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.
One man answered, “Well, preacher, after you left, the neighborhood around us began to change. And we had a decision to make: Dig in, move away or open our doors to our neighbors. Thanks to what you taught us, we opened our doors.” Kyle’s few years at that little church in the Texas pines as an inexperienced, didn’t-know-any-better-than-to-try seminarian had really made a difference in the lives of the community.
While there is often no room in our religious structures, churches, denominations or in our hearts for those who are different than us – due to race, gender, nationality, legal status, sexuality or what have you – God has plenty of room in his house and in his heart for all of these, with a far-reaching, outrageous grace that can replace bigotries and prejudices with acceptance and hospitality.
This doesn’t mean we won’t have to fight fiercely for what is right – even fight the intolerance inside of us – ultimately, we are our own worst enemies. But fight we must; not with clenched fists and angry words, taking up the weapons of the hateful. No, we fight with love, humility, grace, and justice. To contest otherwise, is to be defeated before the fighting ever begins.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.