Mr. Sterling Baptist Church in Butler, Alabama says they fired Pastor Jonathan Greer this week because he wasn’t making the parishioners happy. But Greer says they weren’t happy with the fact that he had invited black children to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS) at their all-white church.
Greer was removed by a unanimous vote of 31 church leaders. He says the move came only after the deacon and church members had made it perfectly clear what their problem was.
“There was pushback about where the types of children we were bringing in, and I was asked to not invite black children to VBS,” he told reporters for WTOK, an ABC affiliate in Meridian, Mississippi.
Led by his deep faith in Christ, Greer responded to these complaints on Sunday with a sermon on the evils of racism.
“I wanted the church to know that this is not consistent with the gospel. This is not consistent with God’s word that we honor and give dignity to all people,” he says. “That’s what the Bible teaches us, and all people are worthy and in need of the gospel, and racism denies that to a certain amount of people.”
Church members rejected Greer’s words just as they reject charges of racial bias. For violating the code of silence which maintains structural racism in Southern culture by pretending it doesn’t exist, Greer had to be fired. Watch:
Deacon Freddie Moore tells reporters that everyone is welcome at any time in his church, and that Pastor Greer failed to serve the community which ostracized him.
But Greer says that Moore was one of the two church deacons who pressured him to stop integrating VBS classes in the first place. “What they really mean is that someone can wander in off the street and they won’t stop them, but they specifically asked me, explicitly asked me, to not invite black people.”
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that 11 AM on Sunday is “the most segregated hour in America,” and anyone who has grown up around small southern towns like Butler (population 1,894) knows that nothing has changed about this.
According to Lifeway Research, a Nashville, Tennessee-based organization, 66% of Americans have never attended a church in which they were an ethnic minority.
“People like the idea of diversity. They just don’t like being around different people,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based research firm.
“Maybe their sense is that church is the space where they don’t have to worry about issues like this,” he said. But that could be a problem, because, Stetzer said, “If you don’t like diversity, you’re really not going to like heaven.”
The group’s surveys show that less than half of Americans want more diversity in thier places of worship.
Lifeway also released research in 2007 which showed that most young people who leave church cite “judgmental or hypocritical” attitudes of church members, or a sense of alienation from the community and its “stance on political and social issues,” as reasons they have stopped attending.
So while Mt. Sterling’s Baptists may feel more comfortable without black people in their pews, their racial exclusion is a big reason why the rising generation wants nothing to do with them. Pastor Greer is the only person at Mt. Sterling who seems to have understood that reality, much less cared to do something about it.
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