The pastor of a small Southern Baptist church in Alabama is out of a job following a dispute he says began when two deacons asked him not to invite African-American children to Vacation Bible School.
Mount Sterling Baptist Church in Butler, Ala., reportedly voted 31-0 on July 31 to terminate Pastor Jonathan Greer after he preached a sermon calling on the congregation to repent of the sin of racism.
“There was pushback about the types of children we were bringing in, and I was asked to not invite black children to the VBS,” Greer, 26, later told Meridian, Miss., television station WTOK.
Greer said during the first 18 months of the pastorate, his first, he was led to believe that any person, regardless of race, was welcome at the church at any time.
“What they really mean is that if someone comes wandering in off the street they won’t stop them, but they explicitly asked me to not invite black people,” he said. “I tried to communicate to them that’s just not consistent with Christianity.”
A deacon talking off camera told WTOK that Greer’s firing wasn’t about racism, but due to his refusal to work with deacons and failure to visit church members.
Baptist Press quoted Mount Sterling member Norma Wimberley saying the church terminated Greer in part because of a sermon marked by “anger and hate” that seemed to lump all members of the congregation together as racist.
“I wanted the church to know this is not consistent with the gospel,” Greer described the sermon to WTOK. “This is not consistent with God’s word that we honor and give dignity to all people. That’s what the Bible teaches us, that all people are worthy and in need of the gospel, and racism denies that to a certain amount of people.”
Terry Long, director of missions for the Choctaw Baptist Association, told the Southern Baptist Convention news service that parts of Greer’s sermon “seemed a little overbearing to me and a little harsh,” but nothing the pastor did was worthy of dismissal. Long said in his opinion Mount Sterling Baptist Church “made a bad decision” but should not be disfellowshipped from the association, because the congregation has “a documented history of having fellowship with other races.”
In 2012 SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore, then a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested the Southern Baptist Convention should withdraw fellowship from First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., after the congregation refused to allow an African-American couple to get married at the church. The congregation later apologized.
The most recent SBC annual meeting featured a panel discussion on racial reconciliation, a presidential address denouncing racism as “a major sin” and a resolution discouraging public display of the Confederate flag.
Greer said in an email to AL.com he has been “flooded with support” in the days since his firing and that after taking a break, he hopes to find another church to pastor.