When Right-Hearted Christians Defend Wrong-Headed Theology


Someone had let a whirlwind into the room.

Elder George Merriweather gazed at his Rolex. They’d been at this for only 10 minutes, but it felt like 10 hours. He glanced at Deaconess Lisbeth Cartwright and sighed. The former Miss America candidate from Connecticut nodded, and her blonde curls went bouncing.

Westminster Wesleyan had endured plenty of storms in the church’s nearly 200-year history, but it had scarcely seen the likes of this present hurricane, all 300-pounds in fluorescent eyeshadow of her, Miss T’juana Dupree Jones.

“It ain’t right to call Zion no ’xperiment,” the woman responded. “Alls I sayin’ is that Miss Thelma could use that food too. And Miss Laetitia and Miss Lucinda.”

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III regretted his choice of words. In a way, Zion Holiness Temple was an experiment. Changing demographics in the neighborhood abutting Westminster Wesleyan, while not exactly forcing the church’s hand, made it essential that the church consider an outreach that would bring the Gospel to more of the people who lived in the nearby area. Church leaders also recognized that Zion might need to have its own “flavor” if it was to develop its own style of ministry, one that Hill recognized he wasn’t equipped to understand. While Zion shared much with its parent church, Westminster encouraged the Zion congregation that met under its roof to develop its own programs.

Zion didn’t have a home meals delivery program like Westminster did. And at least one person did not like this disparity.

“Miss Thelma be 91 years old, livin’ alone in a one-room ’partment with no A/C,” Jones continued. “You been up to her place?”

Benevolence Committee leader Quentin Greenway shook his head.

“No, ” Jones said, barely hiding her ire, “I don’t think you been.”

Olivia Brentwell, co-leader of the committee, spoke up.

“You have to understand, Miss Jones, we’re trying to encourage the Zion congregation to—”

“And I’m trying to encourage y’all to recall that Miss Lucinda done got her man blowed up in that desert war and got three precious little babies she need to feed, and y’all got the money and food.”

Greenway leaned forward and attempted his own interjection. He failed miserably.

“And Miss Laetitia been a widow lady for 20 years. You remember her man? Worked hisself to death probably.”

Pastor Hill, who had been listening all the while he played with his Mont Blanc pen, grimaced at the mention. Laetitia Washington’s husband, Franklin, had been Westminster Wesleyan’s janitor for three decades before he passed away.

“Y’all could drive that little van a couple more blocks and drop off them ladies something decent to eat at least once a day,” Jones said. “I don’t see why not. It ain’t right the way it be now. That’s all I gots to say.”

Jones folded her hands into her prodigious lap and stared straight ahead, the laser focus of her eyes burning a hole in the far wall an inch to the right of Greenway’s bald head.

He spoke.

“We have solid, biblical reasons, Miss Jones, for denying the request.”

Jones’s brow knitted.

“We do not wish to enable neediness,” Greenway began. “People fall into a pattern of victimhood that is disempowering. They lose the ability to care for themselves as God intends, instead developing an unhealthy reliance on others.”

Cartwright called on her training and raised herself perfectly erect. “And suffering is good for the soul, Miss Jones. The Bible clearly states that in this world we will have suffering. We should look on it as a gift from the Lord and thank Him for it. Suffering builds character, strength, and perseverance, qualities that every Christian should possess.”

Brentwell smoothed her silk dress and added , “Miss Jones, if we were to give these three women what you ask, how many more should expect the same treatment? God shows no partiality, and neither should we.”

To which Greenway added, “And our own resources aren’t infinite. We have to be able to meet the needs of Westminster’s own.”

The brow-knitting on Jones’s face was beginning to develop its own Zip code.

As he always did, Elder Merriweather saw the moment as a teachable one.

“This is clearly an issue of God’s sovereignty,” he said through steepled fingers, eyes trained on Jones. “While I can commiserate with the plight of these women, they are in the state they are because of God’s will. He alone raises up, and He alone brings low. For us to stand as His judge and claim that we know better by meddling in God’s ways, I daresay our presumption will come back to bite us.”

The human storm stirred again. A hand rose from Jones’s lap, one finger emerging from five, straightening, filled with indignation.

“You with the enabling. You with the suffering. You with the partiality,” Jones said, her eyes flashing, “and you with that word I done never heard before. What all wrong with you? You pushin’ me to sin with what I’m thinkin’, but I’m just gonna say it: Y’all don’t got the common sense God done give a goose.”

Pastor Hill thought to reply when he saw the shock on his leadership team’s faces, but that was before he noticed something on Jones’s face: the track of a lone tear.

“I don’t got nothin’ in this world, not even the stuff in this one office, ” Jones said. “But I can see that I’m gonna have to take my nothin’ and make somethin’ of it so I can take care of three widow ladies who don’t get the food in one day y’all get from one of your brunches.”

At this, Jones lifted herself, collected her faux leopard-skin bag and left, making sure the door of the office slammed with just the right amount of force to make one final statement.

No one said anything.

Finally, Greenway spoke.

“For one, I look at this as a success. That woman left here empowered to take responsibility for the care of these women. By standing our ground, we empowered rather than enabled.”

Brentwell and Merriweather agreed.

“Ministry is hard,” Cartwright added, still a little frazzled by the encounter.

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III didn’t hear his leadership team’s self-congratulations, though. Instead, he could not take his eyes from the old, wooden cross that hung on the wall opposite his desk, just as it had for as long as he could remember.


Here is how another leadership team, long ago and far away, handled a similar situation in a much godlier way:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
—Acts 6:1-4 ESV

God help us when we make up spiritual-sounding excuses supposedly based on “biblical theology” to ignore doing the right thing.

13 thoughts on “When Right-Hearted Christians Defend Wrong-Headed Theology

  1. Diane R

    It’s amazing to me how many evangelical churches don’t have deacons, but the liberal mainline ones do. The purpose of deacons is to do exactly what Ms. Jones said. Why don’t evangelical churches have deacons (I don’t mean elders, who for some strange reason, are called Deacons. I am talking about the Deacons in the verse Dan quoted). Does anyone know?

    • Don’t know, Diane.

      I was briefly a part of an American Baptist church that had both elders and deacons. Deacons are also “a way out” for those evangelical churches that don’t permit women to be elders or pastors to still be part of the church leadership.

  2. Well written and on point yet again, Dan – way too much of the old “let ’em pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” thinking – never once knowing or caring that such a thing is literally, physically impossible, so even less likely to be a good model for people to try to follow in the world of shattered lives.

    Keith Green had it right a long time ago when he said “the church was the original welfare system.” They resolved the problem (so far as we know; the tale quickly branches off into what happened next).

    • Rick,

      Sometimes I think that evangelicals have expunged good ol’ common sense. It’s one of the reasons I walked away from evangelicalism. I can’t support some of these tortured and tortuous explanations evangelicals often come up with for explaining why they won’t fix what’s broken, won’t examine their own failings first, and simply refuse to do the obvious right thing. And in most cases it’s because they have some bizarre interpretation of Scripture or some crazy systematic theology they’ve boxed themselves into a corner with. I think they feel that if they make exceptions to the system they’ve erected, the whole thing will come crashing down. Fact is, maybe it does need to come crashing down because it’s wrong. I’m not advocating going against the Bible, but some interpretations out there violate all sense. Hey, I know the Kingdom can be contrary, but it’s not always THAT contrary.

      • I concur, Dan – God is a God of order, not of chaos. I don’t like the label Evangelical any more than I like the label Baptist, or Wesleyan, or any other similar tag for the simple reason that I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.

        I don’t know your reading tastes in the fiction world, but there was a line in one of Tom Clancy’s books that went something like “people are wedded more tightly to their ideology than their spouses.” In this case I believe that to be true – we’re not talking real theology in the case of these folks, but an ideological worldview that they’ve smuggled into their beliefs about God, what He wants of us and how we should treat others. Read what Christ actually said, or what the rest of the NT has to say? Why, when we can be sanctimonious for free?

  3. linda

    Hi Dan,
    When I think of the early church in Jerusalem there were probably many believers who were suffering loss. The only widows that the apostles arranged for the distribution of food to were the ‘elderly widows’ above 50 years old I think. This would be old for a person in their day. The younger widows were encouraged to re-marry.

    Today’s situation is different. Believers have substantial debt. I don’t think a box of food would be deprived these believers if they went to the church and asked for one. Paul’s encouragement was that believers ‘work if you want to eat’. I would think today for a bBeliever to become dependant on the church they would need to be destitute. They would need to sell off their assets, pay off their debts, work at what is available for jobs in their community. Janitor? McDonalds? babysitter? These are honorable work positions if done in honesty and integrity.

    I think what we have, is believers who are stuggling to maintain the status quo in their lives. To maintain their standard of living in our world. This may not be possible. One thing that we may be able to do as believers is take more control of the financial aspects of the ‘church’. Churches are helpless and destitute without people attending and bringing money into this ‘thing’ to keep it going.

    Adding an addition onto the church building structure to try and attract more people may not be the most wise thing to do with money in our times.

    • Hi Linda,

      I really think we need to get over the “edifice complex” that so many in the church have. We were not called to build buildings but build up people.

      As to the truly poor – sometimes the reasons these folks are poor or asking for assistance do matter. In the examples given in Dan’s tale? A close reading would have told a tale that had nothing to do with whether or not someone could work at a McDonald’s or as a janitor.

      No one is suggesting that someone be allowed to become dependent on the church – but if a church is running a meal delivery system for its own elderly parishioners and does not do the same for it’s daughter church that meets in the same building? In the example cited here, racist would be a charge that could easily be leveled.

  4. Very good post. If we are to help poor people we must resign ourselves to the fact that we will help people who really are lazy in order to get those who really need it. And a little known fact among hard working American believers: Lazy people and people who take advantage of the system need Jesus and may be reached by acts of undeserved kindness sometimes. In fact, treating your acts of kindness like personal rewards is self righteous. And many times this kind of attitude comes from those who strongly insist that human works had nothing to do with God’s redemptive grace.
    It could well be said that God offered redemption to a bunch of deadbeats who were taking advantage of the system. Yes, like us.

  5. linda

    Hi Dan,
    “In the world of shattered lives”.
    I’m thinking that we need to take the response of the apostle Paul. “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung in comparison to knowing Christ”. Something like this anyway.

    We have our Bibles. This word of God is invaluable to us. There is life there, everything we need as believers. We have prayer.
    We can come into the presence of almighty God. Into the presence of the Maker of the universe any time we want. We have a high priest in Jesus Christ who appears before God on our behalf. He mediates a better covenant for us with God, the book of Hebrews says.

    We have the assurance of a life eternal to come IF we are faithful to God.
    Can we find a corner somewhere and read and pray? Can we find a new life in God? YES. I’m convinced. So… what’s with this “shattered lives” that people cannot overcome? Why not? I just bought a brand new genuine leather bound New International Bible of the OT and NT for 1.00 at my local library. ONE DOLLAR! for one of the greatest assets anyone can have in this world. The inspired Word of God to us.

    Prayer is the greatest thing ever! We can commune with God. I don’t mean petition, request, beseech, beg for worldly wealth and comfort. I like comfort as much as the next person. I wouldn’t mind driving a brand new car every year. It’s just not my lifestyle. I haven’t lived that lifestyle.

    I’ve been through quite a bit in my life. Not as much as other believers, I know this. In Christ we can pull a life together. A good life. Maybe not what we envision. I’m not likely going to marry a prince and live in a castle. But really, is that what I want? No. I don’t think so.
    So.. I guess I’m perplexed by this “shattered lives” idea. Who has a shattered life in Christ? When this life ends, we go on.

  6. Thank you for sharing that. I was once told (by a seminary-trained, ordained minister who I actually have a lot of respect for) that “not everyone is called to provide heat for those who are freezing.” This was in response to my rather “Miss T’juana Dupree Jones”-like observation that our little church was remiss in not addressing some of the local needs in our community. My answer? “I agree that we’re aren’t all called to full-time ministry to the poor, but who among us can justify walking by a homeless man on a cold winter day without at least offering to give him a blanket or buy him a cup of cocoa?” Sheesh!

  7. Annie

    I am from Australia, and lived in the state of Victoria for a few years. We were there when the ‘Black Saturday’ fires devastated part of the State and killed hundreds. Our children went to a christian school in which a number of families were left homeless by the fires. That schools’ generous board provided the destitute families with new uniforms for their children.

    The school board also generously allowed those families to pay back the amount they owed the school for those uniforms over the course of the next school year.

    I was not alone in thinking that the school could have easily allowed these people to have the uniforms for free. They are worth hundreds of dollars. In fact the school recently changed their uniform (slightly) because the school board didn’t think they were smart enough to compare with the really big wealthy anglican school down the road. THey also changed their name from school to college for the same reason. All the parents were expected to fork out hundreds of dollars for the new uniform which was only sold by one company, onsite at the school. Each new size in the uniform was more expensive than the last one. Who does that? When I go to a shop I buy a dress for the same amount regardless of it’s size. Yet you couldn’t reduce the cost of the uniform by buying the smaller items elsewhere. You had to buy from the school, and you could not even use items from the old uniform which had exactly the same logos and colours on them. Parents were expected to buy the whole new school uniform all at once, you had about twelve months to do so. This was about the time that the fires came through. So you can imagine how hard this would have been on the families who lost everything. THey had already just bought the whole school uniform and now needed to buy the whole thing again.

    The school’s lack of empathy or mercy made me so angry. Yet this sort of problem is clearly universal in the church today.

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