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July 23, 2010 | bpfna
by Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
CHARLOTTE, NC (ABP) -- A prominent North Carolina congregation long known for its progressive stances welcomed a group of anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-Islam protesters to its worship service July 18 -- even as a nearby conservative church shunned the group.
Demonstrators affiliated with Operation Rescue/Operation Save America -- kicking off a week of protests in Charlotte, NC -- attempted to take their demonstration inside two local churches.
Myers Park Baptist Church has had a reputation for progressive theology and political activism among Baptists for much of its 67-year history. It was kicked out of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention in 2007 for its welcoming-and-affirming stance toward gay members. (Myers Park Baptist is a BPFNA Partner Congregation.)
“We broke up the saints into two separate groups,” said a statement on the Operation Save America website. “One group went to a mega Evangelical Church called Central Church of God. The other went to an apostate Church called Myers Baptist Church. Care to wager which one received us and God’s prophetic rebuke in their midst?
“If you guessed the apostate church, you would be right. This synagogue of Satan, which houses workers of Planned Parenthood and allows for open homosexuality in their midst, actually had an open microphone to allow brothers and sisters in the Lord to share God’s word with them.”
Myers Park Pastor Steve Shoemaker said police had warned him nearly a week before the protest that the group -- known for its radical tactics and graphic placards -- had gotten a permit to picket on the sidewalk in front of the church. Operation Save America demonstrators have interrupted church services in the past.
“At that point I sent an e-mail to the congregation ... telling them what was going to happen, saying for them to be in prayer about how we might best respond as a body of Christ,” Shoemaker said. “We basically made a decision that, if they chose to come to worship, we would invite them and we would receive them. And then if they began to disrupt worship, we had several game plans in line.”
During the summer months Myers Park Baptist hosts a “Sermon TalkBack” session for adults following the main morning service. The open-mic platform allows worshipers to engage in dialogue with the preacher about the day’s sermon.
Shoemaker said he welcomed Operation Save America at the beginning of the service and noted that they were invited to be a part of the dialogue following the service. The protesters took him up on his offer.
“I’d say 8, 9, 10 of them spoke in the 45 minutes and gave us ... their full message,” he said. “They appreciated our letting them worship and witness to us. So, it was a very intense day and as you could guess a lot of uncomfotableness at times, but I think overall that it was a positive day for us.”
Meanwhile, at a nearby megachurch known locally for its vocal opposition to gay rights and abortion rights, the protesters were turned away.
“What was the reception at Central Church of God? If they found out folks coming to their Church were with OSA, they, pardon the pun, continued their banned for life policy,” said the Operation Save America statement. “That is right, we were not welcome to worship the Lord with them.”
It is the second time this year that Central Church of God has turned away activists from the organization. Its pastor told a local Fox affiliate that, while he agrees with the protesters’ views on abortion rights and gay rights, he opposes their tactics. “We don’t think strong-arm tactics or belligerence or violence is in any way a method to bring people to know the Lord Jesus Christ,” Loran Livingston said.
Shoemaker said Myers Park’s decision to welcome the protesters was in keeping with its longstanding open-door policy. “Part of our conviction is that Christ welcomes all who wish to worship and walk with him,” he said. “And we also have a deep conviction that we have to follow conscience, even when conscience leads us to protest and be out in the streets and be counter to our culture. So, we would not turn away other people’s act of conscience just because we might have a different view.”
A protester who wrote on Operation Save America’s website seemed to appreciate the welcome they received. “The Myers Park congregation was truly gracious and seemed genuinely friendly,” said a post attributed to Jo Scott.
Although she said Myers Park was “apostate” and that it “prides itself on unbiblical diversity,” Scott added: “This lost congregation was willing to listen and discuss the Truth, something that I have not seen the other congregations more aligned with our beliefs do. We pray that the scales will fall from their eyes and that soon they will be able to hear the words of Christ in the Spirit that they were intended.”
Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.