Jonathan Merritt stirred the political waters with a post in the aftermath of the Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy commenting about marriage in the context of divorce. Certainly his words extend to the ongoing debate about marriage in the United States. You could call it another flashpoint that becomes louder than the central issue. In fact, over coffee/tea with a friend from high school this past week it was surprising to me he had no idea of the flap. Why is this important? He is a Pastor. He is also gay. Before anyone decides to make this post about which group you will be demonstrating for today, that is not the issue I raise. The deeper issue that will undoubtedly be missed is how we engage and treat others. Cars run both ways on this street. The left and the right miss wildly.
I wrote this last week after talking with my wife. No, I did not need permission. Our experience in pastoral ministry, of one form or another, brought to mind those times where we have walked down the lonely, tortuous road with those whose lives have been beset by abuse of many forms. We could not imagine how anyone could possibly diminish one person’s experience to call another to account.
Sexual abuse is costly; just ask Penn State, Joe Paterno’s Family, or Jerry Sandusky and his family. Or, you could ask countless people who quietly suffer in their local churches, many in Southern Baptist Churches. The recent response to the Jonathan Merritt story illustrates why one might be reticent to disclose their abuse – bloggers might use the story to assault the character of another person. In that moment, their story of abuse damns them with faux support. Alone. Again. Voiceless. Powerless.
I am with Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman who interpreted the NCAA’s penalty to say, “Those who have been abused matter.” Funny how a sports writer gets this larger issue while not a few Southern Baptist bloggers would prefer to focus on taking down a statue.
Students rallied and supporters wore t-shirts. Many preferred to give Paterno’s legacy a pass for his role in justice delayed. When these Southern Baptist bloggers take aim at the medium, Ed Stetzer and his blog, rather than demonstrate the sort of Pastoral perspective similar to that of Bart Barber, any alleged support for Merritt is thin soup.
Hidden amidst the continued enquiring spin is this, “subsequent counseling he claims he sought.” Journalistic peeps weigh in here. The choice of claims immediately questions the action. The undercurrent of suspicion is obvious if one parses the piece carefully. Repeated innuendo calls into question the answer Merritt gives in response to Southworth’s claims in his outing post.
Maybe you could evaluate the semantic use of, “physical contact beyond the bounds of friendship.” This is fair game. The reader is left to speculate here, and boy have they. Interpretations vary from a kiss to gay sex. Take aim at clarity that is your prerogative. But, to be dismissive of a reference to abuse and wonder why Merritt has not spoken out about it and what might possess someone to fail reporting the incident is beyond calloused.
For those of us who have not suffered abuse, of any sort, to lay the groundwork for how another should respond and report such an incident is arrogant and worse, un-loving. Mask your suspicion in calls for counseling and accountability. The damage is done. Why had Merritt delayed speaking about any of this? The same reason hundreds and thousands that attend our churches sit in silence suffering. Our socio-religio-cultural framework as Southern Baptists gives little space. Your experience will become the means to cajole another person, not be taken as truly tragic, whatever the eventual consequences.
Take some time to really participate in the pain of someone who has suffered abuse. Where possible enjoin their suffering as Jesus did our own. Identify with them all the way down. You may then learn that sometimes what triggers our future decisions or resurrects memories of those horrors is akin to being ambushed. You just don’t know. Maybe it is no excuse for adult decisions. Then again, maybe it is more complex than your pristine experience will allow.
We Evangelical Christians, and particularly Southern Baptists, like our stories pristinated. We pull The Blind Side from Lifeway shelves due to a single gripe about its too human portrayals. We make decisions as if electing our first African-American President of the SBC signals a new day. Take a moment and follow the story of First Baptist Church, Crystal Springs.
There may be some truth to the fact that Ed might be more careful in offering his blog as a place to address blogosphere matters. If you feel the need to challenge Ed on that matter, do so. But, do not carry on your political agenda on the back of one already bruised.
What could Ed have done? If he felt the euphemistic reply Merritt offered to what sort of contact Southworth and he had, he could have declined to run the piece. Maybe that would have been better. But, I suspect Ed intended to stand with someone, Merritt, who in his own words, decided against his convictions. We all need someone like that.
We Southern Baptists have been in the business of narrowing with whom we will stand. You may not agree with Ed’s decision to run the piece. You may even believe he should have pressed Merritt harder. Who knows, he may have. But, to choose to excoriate Ed Stetzer from within the wounds of Jonathan Merritt’s human experiences is not Christian.