Forgiving Southern Baptists

J. DANIEL WHITE, Ph.D. – Gene, Ann and I had been good friends since the early ’60s in eastern NC, so, when I came to Charlotte in 1971, I immediately gravitated to my old and dear friends and came to MPBC for worship.  At the close of one of my first Sundays visiting, a woman sitting at the inside end of the pew on which I was sitting stopped me before I could get away and asked me my name, thanked me for visiting MPBC and expressed a warm wish that I would return soon.  I did, and Frances Reville again greeted me after worship and again repeated her hope for my return. 

Having been “burned” by Southern Baptist theological arrogance and racial intolerance for years, I had vowed never to join another SBC-member church, but keep my membership at Drexel Hill Baptist Church near Philadelphia until…

Then, one day during the occasional lunch sessions Gene and I had, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Dan, you do not have the grace to forgive Southern Baptists for what they did to you!”  In a pique, my response to him:  “Damn it, Gene, I do too!”  His response was, “Good, because I need you and Myers Park needs you.”  He had tricked me with a bit of theological guilt (not unlike Southern Baptists at all), and I was in, but with a caveat:  I wrote Gene, and sent a copy of the letter to Bonnie Cone, chair of the Board of Deacons and a friend at the university, and said that I would join under one condition: that my statistic would never be reported to the SBC as a member of a SBC church.  Reporting that statistic to Valley Forge was permissible, but not to Nashville, TN or Raleigh, NC. 

What was made of that request, I’ll never know, but I do know that in forcing me to confront my own failure to consider my past and move forward, I found a church–not perfect by any means–that, more than most, admits its sinfulness (though frightened of that word all too often) and usually seeks forgiveness.  That is about all any of us can hope for.


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