Johnson Ferry Baptist Church senior pastor Bryant Wright has been preaching a series on Hot Topic issues. Parishioners could submit questions for him to answer, something he's done every year or two in the past. Sunday he and three other staff members answered the questions during the service. Not sure if these were the best questions, but Bryant was certainly willing to take on some toughies. He mentioned that there were more "statements" submitted than questions. What follows is my paraphrase, from memory (not notes):
Q: Why is the congregation predominantly white? A: JFBC has five "minority" congregations/services, including Spanish and Chinese. But the area in a three mile radius around the church is three-quarters white. There are several people of all races in the regular worship services. Naturally, JFBC welcomes everyone.
At some point during the Q&A Bryant discussed how as whites it's hard for us to know and experience the racism felt by African-Americans. He recounted the black US Representative from South Carolina who'd been pulled over by police six times since he'd been elected to Congress. I leaned over to my friend Lee sitting next to me and asked him if he'd been pulled over six times in the past few years, knowing that as the speed-demon driver he is, he probably had.
Q: How do dinosaurs fit into the Biblical record? A: God did create the dinosaurs. Verses in Genesis were referenced. Bryant had lobbed this softball question to teaching pastor Thomas Nelson, who may have disrespectfully pantomimed swinging a bat, having hit that question out of the park. Bryant followed up by having Thomas answer a much tougher question.
Q: Why does Johnson Ferry take such a softball stance on abortion? A: A list of dozens of JF sermons dealing with abortion was projected on the screen, with dates going back over 15 years. A quick glance showed the topic was addressed almost every year, often more than once. All the sermons are available on line for viewing. Bryant followed this up by reminding us that for all sin God offers forgiveness and grace, and related anecdotes of God using couples who'd had abortions to minister and counsel young couples facing similar circumstances.
Q: Why does Johnson Ferry not display the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance? A: It was pointed out that in fact the American flag is permanently displayed both in the main sanctuary and on flagpoles outside the main entrance. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States is recited at JFBC on certain occasions, like patriotic services on the Fourth of July. But the pastor pointed out that services are gatherings to worship God and pledge allegiance to Him. While we live on earth we may reside in the USA and respect our government and leaders and observe its laws, our true citizenship is in Heaven.
It seemed like several questions started off with an invalid or immature premise, and I wondered if the questioner would hear his question answered like it was, or if the questioner would just become angrier because they didn't like the answer.
A couple of questions dealt with homosexuality. Thomas read verses, and the difference between temptation and the practice of a sin was addressed. He pointed out that we are all sinners, and no sin is worse than another. Bryant followed again with the reminder that the Word of God must be heard and adhered to, the administration of grace, forgiveness, and love is just as important. Then Bryant took a question just texted in by a student facing a discussion on the topic in his class. Bryant knew the pressure on the teen would be immense to such a stand in front of his peers. Bryant advised that he say that he was a follower of Jesus, and that he believed and tried to follow the Bible as the Word of God.
Bryant read a long statement in which the author called out Bryant and JFBC for ministering to Syrian refugees - "possible radical Islamic terrorists" because even though Jesus instructed us to love our neighbor, "people on the other side of the earth aren't our neighbor." The pastor's response included the story of the Good Samaritan and other Scriptures, pointing out that according to Jesus and the Scriptures, everyone on Earth is indeed our neighbor.
Another question called Bryant out as a pastor for encouraging small business owners to take a stand even though the State of Georgia has ruled that service cannot be denied based on sexual orientation, regardless of the beliefs of the owner. This law exempts pastors from being forced to conduct wedding ceremonies for same sex couples, but not business owners. Bryant admitted the law was one-sided, but stood his ground that we all needed to trust in God to protect us when we face persecution. In the future these choices will only come more frequently and harshly.
Typing this up a few days later, I wonder whether more people are attracted or turned off by Bryant's admonitions.
Bryant was asked if he regretted telling the congregation a few weeks ago which candidates he was not voting for (neither Trump nor Hillary were worthy candidates to him, so he wrote someone in). Wright did not come out and admit regret. He did say that in all his years as a pastor God had never before led him to reveal as much, and admitted that he hoped such a situation would not happen again in the future. I smiled at this response.
When the subject of the protests of the election was brought up, I recall Bryant labeling them as "silly" since Trump a won the majority of Electoral College votes fair and square, regardless of Trump's morals, character, or fitness for the Presidency. No conspiracy theories about the protests being staged to create havoc or being funded by zillionaire Nazi extremists hell-bent on bringing down the US to create a one world government.
Near the end of the service Bryant asked the congregation to kneel on the floor for a prayer for our country and the new President.
Many give Andy Stanley a hard time for working to make North Point relevant to the unchurched. Passion City Church doesn't do all the bizarre rock song openings that North Point does, but NP sticks to a schedule better than PCC. Worship/singing is a tad better at PCC. Parking much more orderly at NP.