“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have …
“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14
I am no Esther, that’s for sure. But how could I remain silent? At this point, I’m pretty convinced I don’t need to give very much background to what I am going to write about here. Just google “Carbon Hill” and a dozen national news outlets will catch you up. After our mayor’s comments on social media and subsequent interview on a Birmingham television station, how could I say nothing when a serious, albeit probably not credible, threat was called in to our church? The mayor is not on our membership roll, never has been as far as I know, and doesn’t attend our services. Yet someone thought he was associated with us. As a matter fact, I have fielded inquiries in the last couple of days about whether or not he is a member. People were certainly thinking he was.
I have thought through why the First Baptist Church of Carbon Hill was connected. I suppose angry people assumed the mayor went to church and when they searched the internet for churches in Carbon Hill, ours was the first to pop up, supplying our address, contact information and website. In short, we were a convenient and easy target for anyone to hate on.
I truly struggled with going on social media with my thoughts on the matter. Honestly, one of the reasons I ultimately decided to create a Facebook post about this mess was because I didn’t want our church to be an easy target for hate. We didn’t have anything to do with the mayor’s comments and we certainly didn’t share his sentiments. And that, in my opinion, needed to be made clear.
But it still wasn’t an easy decision. I wrestled with it and talked to key leaders and friends. Their advice was very helpful but they didn’t all agree that I should post anything. Many did but not all.
So I continued to wrestle with this intensely. I struggled mightily. Truly, I did not want myself or our church to become part of this story. But my decision to jump in the fray was, in the end, guided by four critical questions. And I would like to share them with you.
1. How can I be like Jesus in this situation? I am a sorry sinner who was saved by God’s amazing and wonderful grace. For me and my disobedience to God, Jesus died on a cross over two thousand years ago. However, He didn’t stay dead. Jesus actually, physically, and intentionally rose from the dead. He is alive and invites others into His life, to follow after Him. When I became a true follower of Jesus in October of 1998 in seminary, God the Holy Spirit came to live inside of me. I have never gotten over what Jesus has done in my life.
I want Jesus and His Word, the Bible, to guide me in all that I do. I fail so often at that, as every believer does, but I desperately want to show Jesus in my life. I want my Faith Family to see Jesus in me. I want my friends to see Jesus in me. I want the world to see Jesus in me. And, God knows, I want my three children to see Jesus in me.
In this current situation, would Jesus stay quiet? Would He sit back and say nothing in the face of such comments that were posted? Jesus was very outspoken. I can’t say I have been as outspoken as I should have been in issues past, but I had such a leading of the Spirit to do so here. Many cautioned me: “Be careful…watch your back…don’t get in the middle of this.” But would Jesus stay silent here? I don’t think so. In the Bible, He spoke pointedly yet full of love both to the religious leaders of the day, to the rulers of his era, to His followers, and to the masses. I believe Jesus has called me to speak the truth but to never throw stones, since I am not sinless myself. Jesus COULD HAVE thrown stones, yet chose not to. Therefore, I wanted to speak up and hold people accountable, but to do so in as loving a way as possible. Have I done that? I hope so. Some may disagree.
2. What has happened to kindness? This question haunts me in the social media era. People are brutal on social media. Under the cover of their Facebook profile or Twitter handle, people can say the most awful of things to each other. And I am not just talking about the mayor and those who concur with him. Those who don’t agree with him can have just as much vitriol. For example, the expletive-laced voicemail that was received at our church was full of hate. Horrendous, nasty, heartbreaking, unimaginable hate. Truly, this hatred is not limited to one side of an issue. It’s almost as if all sides have to out-hate each other.
Understanding the gravity of the moment, could a conservative, Bible-believing, traditional marriage supporter like myself be able to speak up against these tragic sentiments referenced in that now infamous Facebook feed? As a conservative, Southern Baptist Pastor, I strongly support traditional marriage and gender roles, and oppose abortion. Yet do I have to hate those I disagree with? Do I have to attack them? Am I forced to attempt to crush and embarrass them at all costs? Certainly not! I can disagree with you and still love you. I can think you are totally wrong yet value you as a person. If we have lost the ability to love and care for those we don’t see eye to eye with, then God help us.
3. Is the Gospel not enough? Will it really take a revolution to impact our culture? Is a civil war coming, or necessary, to transform our nation? Will people need to be killed out? I say, adamantly, NO. As a follower of my Lord, I hold tightly to the notion that the Gospel is the actual hope for our nation. I live and die on the truth that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the answer for our problems, as people begin to follow Jesus as savior and Lord.
Having said that, I don’t for a minute believe that the LGBTQ community, the pro-choice advocates, nor the socialist supporters are the main problem here. As much as I deeply disagree with them, they are NOT the problem. In reality, and I know this will be controversial to say, the church is the problem. Before you send me hate mail and more social media attacks, please hear me out.
Somewhere down the line, the church got prideful. Somehow, the church got her eyes off Jesus and on to themselves. “Let the community come to us because we have no need to reach out to them. They know where we are.” “If they don’t look like us, dress like us, or act like us, then we don’t really need them here.” “If I don’t get my way, I will take my gifts and worship elsewhere.” Money became focused on the upkeep of the grounds rather than the outreach of the Gospel. Instead of trying to answer people’s inquisitive, tough questions, leaders told their parishioners to stay quiet and just trust God. Instead of adopting the idea of reaching the nations, churches adapted to say within their own parking lots. Church folk would sweetly smile and shake the preacher’s hand after Sunday worship and then rudely lash out at the attendant serving them Sunday lunch. Many churches decided that the path back to relevancy went more through influential politics instead of intense prayer. Of course this wasn’t every church nor every Christian. However, the number was large enough that, frankly, folks got tired of it. People rejected and walked away from the church, not because of her message of grace but because of her attitude of self-righteousness.
What would happen if we as churches got back to the message of the Gospel? What if we proclaimed with our lives, as well as our words, that Jesus actually does love everyone yet issues a call for people to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Him? That is not easy Christianity. That is actual Christianity. What if we radically loved our neighbor, even though they didn’t vote like us, think like us, or even like us at all for that matter? What if churches dealt with the sin within their own walls instead of just blasting sin outside of those walls?
I certainly don’t think the whole culture would be running over each other to find a seat in our pews, but I do think we would get a hearing, an opportunity to speak. And the Gospel could do the work.
4. Who will make a stand? I talked with my city councilman McClain Burrough after the threat was called into our church. I asked him about the situation and what would happen. We talked long about leadership and integrity and accountability. McClain told me he had received innumerable calls to his personal phone number. He had media requests from around the country. In addition, he had people leaving nasty messages for him. But what he really didn’t have was people from Carbon Hill contacting him. And, he said, that concerned him. I believe it concerned him because he knows, as I do, that Carbon Hill is not a bad place. I have lived here over 12 years now and have come to love the people. The members of my Faith Family ARE family to me. I have met, in this city, some of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure to know.
I know Carbon Hill is not what it is represented to be out in the media. From New York City to Los Angeles to London, people have a negative view of our city because of the mayor’s comments posted on social media.
I am a leader. I don’t think I am a great one, but I am one. And a leader’s responsibility is to stand up when it’s time to be counted. If no one else was going to counter the narrative that Carbon Hill was full of hateful, bigoted people, then I must. What choice did I really have? If I am to set the example for the people I lead as pastor and my wife and children that I love, then I could not stay quiet.
To be honest, I am not comfortable with all of these interviews. I really don’t want to do them. I don’t want the media to, intentionally or not, parse and skew my words. However, a few of the members at First Baptist told me something that almost brought me to tears. They said they trusted me and thought if they could choose anyone to represent our town to the media, they would choose me. I am overwhelmed by those encouragements. Obviously, I do not represent the community in a way at all, yet I want people outside of our jurisdiction to know that we are not how we have been represented.
In the end, this whole situation is a burden. But maybe it is an opportunity as well. Maybe Jesus can shine forth in this dark time. I know that another news story will break soon and this one will go away into the annals of history. I look forward to that day. But for now, please pray for me, Carbon Hill, our churches, and our city’s leadership at “such a time as this.”
Scott McCullar is the pastor of First Baptist Church-Carbon Hill and can be contacted at email@example.com or (205)924-4145. The church's website is www.fbccarbonhill.com.