It was a long time ago from what seems a different life. But once I worked for the Southern Baptist Convention. I had grown up Baptist and knew no other way to be. I felt the ‘call’ and had gone to seminary. I was theirs forever if they wanted me. But the idealism of youth and the politics of the moral majority taking hold of a faith that had nurtured me was to leave me out in the cold.
I was working as the Minister to the Homeless for a Baptist Center and as an Associate Pastor at the church in the center in Louisville, Kentucky. I lived with my wife and son in two old Sunday School rooms with a narrow hall connecting the rooms that had a stove and refrigerator that served as our kitchen. In the building with us were homeless men, seminary students, and a door that connected to a women minister and her husband’s apartment. We lived on the third floor and everyday I could hear the homeless who were waiting for the door to open so they could take showers, look through the clothes closet, escape the weather, and have coffee and donuts. On cold days they would bang on the metal door and complain about me sleeping in my warm room and not opening the door even when it was thirty minutes before the set time. I was living the dream of a young minister trying to be more like Jesus.
To some in the Baptist Church we at the center/church were saints to others; we were a nuisance. We were pious and radical and living what we were preaching. This drove some Baptist nuts. And then we did the unforgivable the church in the center: called a woman minister. Since the local association of Baptists owned the building and paid some of the salaries they wanted the church to rethink what they did. The church rethought it and liked what they did. And this began the war.
Depending on which church the monthly associational meeting was held we would be voted out of the building or receive a vote of confidence to stay in the building. The center/church that had been the darling of the convention had suddenly became the battleground for the Baptists. She was called a she-devil; I was called mentally “retarded” at the associational meetings which we by the rules of the game were not allowed to respond unless we were called on by a minister of another church. Since I was not called on to dispute the accusation that I was mentally retarded I can only imagine that in the minutes of the Association I have forever been labeled “retarded” and she likewise is probably recorded as a devil. Ever since I have sympathized with labels of our mentally challenged friends.
This war went on for around three years before they felt their big break had come. Our woman minister was taking a leave of absence for two and a half months for a once in lifetime trip to various places in Asia. The Association thought this would be a chance to put in a ‘temporary’ replacement of their choice. In the ensuing brouhaha we convinced them the current staff could handle the work in her absence without an outsider. This led to them to try another tactic: to make me the Acting Pastor and Director. We objected but they insisted it was only fair to me and was the bargaining chip to keep an outsider out of the building. As I remember it I received no temporary salary increase for this fancy title. But I knew this was not a solution that was going to work in my favor. Although it was to be my first job acting.
Her plane had not even taken off when I received a call not to be confused with my previously mentioned call to the ministry]. It was from the Director of the Association my and her boss who was also the name caller. He wanted to meet with me to talk about my Acting. My soul felt a cold chill come over it. I was to meet him at the associational headquarters. When I got there I was ushered into the plush meeting room I had never been asked to meet in before. This was not a good omen. A few minutes later the Association Director and two other men walked in. One was from the state convention and the other was from the national convention. It was a meeting of two biggies, one wannabe biggie, and little ole me.
They said that this was a brainstorming session about my future and not to be discussed outside of this room. I thought and this is the first day. They told me I was a very capable young minister whose career was in front of me and the possibilities were limitless. And here I thought I was retarded. I knew this was my wilderness temptation and I had not spent forty days praying and fasting; I was doomed. They concluded all of the praise and concern about the chapel\center and the terrible conflict a woman minster was causing this great association with the offer. Or was it an offer after all it was a brainstorming session and the way they offered it was not quite an offer. A young man like you could go places in the Convention if they found me amenable to helping them through these trying times. Why, you could find yourself in a large church and director of the Kentucky Baptist Church if I was willing to help them in this one small matter. Now I did not know these things were for sale. But I laughed inside; God in Her infinite wisdom had graced me with an offer I did not want. Head of the Kentucky Baptist Convention; were they kidding me? They had not done their homework; why if they had asked Satan he could have easily told them I could care less about that job. They had missed their target and I had kept my soul. They told me to take a few days to think these things over.
Two days later I was required to attend an associational meeting. At the meeting the Director, my boss, informed all of us gathered there that they would take a vote to oust my woman boss from her job and I would fill her place ‘temporarily’. He had been aligning enough churches to do this deed and had arranged the meeting at a church far from our supporting churches therefore we would catch them unawares. Now he had insisted I be at this meeting for no particular reason. I raised my hand and asked him why he would have this discussion in front of me (proving how “retarded” I was) because I would have to contact the churches I worked with about this vote. I could tell he was furious so I let it go at that.
After the meeting he asked to talk to me in private. He said it would be good for my future (wink, wink) to let this pass but if he heard that this private meeting had been discussed with anyone outside of those on staff, he would fire me. Great I thought; I guess I am back to retarded. I promised I would only talk to other Associational staff about this. But he had not considered that one of the Association’s staff was also a member of the chapel. She was not expected to attend this meeting and thus was not there and since it was my first meeting I was not aware of who was to be there or not. So I debriefed her about everything that happened at the meeting. I told her I regretted that there was nothing I could do about it since he had told me to keep my mouth shut or be fired. Then I said if I was going to take action which I was not, I would contact these two ministers whose numbers were…
His ambush was countered by the chapel’s ambush and they were stalemated once again. He was angry but he knew I had not talked to any of the ministers, therefore I was innocent although he smelled a rat. Of course as you may know I never pastored a large church and never became Head of the Kentucky Baptist Church. I left and lived in a commune for a year and a half. Good thing the two biggies and the wannabe biggie never offered me my own commune or I might have sold my soul that day so long ago.