28 March 2007

Bellevue Baptist Church

This is long, but anyone who knows me knows I have a big mouth, so it should come as no surprise to anyone.

I’m sure we have all heard the term “agree to disagree.” Perhaps you have heard it further modified to say “agree to disagree agreeably.” In a nut shell, this means that although we disagree on a particular issue, we can still maintain a civility and cordiality that decent folks take for granted. There’s no need for name-calling, derogatory comments, or accusations that impugn the intelligence or integrity of the other party. We simply see the issue differently, and that’s okay. We’re adults; we’re allowed to do that.

Some folks insist on disagreeing disagreeably. “If you do not agree with my position, it must be because you are blind, stupid, and/or lying. Since I am obviously right, and I have “proof,” apparently, (to borrow a line from Col. Jessup) ‘you can’t handle the truth!’” Rational reasoning is pointless, appeals to simply move on to more important matters fall upon deaf ears. One of my favorite people to quote is Sir Winston Churchill, who opined “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” These are the folks that gave rise to my previous comments about teaching an orangutan to use post-hole diggers. They have neither the skills nor the inclination to use the tools provided for them.

Recently, however, I have encountered a third class of people: those with whom I “agree disagreeably.” These are people who may have a legitimate gripe, an issue of some import that deserves to be discussed with due diligence. But, for one reason or another, they are so abrasive in the way in which they present themselves or their argument, you find yourself not wanting to agree with them!

It is here that I will begin the first of my public comments regarding one of the controversies I mentioned in my opening post: the current situation at my home church, Bellevue Baptist.

First, a little background: I’ve been through this before. Our old church, Leawood Baptist, went through a similar experience where a new pastor came in on the heels of a 30+ year spiritual “legend.” Tommy Vinson arrived at Leawood from Brandon, MS to try to fill the shoes of Dr. Jerry Glisson, Leawood’s pastor for, at the time I think it was 32 years. Adding to the difficulty for Bro. Tommy, Dr. Glisson wasn’t leaving! He was retiring, but staying in the church that had been home for almost half his life!

The transition between these two men of God was remarkably smooth. Oh, we had some issues, but for the most part, the church weathered them without any major disputes, declines, or calls for a split. I attribute this to, of course the Grace of God, but also to BOTH Dr. Glisson and Bro. Tommy. Think about it. Bro. Tommy could have ridden into Leawood on a white horse, saying “I don’t care how you’ve done it for 32 years, there’s a new sheriff in town!” People would have ridden him out of town on a rail! Conversely, Dr. Glisson could have simply and quietly let it be known that he didn’t necessarily like the “changes” (and change is inevitable), and people would have ridden Bro. Tommy out of town on a rail! Neither thing happened because of the graciousness of these two men. Shortly before he left (after 8 years) for First Baptist Church in Winter Park, FL, [my now-ex-wife] and I had Bro. Tommy and his lovely wife Rose over to our house for dinner. I mentioned my theory to him, and he told me that the greatest gift Dr. Glisson gave him was that he never disagreed with him in public. There were a few times when Dr. Glisson pulled him aside and gave Bro. Tommy his opinion, but publicly, he always made it clear that Tommy Vinson was HIS pastor, too, and he supported him as God’s man for that time.

Like Leawood, Bellevue saw the change of leadership from a 35 year tenure to a new man. Like Leawood, Dr. Adrian Rogers was, until his death in November 2005, still a member of Bellevue. By the accounts I have heard, Dr. Steve Gaines was Dr. Rogers’ own preference for his successor. After a trial sermon in view of a call, Dr. Gaines was asked to accept the pastorate of Bellevue, just its 4th pastor in 80+ years. As is standard practice in Southern Baptist churches, once the pulpit committee presents a candidate, it’s pretty well a done deal. If they didn’t like him, he wouldn’t make it that far!

As I said before, change is inevitable, and change accompanied Steve Gaines to Bellevue. I can’t imagine it is much different than the change that accompanied Adrian Pierce Rogers’ arrival from Merritt Island, FL. I love the picture on Bellevue’s History page of the two elder statesmen pastors, Dr. R. G. Lee, and Dr. Ramsey Pollard, looking very dapper and conservative in their suits, along with a “long haired” young dude in a plaid suit, quite fashionable in the early 1970s!

But as I said, change did come, and not everyone was thrilled with the changes. I myself didn’t care much for the move toward a more “contemporary” worship style and music. Oh, I listen to contemporary Christian music; I just prefer the old hymns at church. I know, I’m a stodgy old dinosaur, what can I say? About this time, however, my world collapsed. That’s one of those “intimate controversies” that I won’t talk about here, but suffice to say, I wasn’t much concerned about Jamie Parker’s song selection for Sunday morning.

But along the way, there began to be some rumblings, and to be quite honest, I have to admit that I believe Dr. Gaines could have handled things a bit better. I’ve met him in person; he’s quite unassuming. But under what I believe was a desire to be a “strong leader,” he rubbed some people with legitimate concerns the wrong way.

But here’s where I start to agree disagreeably. SOME, not all, but some of the issues raised were, I believe, legitimate concerns. But they never got addressed in a proper manner. Newspaper articles started appearing with people who aren’t much more involved in the issues that I am! Television news stations started showing interviews. And suddenly, Bellevue is on CNN about to split! Websites and (GASP!) blogs start bandying about accusations and demands, mostly behind a thin veil of anonymity, which makes it far easier to be “bold.” Bluster and bombast quickly replaced calm logic, and it became much easier, for both sides, to dismiss the other as raving lunatics and messengers of Satan, than to engage in calm, reasonable dialogue. It has degenerated into a game of maneuver and counter, and does nothing to either resolve the conflict or further the cause of Christ.

Then we have the revelation of a staff member’s sexual abuse of his own son some 17 years ago. Apparently, and I’m not “in the know” here, Dr. Gaines was told last summer about what had happened, and apparently was led to believe that it was all dealt with and in the past. Yes, he should have done some more digging to find out if that indeed was the case, but he didn’t. Again, even Dr. Gaines has admitted that things could have been handled better. But now we have pedophiles on staff (in varying numbers depending upon who you talk to), and gasoline has been dumped on a smoldering flame. No way to keep that one out of the newspapers! I liken this to my opinion of police car chases that end in wrecks; yes, maybe the police could have been more careful, and yes, it’s a terrible tragedy, but the wreck was caused by ONE MAN, the criminal who was running! Blame for this terrible incident lies at the feet of one man, the molester. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. If I can figure out how to bottle it, I’ll quit work and write blogs all day!

But none of this changes the fact that Bellevue, and any other God-worshiping, Bible-preaching, people-loving church exists for only one reason: to spread the Gospel. Is what you are doing in your blog or website or conversations with friends or the media, furthering that aim?

“Someone died and went to spend eternity in Hell yesterday. Did YOU do anything to warn them?”

“Well, no, but I sure got a good dig in on my blog at ole Gaines and his cronies!”

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