I was so ticked last night that I couldn't even post on this.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is holding an anti-filibuster telecast with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Al Mohler, Charles Colson, and Jim Dobson at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, April 24. Highview is a Southern Baptist mega-church pastored by Kevin Ezell where several Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professors and students are members. They are calling this Sunday "Justice Sunday."
It seems that enough Christian conservatives are so frustrated with how some in congress are handling Bush's judicial nominees that they have decided to put together this event. They are upset at how "people of faith" who intend to become judges are being persecuted. President of the FRC, Tony Perkins, said, "We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."
Some others don't see things the same way. One of those is Joseph Phelps. Joe is pastor of the more moderate (but still Southern Baptist) Highland Baptist Church in Louisville. He wrote an April 21 guest editorial in Louisville's Courier-Journal called "A Tale of Two Churches," contrasting Highview and Highland and their different views of justice, though he admits they are following the same Jesus.
Highland and Highview both advocate on behalf of moral issues in the public square. But Justice Sunday has caused Highview to leap into the partisan political process, and to be associated with erroneous, alarmist assertions about filibusters which supposedly threaten people of faith. In doing so, they have moved beyond the realm of the church's resources and expertise and into a realm where churches are neither equipped nor permitted to go.
Highview and Highland are still linked as sisters by our witness to Jesus. Our differing paths make for interesting family reunions. But we can't give up, just as the larger culture of which we are but a microcosm, cannot give up. We are family.
In a recent Associated Baptist Press article, "Louisville pastor criticizes church for hosting anti-filibuster rally" by Robert Marus, Ezell responded this way (emphasis mine).
"I'm saddened that some of these pastors that really, evidently, don't have a lot to do spend time criticizing other churches," Ezell told Associated Baptist Press. "I would encourage him to spend time reaching more people -- his numbers would seem to indicate he needs it," he continued, presumably referring to Highland Baptist's Sunday attendance figures.
He also took issue with Phelps describing Highland and Highview as "sister churches" in the Courier-Journal article. "I would think we're more like distant cousins," Ezell said.
It's sad that "Justice Sunday" has become Ezell's excuse for a beat-down of a "distant cousin" over their attendance numbers (by the way, Highland has added more members in the last year an a half than many SBC churches have in attendance). Mega-church arrogance and personality-driven ministry has reared its ugly head and said what we small church pastors have felt they might have thought all along: size does matter.
Now, I truly believe Ezell is growing sorrier by the minute as he is surely receiving criticism from some wise and thoughtful SBTS profs, Al Mohler, and others. He hasn't handled a volatile public issue with much grace, and I'm sure he'll learn from it.
But there is absolutely, without question, no excuse for Ezell's comments. However you judge the moderate theology of Highland or Phelps, Ezell has made a personal attack. This is a church attack. And regarless of his view on politics, filibusters, or even the relationship between Highview and Highland, Ezell should publicly apologize for his silly comments.
Maybe brokenness over our struggles to love one another (on all of our parts) will show we are all still weighed down with sinful attitudes and actions, still needing forgiveness, and in fact more like sisters than distance cousins after all. God help us.