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I Guess They Just Didn't Like Us

Exclusion can bring about disaster in your church or in your country.

by Michael H. Thomson
September 28, 2005

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I Guess They Just Didn't Like Us

Do you like Billy Graham? I like Billy Graham – even though he sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Graham's communication about his mission is clear and unvarnished. In all the years of his ministry, it has been the same. His mission as stated by himself is to lead people to Christ. He makes no apologies for this and even as his health declines, he vigorously pursues his mission.

I grew up in a small church in the foothills of The Great Smoky Mountains outside of Maryville, Tennessee. The people in that small Missionary Baptist Church were much of the same type and caliber of the Reverend Billy Graham. All would have felt comfortable in each other's company.

As a kid, I was treated well by the members of this church. Most of my friends at the time would probably say the same thing. The little church was the center of our social activity. Our leaders took us places and gave us opportunities that other rural children in the community –frankly - missed. The moral message implanted has lasted me most of my life. One of the things I most remember is how we participated, and were encouraged to reach out to others through a process called witnessing.  I was not a great witness, but the process was instructional and years later, I discovered that witnessing takes different forms with none better than the witness we all give by the personal example of our lives.

As a kid, I had great examples. Some were hard to follow and I slipped a number of times along the way, but the examples of people such as Ralph and Alice Walker, Claude Whitehead, Thurman Arnold, Cecil Magaha, and Frank Hackney and many others have stayed with me most of my life even though most of those people are no longer with us except in spirit.  The underlying message I received as a young person was that the church and its fellowship was open to all.  This has been the same over the thirty years since I changed denominations and left that little church.

A sad story was recently brought to me about what some would call a minor incident – a tempest in a small teapot. The incident resulted not from actions of the church I've mentioned, but unfortunately from a vendor that the trusting church chose in its continuing mission of fellowship and community. The incident illustrates how little things can result in mission failure.

Three young people, all in their early teens, were extended the hand of fellowship by the church and became active participants in its various activities. All started attending services eight years earlier and became members of the church. All rode the church bus to services regularly.  The church became their family - a family working hard for these young people to succeed in their lives.

Frequently many churches across this country go through a process of gathering their congregations together to do the church directory.  Church directories send a powerful message: WE BELONG!  A church directory gives the opportunity for members to connect faces with the names we sometimes forget. People get to know each other better and the fellowship aura that all churches desire is enhanced.   Here is how the process generally works:

Companies in the directory business make themselves available to provide the service of photographing the congregation. They benefit financially not just from the directory photographs, but also from the family portraits that congregation members order in addition.  There is a great deal of similarity between these companies and those you see working out of the major discount stores. This is no accident. In many cases, they are the same. They are part of corporate America. Their mission and the churches mission are inherently conflicted. The company's bottom line is money and the churches bottom line is developing fellowship.

In the case of the three young teens, they were scheduled for directory photographs and showed up, only to be told by the company representative that they could not be photographed.  In the subsequent follow-up, the company explained that their policy was that these young minors could not be photographed without a family member present. One representative mumbled something about privacy considerations. I wouldn't want to say these young teens were excluded because the company failed to see any moneymaking family portrait potential – that wouldn't be fair. Nevertheless, the exclusion from the directory had a profound influence on these young people who wanted to BELONG.

Here's the sad part that transcends rules and regulations, red tape, and corporate gobbledygook:   It was best expressed in the words of one of the crestfallen young teens who poignantly said, "I guess they just didn't like us..."

When the ice, water, food, and baby diapers didn't come to those waiting at the convention center in New Orleans just recently I imagine the same sentiments were felt if not spoken, I GUESS THEY JUST DIDN'T LIKE US.

The Reverend Billy Graham whom I've previously mentioned has a big boss who he is looking forward to seeing at some future date. Billy's boss has a well-known company policy that forbids exclusion of anyone. EVERYONE  is welcome at the Boss's table. . . I sort of like that policy. How about you?

Comments (4)

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Rick Wilson from Brewton, AL writes:
September 28, 2005

Great article. I do have a comment about what you have said here and in your other article about hurricane response in general.

Don't you feel that blame is nothing more than the relief of responsibility by those affected? Blame is the way that people who screw up validate their actions much like a child who says he did it because the other boys did it. We didn't take that line of BS from our kids. We shouldn't accept it from our citizens.

Those people that might have felt they weren't liked were plucked off roofs by helicopters or by people wading through sewage to help them. They were feed by volunteers who didn't live in the area but who came to endure the same harsh living conditions in order the help the less fortunate. Other areas of the country continue to respond with clothing, cash, and food to people they do not know.

Living here in South Alabama, I am well aware of the fury of a hurricane after Ivan did so much damage to our city. We had ample time to leave as did the people affected by Katrina and Rita. You can hide from the wind but you can't hide from the water. As our mayor once said when I complained about our oft flooded business, People who build in holes get wet. I should add that people who build in holes need to have enough sense to run.

Blame shifts the light of responsibility away from the blamer, usually the victim, and upward in a media driven cycle that doesn't get the problem resolved. When Hurricane Hugo hit the Carolina's it took 10 days for the Clinton administration to get help to the victims. What did they do then to make us better prepared now? What lessons did we take from that event to help us here in these events? According to Hillary, not much.

Yes, FEMA had problems but so did the governor who chose not to order in the National Guard until mass looting had begun. So did the mayor who chose to act like a fool on national TV rather than demonstrate leadership in that city's most trying moments. (How would you like to have his finger on the nuclear button?)

Politics is about blame, about bringing down the other side. The news media is no different. It's no wonder that our country is pessimistic rather than optomistic given the constant dribble it is fed.

I'm willing to bet that once the recovery starts in full swing (the good news) that we will see very little of New Orleans. Missed will be the devastation of the other areas of the state as well as Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. But there is little news to report when people heed evacuation orders and leave the path of these storms. There is little news in property damage. There is only news in reporting the plight of those who chose to stay in harm's way and then blame others for their stupidity. Worse yet, we allow such to continue by giving it life and longevity in the liberal media.

I would rather hear that a person succeeded in spite of the obsticles placed before him. That is what makes this country so much better than other nations. People that fight the battles, overcome defeat, and move forward inspite of being given every reason to fail have been, and will continue to be, the forebearers of this great country. I'm speaking of the Washington's, the Patton's, the Einstein's, the King's and the Gates' of this world. They are winners in every sense of the word.

What would we have had they stood on their roof and blamed others for their plights? I'm glad they had the tenacity and the guts to take the blame for their mistakes, correct them, and move forward. Successful people are this way. Leaders are that way as well.

I saw our President take the blame on national TV. Days later I saw him working to improve the response to Rita. I saw immediate change that did not happen in the aftermath of Hugo. Leadership at work.

I do not know what else we can do other than perhaps donate to the store owners whose TV's were stolen in broad daylight on national TV by these hapless victims. Or maybe the antique store owner whose store survived the flood only to be raveged and destroyed by these victims. Are we to believe they broke into the TV or antique store for food and then, seeing none, decided to take a little something for their efforts?

It's hard to like a thief. Yet, we still contribute to the recovery efforts while the victims and the media continue to pass the blame for their actions onto others. It's who and what we are in spite of those who would take advantage of it. It's what makes us winners instead of whiners.

Keep up the fine articles.

Brian Mack from Grand Rapids, MI writes:
September 28, 2005
Several years ago, my wife and I were travelling through a popular vacation area in the mid-west, when we happened upon a resort area that had at its entrace a sign which read

XYZ Resort, an exclusive Christian community.

I am sure that the management of this development was making an attempt at describing the real estate rather than the attitudes of those choosing it as a vacation spot. But, my wife and I were both struck by this rather obvious contradiction in terms.

Exclusivity is an unfortunate human frailty that even the best intentioned of us can be found guilty of. Those of us who profess to be Christian should aspire to a higher standard. In this, most of the other mass market evangelists (Falwell, Robertson, Dobson) could take a lesson from the Reverand Graham.

Melody V. from Cleves, Ohio writes:
September 28, 2005
Hi Mike,

I love the way your articles get people talking and thinking, whether they agree with you or not. I know this isn't the first time I've said this about you or to you.

With regards to the church you mentioned - I can't help but wonder if anyone stepped up to the plate and made parental consent forms available or had different pictures of the teens published in the directory. It's up to the church to make members feel they belong, not ABC Photography.

Unfortunately, we know that Casting Crowns was incredibly on target when they penned But if we are the body why aren't His arms reaching? I know I had to search high and low for a church that made me feel like I belonged. I thank God for my church regularly.

In New Orleans there should have been a real evacuation plan. There should have been a viable shelter plan. Neither existed on paper. The governor should have been able to have handed the National Guard and piece of paper and said, Here is where you'll find people. (If she had been willing to call on the National Guard.)

Then there's that little thing about personal accountability. If there's a train coming, get off the tracks!

Keep the great work coming Mike. I know you will.

Michael H. Thomson from Paeonian Springs, VA writes:
September 28, 2005
On the first comment about parent consent forms etc. I will quote my friend who brought me this story who said it is sad in this country that a minor in many states can go and receive an abortion without parents knowing about it and has to get a parent consent form to have a photograph made for a church directory.

On the other comment concerning the government. I agree that all levels of government share some of the responsibility for the disaster that was New Orleans. However the United States Government is the main responsibility when states and cities stretch beyond their capacity in a disaster. I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans and I will tell you that there are great deal of poor people there with no means of transportation. I would also say that getting a list of who's there and who is not would be impossible given that there are many neighborhoods that census takers do not go into.

Take the situation in New Orleans and turn it around. Suppose it had been a biological terrorist attack affecting the entire city. Would Homeland Security who has overall oversight for that kind of emergency have done any better or made less of a mess than the local, state, and federal authorities did in this situation?

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