In Les Miserables, the main character Jean Valjean makes off with the churches silverware. He is caught, brought back to the church, where in the priest spins a tale that the silverware is a gift and admonishes him for forgetting to take the silver candlesticks as well. Such sets the stage for major change in Valjeans life.
Things are quite different at a church in Florida.
From the Palm Beach Post.
A homeless man stole cookies from a church in the 10700 block of Okeechobee Boulevard. A deputy found him sitting by the building’s entrance. He said he had been looking for assistance, pulled on a door and it opened. He helped himself to the cookies, but a cleaning person saw him and called 911. A church employee arrived at the scene and said the church would press charges. The man was arrested and taken to the county jail. The value of the cookies was $2.25.
Egads… what were they thinking? Talk about a negative witness to the Gospel. It made me wonder if they were some type of get rich quick type cult, or some entity which uses a bible with Jesus words removed or something… alas, no, they do have a statement of faith aligned with the southern baptist convention.
Something is way wrong somewhere in this… but then how many of us have given Jesus the bird by failing to act, or acting counter to the Gospels? Mistakes happen, even with the best of intentions. Perhaps the folks in charge had just finished double shifts and were not thinking? Perhaps the church had recently had its silver stolen, perhaps anything… and when you make quick decisions in the heat of the moment, the probability of blowing it ends up being pretty high.
In years past, the above would have been a non-event. The DA would have had a serious “you gotta be kidding” discussion with the church to get them to drop the charges, the kid would have spent some time in the grey bar hotel while it got sorted out, and short of the kid likely having a negative view of churches, that would be the end of it.
Alas, in today’s world, you never know what may go viral online. Granted, the Jean Valjean parallel, the anti-church views of many, and the mere insanity of it all set the stage for virality. The result is that the churches name is now mud. If you google it, the first link that comes up is negative google reviews, followed by news articles of their pettiness. In other words, the light of google lit up their darkness for all to see.
The scriptures state any sin keeps us from God, but unlike someone running off with the churches funds, or a pastor having an affair, (which are localized), chucking Matthew 25 to the wind combined with social media, shoots a massive hole in Christian witness everywhere. The outrage is huge, both among believers and non-believers…. I’ve seen comment counts running in the ten thousands.
But, there is an individual at the bottom of this… If for whatever reason they thought they were doing the right thing, is all this anger reasonable? Sure, I get the fact that a young homeless kid may end up with a record over cookies, and Christian witness is severely compromised… but what if that church individual was sincere, albeit misguided that this was actually the best way to go? Believers vary widely in their knowledge and application of scriptures, to say nothing about making huge errors in judgement from time to time. Is there any room for forgiveness for them?
Certainly if there was a church apology, a dropping of charges, and true repentance including covering rehab for the kid, such would go a long way and could turn things around.
Thus, I went looking to see what I could see.
I started with one of the churches pastors sermons on vimeo. It was based on the scriptures where Daniel refused to eat the kings food… a little too much prosperity gospel and moral therapeutic theism leaning, (using Chikfila profitability and ATT to demo a point is a bit out there), but overall it was pretty decent, and being a Baptist church, they had sort of an altar call thingy. My elevator speech summary:
One needs to be bold, and to prepare yourself ahead of the time to walk with the scriptures, not default to the principles of the king. The scriptures do not reside in a vacuum, neither does your witness. A line needs to be drawn, are you bold enough to do it? Do you trust God enough to do the right thing, or do you default to the ways of the world? God shows himself strong throughout the world.
Some good words there… so I would think repentance would be forthcoming. They do have the worlds attention. Its entirely possible to turn this around.
Shortly there after, I found this
“The young man appeared to be under the influence. Since he was wandering around the neighbourhood, the officer suggested the best course may be to press charges for the incident which would enter the young man into the system where he could find help.
“The church staff member agreed. Although our church partners with PBSO to provide hundreds of meals for needy families, this time we agreed with the officer’s suggestion that the young man needed more help than just a free meal. We have contacts with rehabilitation programs. We do refer individuals to such programs and in retrospect we might have done so with this individual.”
Egads… as expected, such a response just fanned the flames some more. They have since pulled their facebook page, as well as their staff and pastor page on their website. This is crisis mismanagement 101 type stuff… granted, I don’t expect the average church to have a PR guru on staff, but its not like things spun out of control overnight. The event occurred on July 24th, there was plenty of time to get the ducks in a row, fess up, make things right, and turn an ugly situation around… but no, they dug a deeper hole for themselves.
#chsocm provides for amazing witness for a local church, even a small one can reach the world… but as easy as it is to show the Gospel, ones actions counter to it can also be propagated at the speed of light. Crisis management plans should be a key part of any social media activity… this is not the sort of thing you want to learn on the fly at the 11th hour.