reason why Christ died.
God doesn’t wait until we get our act together before He loves us. He sent His Love for us even while we were sinners. Racism is a sin because it mistreats people made in God’s image that He loves. And the way to fix racism, just like the way to fix anger, pride, selfishness, lust, or idolatry, is the good news of Jesus. He became a curse for us so that racists might not be judged by their sin, but might be made new in Him.
That doesn’t make racism OK. It just reminds us that hateful, slanderous words toward those who are racist does not fix the problem. Only faith and repentance in Christ can do that. Let’s walk in the newness of life we want all Free Will Baptists to exhibit by showing grace and speaking the truth in love.
The Executive Office’s Response
Many have stated that the release by the Executive Office of the NAFWB was not strong enough. I can understand that in a way. All of a sudden, 300 million Americans think all Free Will Baptists are racist. We would expect a statement to say something like, “Racism is wrong.” Or, “The Bible does not condemn interracial marriage.” Or, “The actions of this church are unacceptable.” But, the statement didn’t say these things.
Don’t get me wrong; the statement certainly wasn’t in favor of racism. It mentioned several examples that would show we aren’t racist. It even encouraged the church to overturn its decision. I sensed that the release really wanted to denounce the actions of the church. I was pleased with these statements.
Why wasn’t it stronger? Well, because the Executive Office doesn’t have authority to do that. They represent Free Will Baptists. They don’t make claims and positions that the denomination has not yet made. Is it a problem that we haven’t made a position on this issue up until now? Yes, absolutely. Is it a problem that the media and the world don’t know that our Executive Office can’t do that? Yes. Is it a problem that our Executive Office can’t make a statement about what the Bible says even though it hasn’t been voted on? In my opinion, yes. (I am glad I do not work for the Executive Office, and am more thankful now for those who do than I have ever been!)
I will say it would at least seem beneficial to have the ability to convene a group of representative pastors to respond to an issue like this for the sake of how the public will view it.
I would also like to point out that the way the media used the Executive Office’s statement was to pit it against the actions of the church. So even though some don’t feel it was strong enough, it at least communicated to the media that it was not in agreement with the actions of the nine people in that church, and that’s a good thing.
My last point on this issue is that no matter if you loved the statement by the Executive Office or thought it was too weak, there’s nothing to be done about that now. The only thing this teaches me is that we need to at least arm our representative leaders with more ammo so that if something like this happens in the future, they can state, “Free Will Baptists denounce racism as sinful and unbiblical, and this includes prejudicial actions against Christian interracial marriages.”
A Problem That Needs Changing, ASAP
What needs to happen is that Free Will Baptist need to pass a resolution at the 2012 NAFWB Convention in Memphis (no less) that denounces racism and includes something about the Bible not condemning interracial marriage. Of course this will not change the hearts of some who would disagree with this, but it would at least make a statement that I think Free Will Baptists could agree with. This statement would represent us as a movement and our stance toward ethnicities, what Scripture says about it, and its appropriateness in the church.
I’m not exactly sure what the resolution needs to say or who needs to write it, but it needs to be worded carefully, and it needs to happen in Memphis in July 2012. Any feedback or suggestions are appreciated.
I will do my part to seek the justice of minorities and to promote the equality of ethnicities among our movement and in the world.
Young Free Will Baptist friends. Look, there are things about our movement that we don’t like. We’re not perfect, and anyone that’s been around our movement for a while knows that. But if you love the people of our movement and want to see the Lord continue to use us, now is the time to make an impact. This issue is on a different playing field than music styles or who speaks at what conference. It’s time to put up or shut up. If I’m going to be a part of this denomination for my ministry, I must act on this. Let’s put our money where our mouths are and do something. A statement by FWBs would be God-honoring, justice-focused, and long overdue. Passing a resolution addressing the issue of ethnic-equality in the church (and in all of life) is an incredible place to start, it’s an opportunity we must jump on, and it’s a biblical line in the sand that Free Will Baptists need to draw.