Follow-Up to the Mississippi Church Racial Controversy

Since I published a blog entry yesterday around 1:30 AM about a Baptist Church in Mississippi voting to exclude blacks from membership, a couple of interesting developments have occurred.

First, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal pulled the story from their website late yesterday. This Lamp reader (and my former student!) Josh Clark took it upon himself to contact the newspaper to inquire why the story was no longer online. Here is the response he received:

The article linked to was not supposed to be for publication. It appeared for a few minutes on our site, but it never appeared in print. The writer and her editor decided not to publish the story for lack of comments from the church, but they failed to inform us on the online side it had been killed. The reporter has asked Christianity Today's web site to pull the segment about her story, but was told it could not do it until this weekend.

A more thorough version of the story will be published in Saturday's Daily Journal.

It's interesting that the paper would claim that the story only "appeared for a few minutes on our site." I first discovered the story around 2 PM Thursday on the Christianity Today Weblog. It was certainly still online when I posted the story 13 hours later here on my blog. I was unaware the story had been pulled until This Lamp reader Rae Whitlock noted in the comments of yesterday's post that the link was broken. I'm not exactly sure how long the story was on the Daily Journal's website, but I know that it was there for at least 24 hours. However, considering the original article is dated August 19, I want to assume that it may have been online for the better part of an entire week.

Second, now the story is back up in an expanded version at the original link (see "Pastor Claims Church Voted to Reject Black Membership, Resigns"). Regarding the content, the only piece of new information is an official denial from the church that the vote ever took place. This turn of events is not overly surprising as denial is usually the first response to accusation. And with the pastor gone, it becomes a "your word against ours" conflict. Pardon my bent for mischief, but the church's denial could easily be tested if a large group of the community's non-white population were to show up as visitors to tomorrow's service. Such a move might be a good way to peacefully protest the church's racial attitudes anyway.

Assuming that this story is true (I've yet to see anything to really suggest that it is not, and this is confirmed by the Daily Journal's attempt to handle it delicately), I hope that the central figure in this--the 12-year-old boy, Joe--is not forgotten.

I remember my own joy at becoming a follower of Christ. Everyone shook my hand; there were smiles and pats on my back. Even though I was a child, I felt like I had made a very grownup decision. My public profession of faith was followed by a class in church beliefs and then my baptism. I look back at that experience with fond memories. It was a very positive and life-changing experience.

But then I think of Joe. Years from now, will he look back at the time when he "accepted Jesus into his heart" (a quote from the original DJ article) with fondness or bitterness? I can't imagine that Joe would have any means to separate his decision to follow Christ from the chain of events that followed soon afterward.

“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."
(Mark 9:42 HCSB)

As tragic as the situation is, if years from now Joe is tempted to turn his back on his decision to follow Christ, I hope he will remember the other two individuals (and their families) who sacrificed their church membership with him. It can certainly be no small thing that a police officer--a leader and authority figure in the community--and more significantly, the pastor of the church himself chose to be excluded with Joe and his family rather than remain with a group whose actions demonstrated they were not worthy of the name, Christian.

As for Fellowship Baptist Church, God is not through with them way or another. A day will come when they have to answer for their actions

“Behold, I am going to deal at that time
         With all your oppressors,
         I will save the lame
         And gather the outcast,
         And I will turn their shame into praise and renown
         In all the earth.”

         (Zephaniah 3:19 NASB)

Final note (for now): History on the internet can be a tricky thing and too easily facts can be revised. Therefore I am attaching below two separate PDF files. The first contains the original story placed online by The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal and the second document contains the revised article posted today. Here are the two files: djournal.20080819 and djournal.20080826.


Unbelievable in 2006: Baptist Church in Mississippi Votes Out 12-Year-Old Over RACE

This almost sounds like a story from the first half of the 20th Century, not something that would take place in 2006.

In July the ironically named Fellowship Baptist Church in Saltillo, Mississippi, held revival services. During those revival services, 12-year-old Joe, a boy of biracial descent "accepted Jesus into his heart." On August 6, at the church's business meeting, the all-white congregation voted to exclude blacks from its services, including Joe because they did not want him to bring his family members to worship services.

Unbelievable. Stunningly unbelievable. I cannot come up with strong enough words to describe my feelings for this church's decision. Such actions are nothing less than antichrist in the truest sense of the word.

The only bright spot in the entire event is that the church's pastor, Rev. John Stevens took a stand and chose to resign that very night rather than stay another day in service to a racist church. One other family, that of a Tupelo police officer, also left the small church that averages about 30 members. According to the Christianity Today Weblog, this story is surprisingly getting very little attention from the press so far.

I encourage you to read the full story "Pastor Leaves After Church Turns Away Biracial Boy" from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. [Note: the link to the news story now points to a revised version and not the original one I referenced when I wrote this blog entry. For more information and access to both versions of the story, see my follow-up blog entry.]

Lest anyone forget, let me remind everyone right now that there is no room for racial division at the cross of Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:28 says ,

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.
       (The Message)

Fellowship Baptist Church is aligned with the Baptist Missionary Alliance. Unfortunately, I do not know any of this denomination's distinctive beliefs. However I am glad to say that my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention is officially opposed to all forms of racism. Article IX of The Baptist Faith and Message, "The Christian and Social Order," clearly states that "In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism...." That doesn't mean that we merely say we are against racism; it means that Southern Baptists are called to take an active role to counter racism wherever it appears.

If the Baptist Missionary Alliance has any similar beliefs against racism (and they certainly ought to), then Fellowship Baptist Church should be DISfellowshipped.

Redacted 8/26, 11:30 AM.
Related Reading: "Follow-Up to the Mississippi Church Racial Controversy"