The Best of Enemies

Do you know the names Ann Atwater, CP Ellis, and Howard Fuller?  I didn’t until I read the book “The Best of Enemies,” by Osha Gray Davidson.  The book chronicles racial relations in Durham, North Carolina in the 1960’s.  I heard about the story of CP Ellis and Ann Atwater during this year’s pastors’ conference when Dr. Tony Evans used their story as a sermon illustration.  I decided to research the story and found Davidson’s book.  I’ll give a summary and then three strengths and three weaknesses of Davidson’s work.

Summary

During the first half of the 20th century, Durham, North Carolina was known as a progressive jewel of the south which had great race relations.  This, of course, was not true.  Durham did boast a class of black elites which was more than most southern cities, but the living conditions for the lower class black population were just as squalid and unfair as other Southern cities.  The book chronicles the rise of both Ann Atwater, a poor, single black mother and CP Ellis, a poor white man who found a sense of purpose in the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.  He would eventually become The Exalted Cyclops of the Durham chapter.  Ellis and Atwater clashed at many city meetings and became bitter enemies.  In 1971 the Durham schools were forced to integrate and this caused considerable turmoil.  A man named Bill Riddick came to town and suggested the city hold what is called a charrette.  A charrette is an intense meeting over several days, in Durham’s case 10 days, where an entire community is invited to come together to solve a particular problem.  The charrette began by naming a steering committee.  Guess which two people were elected to chair the steering committee.  Ann Atwater was not even in attendance when she was elected a co-chairwoman of the steering committee and her fellow chairman was none other than her worst enemy, CP Ellis.

During the meetings, Atwater and Ellis found that poor black families and poor white families struggled with the same problems.  Ellis came to believe that blacks weren’t what keeping poor whites impoverished, but the ruling elites, both black and white.  There’s a moving scene in chapter 13 which describes Ellis and Atwater talking alone in the auditorium when reality finally poured in on Ellis and he began to cry.  The charrette ended with Ellis renouncing his membership in the Klan and reportedly tearing up his klan membership card in front of the community.

Ellis and Atwater became lifelong friends, and when he died in 2005, Atwater delivered a eulogy at his funeral.  The introduction includes a story about Ann coming to the funeral home before CP’s service, and, while sitting there was asked to leave by a white man.  She finally stated that CP was her brother.

Strengths

  1. Davidson does a remarkable job of setting the scene for the charrette.  He plows through a century of racial history in Durham and relates the events in Durham that coincided with the larger national struggle regarding race relations.
  2. Davidson gives equal pages to both the histories of Ellis and Atwater. Davidson is a career journalist and when I began reading the book, I assumed he would major on Atwater’s story, but his work is non-biased and fair.  He notes the high price Ellis paid for his actions during and after the charrette.
  3. His character descriptions of Atwater, Ellis, and other minor characters are moving.  I felt as though I could close my eyes and hear Atwater or Ellis talking with me.

Weaknesses

  1. Davidson only devotes two chapters to the seminal event, the charrette. He spends 11 chapters covering background material, but only two chapters dealing with the event that shaped this unusual friendship.  I would like to hear more about the charrette itself.
  2. He ends the book with a retelling of Ellis’ suicide attempt in 1972. and the psychological price he paid for his actions.  I would like to have known more about the friendship that developed after the charrette, but so much time was devoted to background material that a detailed description of their friendship would have made the book very lengthy.
  3. This may not be considered a weakness, but for a novice in black history, such as myself, Davidson includes the action of too many activist groups.  I was difficult to keep up with who belonged to which group and which groups were militant and which were peaceful and so on.

What I learned

What does this have to do with the Southern Baptist Convention and SBC Voices in 2018?  We’re having our own struggles with diversity and race relations.  I learned a lot about the history of race relations, and I learned about some influential people that many of us have never heard of.  Incidentally, I wonder if our own Dwight McKissic is related to the Floyd McKissic mentioned in this book?  I learned that there’s a lot I don’t know about a critical period in our nation’s history which still affects us today.  Before we go patting ourselves on the back for including minorities in leadership roles, we would all do well to read the story of Ellis and Atwater and remember that there are men like CP Ellis who paid a high price for doing what was right.  Are we willing to pay that price?

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.

 

We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators

When I was 16 years old, our church hired a new pastor.  I was excited and intrigued because this was the first time I could remember our church hiring a new pastor. (Turns out there was a good reason for that, as the previous pastor had been there for 19 years.)

The new pastor was awesome.  He was young and full of energy.  He preached outstanding sermons, and he even counseled me when I wanted to surrender my life to the ministry.

Then came the phone call.  My father is a deacon and one night he was summoned to church for an emergency deacons meeting.  The new pastor had been caught talking to his girlfriend on a cordless phone.  During the 90’s, if you had a police scanner, you could pick up the frequency of a cordless phone if you were in the vicinity.  Subsequent investigations revealed that he had engaged in this behavior in three other churches.  I was beside myself because, even as a 16 year old, I knew that the other three churches should have told our church something about his behavior.

Fast forward to ten years later, and the deacons are meeting again, this time to address the pastor who has just had charges filed against him for harassment. The victim was a female whom he had been having an internet affair with.  How does this happen twice in the span of a decade?  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to suggest some practical steps that churches can take to prevent this sort of can kicking, and then some suggestions for the SBC in general.  We have got to get a handle on this, and while we can’t prevent every instance, we can certainly make our churches safer for the next generation, and make it harder for leaders who have a history of sexual promiscuity and abuse to continue working and leading our churches.

Individual Churches

  1. More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search.  Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked.  I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  2. Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point.  The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end.  Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like.  This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.  Why search through financial records?  This search will probably reveal whether or not the candidate has been involved in pornography.  The type of predatory behavior we’re trying to prevent usually has its roots in pornography.  The committee should also ask the candidate to submit to an audit of his personal computer.  This again might reveal any involvement in pornography which would in turn disqualify the candidate.  Is this an invasion of privacy?  Yes it is, but God help when we’ve come to the point where we check out our candidates for political office with more scrutiny than we do the men who are supposed to lead our churches.
  3. Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them.  This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
  4. Speak up—My father noticed a few eccentricities and odd behaviors on the part of the first pastor I mentioned above.  His wife was hardly ever at church.  He kept having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  He would cancel services.  He probably should have raised the flag on those issues.  We need to foster a culture in our churches where there is safety in speaking out.

The SBC

I have one suggestion for the SBC moving forward, and I think it would show how serious we are about our #metoo problem, and go a long way to creating a safe environment for victims to speak out.

We should create a separate entity, or a branch of an existing entity, headed by a trained investigator, whereby victims of abuse or misconduct could report their situation.  That investigative service would then investigate the report and take appropriate actions.  Those actions would include informing the authorities if there has been criminal behavior, or informing the church if there has been immoral behavior.  That investigative unit would have branches in all of our state conventions so as not overburden one person or one team with a litany of investigations.  Those state branches would all be led by trained investigators, and if we wanted to go a step further, those trained investigators would be non Southern Baptists.

Would the cost of such an undertaking take away money that could be used for missions?  This is missions.  James writes that true and undefiled religion is taking care of the vulnerable among us.

Those are my suggestions, and they may or may not have prevented my home church from hiring the two pastors, and they may or may not have kept Mark Aderholt from serving in other ministry positions.  There wil always be someone who knows how to game the system and who slips through the cracks.  The key word in that last sentence is cracks.  Right now, our system looks more like a sink hole when it should be the size of a crack.

 

Thoughts on J.D. Greear’s Comments on Homosexuality

I was once asked to officiate a wedding for a young couple that had been attending our church.  The young man had waited for me outside the building and he was very nervous.  I knew the couple had been living together, and when he asked, I looked into his face and said, “I don’t normally marry couples who are living together.  That’s against what God’s Word says, so we’ll have to talk about that.”  I’ll never forget that conversation. I was right. However, I did a poor job of loving my neighbor.  I loved being right more than I loved that young man, and it cost me the opportunity to influence a young couple with the gospel.

J.D. Greear has been accused by American family Radio of jettisoning gospel truth in favor of loving his neighbor, particularly those neighbors who happen to be homosexuals.  If you haven’t read the accusations, you can read them right here.  The statement that prompted these accusations seems to have been “We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on homosexuality.”  Greear went on to say, “We say yes, this issue is important.  I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right.

I’d like to give a few thoughts on this article:

  1. The author says that the number one cultural and social issue of the day is homosexuality.  I respectfully disagree and believe that the number one social and cultural issue of our day is the tribal nature and labeling so prevalent in our culture.  If we could find our identity in Christ rather than a political party or a certain moral position, then, as Dr. Tony Evans said at the 2018 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, “Two hundred year problems would become two-minute problems.”
  2. Loving our neighbor does not mean we have to jettison Biblical truth.  we need only to look at the example set by our Savior to see an example of loving they neighbor and standing for truth.  In the eighth chapter of John, Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in adultery.  Did He shame her for her adultery?  Did he tell her that adultery was against God’s plan for her life?  Did he tell her that she would need to repent of her evil before He could offer His help?  No, He saved her life!  think about that for a minute.  Jesus, who could have rightly condemned this woman for her evil act, saved her life first from the hypocritical religious leaders of her day.  He loved her.  Did he let her sin slide?  No, he instructed her to go and sin no more.  He both loved her and stood for Biblical truth.
  3. We have to learn to live with those who have specks in their eyes.  The author of this attack on Dr. Greear seems to assert that we cannot live with those who are living homosexual lifestyles.  How exactly is Christ supposed to use us to draw others to Himself if we have to live separate from them?  We can live with sinners and not participate in their sins.  We do it all the time.  If we knew everyone in our communities who had been convicted of a crime or spent time in jail, we would understand that we’ve always lived among sinners without participating in or endorsing their sins.
  4. What about millennials?  The author says something about millennials and the election of Greear as SBC President.  I’m not sure what that has to do with Greear’s election other than I guess the author is blaming our generation for the future demise of the SBC.  I’ve been a Southern Baptist since I was born, and if our convention is advocating showing more love to those who do not know Christ, then I will continue to be a Southern Baptist.

Let me be clear, I believe sin is clearly defined in God’s Word.  God has shown us what is right and what is wrong, and we are responsible for communicating God’s truth to the unbelieving world.  We’re also responsible for loving the unbelieving world.  I would be willing to bet that the man who had been beaten and left for dead in Luke 10 was glad that the Samaritan man didn’t read him a list of all his sins before he bandaged his wounds. I’d bet Matthew was glad that Jesus didn’t condemn him for being a cheating tax collector before He asked Him to come follow.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal.”  What good does it do us to have knowledge of everyone’s sin yet fail to show them love?  I’m afraid AFR is becoming a clanging gong or a clanging cymbal.