I learn lessons everyday. Today was no exception.
A friend, mentor, and former colleague of mine, Dr. Mike Ruffin, posted two articles on Facebook, one by Gerald Harris and one by John Pierce, concerning a situation in the life of Georgia Baptists. If interested you can read the articles here and here. The issue centers on the Bible’s teaching concerning women in the pastorate. Certainly not a new issue, but one that still elicits passionate responses. The main point of my post here is not to discuss the various strengths and weaknesses of each article as it relates to the validity of women pastors. Instead, I want to share with you an interaction I had as a result of reading these articles and responding.
After reading the article by John Pierce, who I have no doubt loves the Lord and desires the name of Christ to be exalted, I was upset and disappointed. Regardless of whether or not I agree with his particular viewpoint on the issue at hand (which I don’t), he simply posited a poor argument that was weak on constructive exegesis to defend his position and heavy on accusations toward Harris as being insensitive to women and walking in the same company as slave defenders. These comments were made in light of the article by Harris which focused on how difficult it was for him to follow through with his convictions because it was going to hurt people he cared for (in fact, Harris’ article was not primarily a systematic, biblical defense of his own position). I believe Pierce knows better than to make the parallel between the two issues of slavery and women pastors. It is the kind of argument we might expect from someone with no seminary training who is attempting to create a more viscerally powerful reaction. These two issues, both exegetically and practically, are worlds apart. Furthermore, I believe it hurts the position of moderates when these kinds of arguments are made. Not for the moderates themselves who already have strong convictions on the issue, but for those who might be wrestling with their own view of this important topic. In other words, I believe that my friend Mike Ruffin’s “counter-point” would have read much, much differently. Add to all this the irony that this argument which is primarily against Harris and his theology, regardless of the strength or validity of Harris’ position, is made by a moderate Baptist who dwells in the company of those who walked away from the SBC to the CBF largely due to a lack of acceptance. Thus, to be consistent with his own take on what Baptist’s should be, Pierce’s article should have started out – “I appreciate Gerald Harris for his heart-felt convictions on Scripture, convictions that led him to make a very difficult painful decision. One that he no doubt wishes he did not have to make. However, I believe Harris could have saved himself and the church at Druid Hills the hardship of separation. I say that because I believe Harris is mistaken in his interpretation of Scripture. Here is why. . .”
So, I emailed Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index. I simply let him know that I appreciated the tone of his article and that it was clear to me that his heart was broken by following through on what was a painful decision. My assumption is that he had come under intense fire from the publication. I was right.
Harris emailed me back promptly. He thanked me for the email. He acknowledged that his article had incited quite a strong reaction which surprised him. And then he said something in his email that made me sit back and reflect. He said:
“I respect Johnny Pierce for his observations and wish him God’s best.”
That’s class. That’s being a man. That’s demonstrating true humility. Not one word even suggesting a sarcastic or negative tone toward Pierce was made by Harris. The man who accused him of walking in the same company as slave defenders is being respected and blessed by Harris in an arena where he no doubt would have felt safe to make some kind of slanderous remark. Perhaps I would have received a similar response from Pierce had I emailed him. Perhaps Pierce’s article is not reflective of his “respect” for Gerald Harris and his desire for him to receive “God’s best.”
Yes, I learned a lesson today. Another lesson in humility. Not that Christians should just avoid debate and robust discussion. On the contrary, Scripture itself testifies to the requirement of all Christians to stand firm on truth. I have tried to graciously point out what I believe are problems with the approach of John Pierce’s article. Point and counter-point is how we learn and grow. But that in our standing, we are humble. In our interpretations, we are gracious. And in our opposition of others, we maintain the dignity of Christ.
*Note – I should point out that evangelical conservatives have played their own role in the past (and present no doubt) of failing to graciously defend their position in favor of attacking the position of others. I no doubt have been guilty of this many times. This lesson of humility runs across the board, not reserved for just conservatives, moderates, or liberals.