KEEPING THE FAITH: Take it outside

ronnie

Ronnie McBrayer

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 09:56 AM.

It was the early 1980s. It was Texas. It was December. It was a Southern Baptist church. It is customary in Southern Baptist churches to take up an offering during the Advent season to support missionaries overseas. This collection is called the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” named after a Baptist pioneer missionary to mainland China more than a century ago.

This is the setting young Pastor Kyle found himself in, fresh out of the seminary — green, idealistic, and zealous. Wanting to have a fantastic mission's emphasis at his first church, what could be better than having an actual missionary come speak? A missionary who had directly benefited from US dollars sent overseas?

So Kyle invited one of his peers to be the special missionary speaker. He was a young man who had been raised in Africa by missionary parents, would soon graduate with a missiology degree of his own, and would return to African soil to continue the good work. But there was a problem. Kyle’s friend was an African. No person of color had ever stood in the pulpit of this Texas Baptist church.

Kyle pressed on with youthful enthusiasm, however, breaking new ground. On the appointed day the young African missionary arrived and spoke with passion and love for his continent. Largely, he was received well by the congregation, but a couple of folks did walk out. When Kyle later visited one of the protestors, she met him on the porch with a shotgun and a few choice words.

Then one night at a church business meeting a man stood and said, “I’m tired of this preacher talking about race all the time, and I’m fixin’ to whip his ass.” Pastor Kyle said later, “At first the people got more upset that he said ‘ass’ in church, than the fact that he was going to whip me!” But here the guy came, climbing over the pews like scaling a ladder toward Kyle. Just as he got to him, four big men intervened and said, “If you’re going to whip the preacher … take it outside.”

Like something from a Hollywood script, the entire congregation spilt outside and gathered in a circle to see the prize fight. Kyle had no idea what to do — he was young and fit — but he didn’t think it was right to whip a parishioner at a church business meeting. But again, just as the first punch was about to be thrown, those same men intervened. “If you’re going to whip the preacher,” they said, “you’ll have to start with us.” The man backed down, never to return.

When Kyle returned to that church many years later for an anniversary service, to his jaw-dropping astonishment, half the congregation was African-American! “How could this be?” he asked a number of the “old-timers” still around from the younger days.



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