Not long ago I was rebuked from the pulpit by a Southern Baptist preacher. In what is likely a sign that I still have a lot of spiritual work to do, I consider it one of the greatest honors of my life. I’ve been rebuked more times than I can count in hundreds, maybe thousands, of comment sections on social media. I’m certain I’ve been rebuked in more than a few private conversations behind my back. What adult worth their salt hasn’t been? But a rebuke by a Southern Baptist preacher from behind the pulpit has to be the gold standard of rebukes.
As best as I can tell, the cause of the rebuke was an article I wrote in a small town newspaper about a pending vote to allow alcohol sales in a part of Texas that was one of the last remaining holdouts of prohibition in Texas. My article was in response to something he had written, which I interpreted as heaping unnecessary shame and condemnation on people who didn’t hold the same views on alcohol consumption as he did. I reminded him, and others like him, that whether he knew it or not, there were likely people sitting in his pews who are pillars of the church, spiritually mature, deeply love Jesus, and drink a little. (I didn’t mention that some of them might drink more than “a little.” Because, baby steps.)
I wrote that article over six years ago.
And I thought I had a long memory.
He didn’t mention me by name, but instead used several clue words like “Baylor,” “Waco,” “Pastor.” In most places this could have signified any number of people. But in that particular place, behind that particular pulpit, there was really only one person he could have been talking about. The only reason I know about this incident is because someone I have known a long time, (literally, my entire life,) was in the congregation and quickly put the pieces together.
This person who was in the congregation is caring, has devoted his life to justice, and is known by people literally all over the country as someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone. He is fiercely loyal to the people he cares about, which may be why, as someone he cares about, when I heard about the incident, I wasn’t angry at the preacher. I was slightly amused, and actually felt a warmness toward him. I suppose my fear for the preacher’s safety overrode any animosity I may have been feeling toward him for rebuking me.
I’ve thought about this lately as I reflect on the wisdom that time and experience brings. When I was younger I took great care to protect my image. Maybe it’s an Enneagram 6 thing, or maybe it was just insecurity. Being rebuked by a Southern Baptist preacher from behind the pulpit would have been devastating for me in my 20’s. In my 40’s, it isn’t even a mild annoyance. Maybe I considered it a great honor not because I had gotten under his skin, or because it means I have caused waves, although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that those things are true. But rather, because it simply caused me to think about and reflect on the people who love me, who have earned the right to speak into my life or to roll their eyes at me when needed, and who are in my life for the long term.
I also know this preacher does good work and has been a blessing to a lot of people. So while we may represent different streams that flow into the river of God, we are part of the same story, whether he likes it or not.