The following is a response by Russ Dean, Co-Pastor at Park Road Baptist Church, to the overwhelming reaction to his recent blog post.
The response to my recent blog concerning Franklin Graham’s decision to boycott Wells Fargo bank has exceeded anything we’ve ever posted at Park Road Baptist Church. More than 44,000 people (and counting) were reached by this post, and the vast majority of responses were quite positive about my message.
While I have been, and continue to be, supportive of marriage equality, my response to Graham was not primarily about that issue. My concern is the way The Church – not my church or your church, but The Church – is being perceived so negatively in the world. And judging by the response in social media, my simple 5-point message, beginning and ending with love, clearly resonated with those who read and shared and commented.
Clearly, a great many people share my concerns and yearn for a more positive, inclusive, and compassionate voice from The Church. It makes me sad that this is such a pervasive sentiment.
Someone offered their thanks for my remarks and said, “This almost makes me want to go back to church.” She heard the good news, but her pre-existing negative perception of The Church still ruled the day. There were so many similar comments. Almost as if people were genuinely surprised that a church – and a Baptist minister – could say anything that approached a sincere welcome to all, and whose “good news” actually sounded like good news for them.
Of course, many in The Church still don’t understand that what they consider good news, doesn’t sound very much like good news to all the people who are alienated, marginalized, or otherwise excluded from Christianity as a result of a very selective literal interpretation of the Bible. This is unfortunate – and ultimately very damaging to The Church I love so deeply.
For those who disagreed with what I wrote – thank you for your comments. Please know that I don’t need to be reminded “what the Bible says.” I have spent nearly every Sunday of my 51-year life in the church. I was raised in Sunday School and Training Union, practiced scripture memorization and studied for “sword drills,” and have done as many versions of my daily “quiet time” as anyone in ear shot. My daily Bible iphone app still starts my day with a reminder of the depth and breadth of the biblical witness. Believe me, no one has a greater love for or appreciation of the treasure we have in those sacred texts.
And I don’t need explanations or lectures on sin and salvation. I get it. Sometimes, however, we need to step back from our opinions and try to see ourselves as others see us; try to hear our words as others hear them.
The overwhelmingly positive response to my post is clear evidence that The Church’s “bad-news-as-good-news” message is not the message we need to be sharing. Good news that doesn’t sound good to our audience… probably isn’t.
And when I reference Good News, I am not advocating that we look at the world through rose-colored classes. Good News must be honest about the world and human nature. Good News does not soft-pedal the challenges of really understanding the Gospel. And Good News is not synonymous with “happy” or “I’m Ok, You’re OK”.
The Good News is both genuine and compassionate. The Good News begins, and ends, with love.
So … if you’ve left The Church because the message has been bad news, YOU ARE INVITED to Park Road Baptist Church any Sunday! It’s not a party. It’s a church. But the message consistently begins and ends with love. You will be welcomed. As you are.
Bring your hopes and your disappointments, your joys and your sorrows, your belief and your doubt, your answers and your questions – bring the you that you are on Tuesday morning or Friday night. That’s who you’ll find at 3900 Park Road – just a lot of people like you, trying to work out our faith, and a meaningful life, by feeling the Love of God and following the Way of Jesus.
Who knows… you might be overwhelmed, too!