While one might think otherwise after reading this story in its entirety, this is a work of pure fact. These are personal accounts taken from my own written notes during various business and call meetings. All the names outside of my own have been changed or omitted to protect the privacy of every person involved. What you’re about to read every other Sunday over the coming weeks and months isn’t about judgment, condemnation, or name sullying (simply because some people will be easily identified by those who know them and their positions in the church during that time no matter how I change their names). This is a warning.
This is a warning for people in church congregations who have witnessed or are going through something similar. This is for people trying to understand the power struggle that goes on between man and man under the banner of “God” in the Lord’s house. So many people say this kind of stuff is happening at every church. Well, maybe this story can help change that belief by starting with one Baptist church located outside of Charlottesville, Virginia with the same name of the key town in the longtime animated show The Simpsons.
I don’t remember my first church service. My dad has told me about my initial interaction with church, but I can’t recall that moment. But there are moments I do remember about my early days in church; including sitting in the mostly dark, somewhat cold building, looking at the old stove to my right trying its hardest to heat the bodies of people doing their best to warm everyone’s hearts and ears. I also remember splitting my time between both my father and mother’s churches.
It wasn’t until 2001 that I decided to be baptized at my father’s church for several reasons – the most profound being able to enjoy my grandmother’s church alongside grandma in her waning years. And during those few remaining years between my baptism and my grandmother’s passing, the church my grandma, her sisters and ancestors alike helped build was changing dramatically.
As seen in the past by members (including my dad), the power struggle between leaders of the church can cause hurt feelings, unanswered questions, and a separation between congregations – a schism, if you will.
So what started the discord that I witnessed? In all honesty, I don’t exactly know. But there was a moment that opened my eyes to the fact our little church and its’ leaders weren’t as happy as they seemed behind the pulpit. A year and a half after my baptism, a situation over a female member’s address book not being directly returned to her or someone who knew her until weeks after it was found on the church’s front pew. The simple occurrence turned into a full-blown war about respect – or lack thereof – for privacy.
During a meeting after church in regards to the book and our church minister Pastor Cyrus Payton (who had only been pastor for three and a half years at that point), a former NFL athlete that Payton invited to be a part of Payton’s new church home said something that would set the stage for everything that would unfold over the next several years, “Don’t you (Payton) see they don’t want you.”
From that day on, I watched members come and go; people laughed at while crying over suicidal thoughts; individuals speaking in tongues without a translator; near fist fights in the middle of a service. And yet we stayed. We believed the church leaders would straighten out situations that were hurting the church and its’ congregation. We thought God would shake things loose and open eyes to make people stand up and say, “We’ve had enough.”
But as I found out in 2010 and 2011, there are times when the Lord puts the obligation on you to do what you think people old enough to be your parents would do in the name of justice and righteousness.