On Sunday night, January 30, 2011, police officers in Fletcher, North Carolina, responded to dispatch’s report of a huge fight. But these law enforcement agents weren’t called to a school, or a sporting event, or even a local bar.
Nope. They were called out to a Baptist church.
During a meeting at Greater New Zion Baptist Church, heated words and hot heads catapulted some members past arguing, to fighting. Congregants were divided on whether Rev. LeVonia Ray should retain his position as pastor – an office he’s held for 38 years – or step down to allow for younger, more “modern” leadership.
Almost 30 police officers – from 5 different agencies – were part of the crowd control that Sunday night. When they arrived on the scene, they found about 75 members of the church on the premises, though not all of them were skirmishing with one another. According to Captain Jerry Rice of the Henderson County Sheriff’s office, no one appeared to be seriously hurt, and no charges were filed.
When interviewed the next day, Rev. Ray said, “I extremely regret that I was not there yesterday, and I extremely regret that this took place. It is my prayer that the church, the whole church, go in prayer for healing, because that is not the way for Christians to be Christians.”
One member, Keith Knox, said he was embarrassed for his church to be seen in such a light, but admitted he joined the ruckus when two female family members were attacked. In the aftermath, Knox believed he chose right. “I’m not ashamed of what I did – I was taking up for my family. I want to get the story out, because it’s just not right what happened.”
That’s the understatement of the year.
How will this church be recognized and remembered in the community? As the church with the great preaching? As the church that fed the homeless? As the church that helped struggling families? Even if the church did all those things and more, it will still be recognized and remembered as the church that fought itself…literally.
The sadness of that reality is only increased when looking at Jesus’ parting command to His disciples.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Jesus said His disciples would only be recognized by the world if they loved one another. Unfortunately for this church, Jesus, and His Kingdom, Greater New Zion Baptist Church has severely marred its witness in the world.
What a shame.
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