Thursday, December 21, 2006


As an actor, writer, and theater teacher, I'm big on threads. Not the kind you use to darn your socks with (just ask my wife), and not the "threads" we used to wear in the 1970s, but the threads the connect point A to point B in a narrative. Good stories, whether they're comedies, or tragedies, or somewhere in the middle, always have good threads; for a number of days I've been praying and ruminating about the threads that have manifested themselves in the recent unpleasantness--which was in many ways a comedy, until events began to turn tragic.

There have been, for a number of months now, three threads in play: trust, integrity, and accountability. I have spent a number of months cataloguing and warning against the difficulties many (if not most) of those opposing Bellevue's staff and lay leadership have in those areas. By the same token, I have also been researching and investigating how members of Bellevue's staff and lay leadership have also had difficulty in those areas, much to my disappointment.

With regard to trust, there's isn't very much to go around these days. The "anti-Bellevue" cadre (and no complaining--your group's continued predilection for attacking those with whom you disagree warrants the continued use of that appellative) has been on the offensive for so long that apologies are ignored, and tempered speech is eschewed. But look at Bellevue's responses. We've seen a gaggle of Communication Committee meetings that produce precious little communication and much more in the way of hard feelings, meetings hosted by staff and lay leadership as prone to dismiss or demean questions, in too many cases, as they were to address them head-on. We've seen pronouncements from the pulpit by various individuals that do not stand up to close examination. And now we've seen, unfortunately, felonious activity that does not (from the available evidence) appear to have been addressed swiftly and decisively.

Let me pause a moment to remind everyone involved in this of something: A crime has been committed, and innocent people have been injured in ways I simply cannot comprehend. If you use this crime as a jumping-off point to make specious accusations against anyone in leadership at Bellevue, you run the risk of being known as an opportunist, someone who is inured to the pain of others, yet glad to use it as another weapon in your arsenal. Some of you have already gone down that road--back up while you still can. Now is the time to be sober and measured in any and every response; if you don’t keep those with whom you’ve shared a viewpoint over the past few months in line, you’re tacitly endorsing their bad behavior.

Integrity is something else that is lacking these days, but something that can (just as trust can) be reclaimed. The penny-ante nonsense that was at the heart of the so-called "saving Bellevue" business should've been left by the wayside months ago, but it hasn't been; if you're one of the ones still percolating the small stuff, please stop. But there is much to be desired in the behavior of Bellevue leadership, as well. I trust they will agree with me that there have been too many actions for which apologies have been issued over the past few months. Personally, I wouldn't have issued some of the apologies, but that's neither here nor there; the fact is that it is incumbent upon Bellevue leadership to make decisions and engage in behavior for which apologies are unnecessary. I have often summarized the decision-making process of Bellevue Baptist Church in years past with the following axiom: The wheels of Bellevue grind slow, but exceeding fine. This should be the standard to which the Bellevue Baptist Church of today aspires, and achieves.

Accountability is a much easier matter to address. Never mind the anti-Bellevue bomb-tossing and sniper fire, conducted largely by people who either do it from the shadows or by people who make absolutely sure they get all the brownie points they can from their fellow "antis." (By the way, do TV interview appearances count for extra points?) Since this business has escalated from personal tastes being offended and certain individuals being disgruntled, the response from Bellevue leadership must be both more open, and more direct.

How do we all keep those three threads from fraying even further? The first step is actually a simple one: We must convene an official business meeting (not a one-way "informational" meeting) as soon as physically possible. It must not be held after Sunday night church, but at a more accessible time, perhaps a Sunday afternoon; cancel the evening service if necessary, but every single Bellevue member who has a significant question must be given the opportunity to speak, whether "anti," "pro," or otherwise. Direct, honest, open, Christ-honoring communication is the key to healing--because the lack of it is at the heart of the problems we're facing as a church body.

Pastor Gaines and Bellevue leadership, I know you keep tabs on this little corner of the Internet, and I'm frankly blessed by that beyond the shadow of any doubt or peradventure. Just as I have never questioned the character of those who would attack you, please understand that I do not question yours. However, I must stress that the objections to certain of your actions are not without foundation. A friend of mine, Mike Spradlin, has gone so far as to call for Pastor Gaines' resignation. Do I agree with him? No--but keep in mind that I also don't agree with much of what he wears to the athletic fields. Seriously, though, I believe from the evidence I've seen that calls for the resignation of any member of Bellevue leadership (either staff or lay leaders) are premature; however, I also believe that public apologies are due Dr. Spradlin for at least two incidents he's gone through with Bellevue leadership in recent months, incidents whose details I do not have permission to cite in detail.

Do I love my church? Absolutely.

Do I love my pastor? Absolutely.

Do I love those who disagree with him? Absolutely.

Which is why I must encourage my pastor and my church to convene in a business meeting. We have business which requires our attention, because it is distracting us from our singular responsibility of sharing Christ with a lost and dying world.

Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Watch this space

For those of you looking for fresh commentary, the combination of illness in the family, Christmas activities, and recent events at church have made it prudent for me to rework my planned remarks. Thanks for your interest, and check back often.


Monday, December 04, 2006

The best defense

I am personally offended...

Never minds that "anti-" speak (in or out of the Bellevue difficulties) is riddled with this phrase and its variants, and that the phrase is often considered to be an excuse for any number of responses, from passive-aggressive to hyperbolic. Last night I was able to hear this phrase (and its variants) actually coming out of some folks' mouths at the Music Communication Committee meeting. It was an eye-opener, to say the least.

The song "You Humble Me"? Personally offensive to some.

Percussion, and upbeat, "modern" arrangements in general? Personally offensive to some.

Praise teams? Personally offensive to some.

The casting process for church productions? Personally offensive to some.

It was very much a blessing that I had to leave when I did, because the meeting was degenerating from a question-and-answer-and-comment session to a talk-over-one-another, don't-give-the-people-running-the-meeting-a-chance-to-respond session. (And no, I didn't say anything; I did put my hand up once, but then took it back down.) It's my hope that the meeting got back under control, but you never know.

You've heard the expression "The best defense is a good offense," have you not? I hope the "personally offended" among us will consider a permutation on that old axiom, something along the lines of "The best defense is not to give too much credit to being personally offended." No, it doens't flow quite as trippingly from the tongue, but it gets the point across. When something is a matter of taste, one's own personal tastes cannot be elevated to too high a position--and when something is a matter of objective truth versus subjective opinion, opinion loses out ten times out of ten.

Or, at least it ought to.