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FIRST-PERSON: Is your church a welcome mat or a locked door

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The 1996 walk across America was an eye-opener.

At Texas City, Texas, a deeply troubled couple waited for their guest speaker on the front porch of the thriving church. When they spotted Ted, they excitedly proclaimed, “Thank God you’re here. God sent you.” They soon explained that their teenaged son had just been arrested and charged with capital murder in the slaying of a convenience store clerk.

When they had completed detailing the sad history of their wayward son, they gratefully confided, “Thank God, we’re members of this church. We don’t have to be afraid to cry or express our pain in front of our fellow church members. They love us, and they even love our son, in spite of the terrible thing he is charged with doing.”

A few days later another church member confided to the cross-country hiker, “My brother has a serious cocaine problem, and I’m worried to death about him!” Her teary eyes confirmed her deep fear for his future. “I love my church,” she continued, “but I don’t dare try to discuss my brother’s drug habit with our members. At my church they play a game of ‘let’s pretend. Let’s pretend no one is hurting. Let’s pretend no one has a problem. Let’s pretend everything is all right.’ But everything is not all right.” the young lady lamented. “My brother does have a problem, and he is hurting and so are we.”

Whenever we are privileged to speak in churches across the nation, we often ask our rapt listeners the penetrating question, “What kind of church is your church?” We believe that our church fellowships are at last beginning to wake up to the truth. For many years we preferred that others handle the seeming dirty problem of drug abuse. We conveyed the impression that the responsibility for the dark tragedy and its solution lay with “those people” and not us. But now we are coming out of the self-imposed darkness of denial, and we are beginning to understand that the problem belongs to all of us and, therefore, the solution must be worked by those who preach daily, “Jesus is the answer.” Surely the ultimate answer must lie in changing the hearts of men and women by the grace of God.

Our recent pilgrimage to Hawaii to share the message of hope confirmed the emergence of the open-door policy among Baptists. At the end of the early morning worship service in Honolulu, we offered the usual opportunity for those who had loved ones hurting because of drug-related problems to come forward and kneel, asking God to work a miracles in the lives of the ones for whom they prayed. We reminded the congregation that those who dared to pray for such a miracle must be willing to be an active part of that recovery experience in whatever way the Lord would lead.

One man knelt near the altar, and prayed tearfully to God for help with his own addiction. And then from a canvas bag around his neck, he carefully withdrew two unopened cans of beer and his crystal meth (amphetamine) pipe and deposited them on the altar as a symbol of his desire to be free at last. We prayed with him for strength and determination that only the Lord can provide.

That day we had been in a church of which the hurting could shout to the heavens, “Thank God for this church. They love me in spite of what I have done. For me there is hope!” We pray for more such churches.

    About the Author

  • Ted G. Stone and Philip D. Barber