UPDATE from Baptist Press Article. Church now says they did not fire the pastor because of racism. They said it was because of the message he preached on racism and the way he preached it. See link here. See below after the original article for the full BP article.
This morning, I was alerted to a story that seemed to belong to another era – but sadly it happened yesterday. A young pastor in a small Southern Baptist church in small town Alabama tries to lead his church to do outreach and invite children from the community to their upcoming VBS. The church is all white and the surrounding community is mostly black. Opposition arises from church members and they tell him that they do not want to reach out to black people and invite them to church. He persists and says the gospel of Jesus Christ demands it. They tell him that if he keeps going with this, then he will be removed. He says that he will take his appeal to the church and on the next Sunday, he preaches boldly against racism and calls the church to repentance. A vote is scheduled on the future of the pastor and he is voted to be removed immediately by a unanimous vote last night. As of today, he has no job.
I spoke with this pastor, Jonathan Greer, today for about a half hour. I asked him if there was anything else that happened. Did they give another reason? Even a public reason? He said no. They told him nothing. [Edit: In the news story released, the deacon says that Jonathan did not engage in enough visitation and did not work with the deacons]. He said that the problem was that they didn’t want black people to come to their church. A variety of reasons were listed, but they were all related to negative things happening if black people started coming. The church is in Alabama. It is a small church numbers-wise – around 30 people or so.
Jonathan Greer is a young pastor. But, he has a backbone made of steel and a love for Christ and a heart for the gospel and for all people. We need more pastors like him. He didn’t back down. Lots of people talk a good game about loving people of all races/ethnicities until their jobs are on the line. Then, they grow silent. Jonathan got louder. Even though the church was small, he was full-time there because they had people who could support him. He doesn’t have a job to go to or the means to support his family, and even though his job was threatened he did not bow the knee. He is trusting in God. I’d follow a guy who can stare straight into the threat of being fired for taking a strong stand and then stand firm anyway out of love for the Lord and people and a desire to be faithful to Christ. We need pastors like Jonathan Greer who will not back down but will continue to call the church to faithfulness, sacrifice, and engagement with their community for the sake of the gospel. Someone call this brother and give him a ministry job. The church-at-large needs him.
If you would like to donate to Jonathan for his support, you can give to Community Development Initiatives and I will make sure that he gets 100% of the funds. Just note that you are giving to Jonathan Greer.
Jonathan did not want this story to go public. He did not want to be named or to have the church named. When we talked earlier, we left it at that and I told him I would honor his wishes. It is his story, not mine. But, later, he called back and told me that a local TV station had the news story and they were coming to his home to interview him. He told me that the story was out there already so we might as well tell it. Only then did he agree to have his name mentioned. He didn’t disparage anyone or try to make himself look like a hero. He was pretty nervous after the news station contacted him. As far as I can tell, this was a young, small church pastor trying to be faithful to Christ and lead his church to love his community. He did not seek this situation. But, I told him that God knew that this day would come and prepared him to be a witness to Him at this time. I am challenged by Jonathan and have to ask myself and readers here: “What is God preparing you for? Where will you stand? Will you stand?”
There are always two sides to every story, of course. The news story says that the deacon said that Jonathan did not visit church members enough, he did not work well with the deacon, it wasn’t about race, and that is why they immediately fired him with a 31-0 vote with no severance. I called the reporter at the station who ran the story, Tom Williams at WTOK, and I talked to him about this. He was very forthcoming with me. You can compare the stories and decide for yourself.
NOTE: I reserve the right to update this post if/when more information comes in. I’ll mark the edit.
BUTLER, Ala. (BP) — A former Alabama pastor and the rural congregation that terminated him last Sunday (July 31) have offered varying reports to media outlets regarding the role racism played in the 31-0 vote to dismiss him.
Mt. Sterling Baptist Church in Butler, Ala., was the subject of news stories by WTOK television in nearby Meridian, Miss., the AL.com news website and other media outlets when it fired pastor Jonathan Greer, 26, over what Greer described as “pushback” against his intention to invite black children to Vacation Bible School.
Mt. Sterling member Norma Wimberley told Baptist Press the church “is not racist” and terminated Greer in large part because of a sermon marked by “anger and hate” in which he seemed to misclassify the congregation as racist. Terry Long, director of missions for the Choctaw Baptist Association, with which Mt. Sterling cooperates, told BP racism “probably” played “the most significant role” of any factor in Greer’s termination but other factors came into play as well.
An Aug. 1 post about Greer and Mt. Sterling on the SBC Voices blog received 6,500 likes in support of the pastor on Facebook during the first two days it was online.
Greer, who pastored Mt. Sterling a year and a half, told BP one of the church’s deacons informed him approximately two weeks ago the congregation “was in an uproar” over his plan to invite black children to VBS and suggested the pastor might need to resign. According to Greer’s account, he would not compromise and deacons told him the “core” of the church believed he should leave. They did not specify a number of people who allegedly held that belief or name them.
Greer preached on racism the following Sunday and a vote on his termination was scheduled for the subsequent week, in keeping with the church’s bylaws. Greer later apologized publically and privately for broadly classifying the congregation as racist in his sermon.
“I didn’t realize that there were more people in the church … that were okay with people [of all races] coming,” Greer said. “And in my sermon, I didn’t account for that. I kind of lumped everyone together.”
At least four people who voted to terminate Greer have said they are open to black people attending church events, Greer stated. Seven or eight members, he alleged, said they voted for termination explicitly because he wanted to invite black children to VBS.
Deacon Freddie Moore told WTOK the pastor was terminated for not working with the deacons and not visiting church members.
Wimberley, who has been a Mt. Sterling member 20 years, said the church has received expressions of “hate” since Sunday and that the termination was not about racism. The congregation long has had a black member, she said, though that member currently lives out of town and was not present for the vote.
“Our church is not racist,” Wimberley said. “We invite anyone that comes into our door to join us at any time. We welcome them. We ask them to be members.”
Greer “misunderstood what the deacons said or just didn’t listen,” Wimberley said. She was not present for his sermon on racism because of a memorial event for her late husband but later listened to a recording of it and cited the sermon when asked the reason for Greer’s termination.
“If you heard Jonathan’s sermon the Sunday before his dismissal,” Wimberley said, “it was not a sermon of love. It was a sermon of anger and hate.”
Long, the DOM, said Greer’s sermon “was biblically truthful and accurate” but added the pastor “came out swinging.”
“At the beginning of his sermon, it seemed a little overbearing to me and a little harsh,” Long said, “but he softened midway through the sermon and just got into the Scripture and basically told them what the Scripture said. And then he called them to repentance.”
In terminating Greer, the church “made a bad decision, in my opinion,” Long said. “Nothing that the pastor did was worthy of dismissal. He’s a young pastor in his first church. As with all of us, mistakes [were] made — when you’re young especially.”
Still, Long said, “he stood valiantly for the truth. He would not compromise and deserves our admiration and encouragement and praise for that.”
At the same time, Mt. Sterling should not be disfellowshiped from the association, Long said.
“Mt. Sterling Baptist Church, like every church, has people that are committed to Jesus Christ and the Gospel at different levels,” Long said. “It is a mistake to believe that every member of this church is racist. It is a mistake to believe that this church has any kind of printed or stated policy that excludes anyone … They have a documented history of having fellowship with other races.”
Greer, who says he has received expressions of support from as far away as California and London, plans to take a brief vacation with family then look for another pastorate.
If you outline the story that BP told, you can probably take what you want from it and make your case. The purpose of me posting this after I heard that the media already had the story and they were running with it was to point out that a pastor stood for what was right instead of it just being about a “racist Baptist church in Alabama.” There actually are pastors trying to do the right thing, even when opposed. When I heard that he was fired with no severance at all, I knew he needed to be helped.