Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
They are precious in his sight….
That’s what we apparently meant, but that’s not what we sung.
Actually, the chorus was written this way: “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”
The reality was this. Someone left our Southern Baptist congregation some money in her will. It was a windfall for a small Baptist church. People suggested uses for the inheritance. The congregation voted and made several purchases. I was off at college when this sequence of events occurred, but I remained interested in the decisions of my home church.
One result was the construction of an outdoor basketball court in the empty lot next to the church campus. Nothing sophisticated. Asphalt pavement. Sturdy baskets and goals. Everything new and shiny.
Next thing I heard was that black kids from the neighborhood were playing games on our church’s basketball court.
Next thing I heard was that a tall wire fence had been built around the court, and a padlock had been placed on the gate.
If we weren’t going to practice the neighborliness taught by the Bible, at least we could learn some wisdom from Robert Frost:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.”
The irony of the padlocking episode was that our Southern Baptist culture was utterly evangelical. At the heart of our denominational culture was the concept of “Bigger and better,” and “Grow, grow, grow,” and “Bring them in.”
Right in front of us, our church had dozens of young adults coming to our church yard, showing up on our property. We locked the gates. It was a weird era in American church life. Our words said one thing and our actions said something completely different. .
We sang, “Let Others See Jesus in You,” but there was a fence obscuring the view.
We sang, “Share His Love,” but we literally shut the gate on the possibility of any relationship. Then we locked the gate, just to be clear.
People will tell me I am being unkind by telling this story. Their reasons will be that the teenagers were using foul language. Or, the teens were being destructive.
I went by my old house of worship a few days ago. It is hard to imagine a basketball court that looks more like rubble than the one that sits in the church yard nowadays. How much more harm could a group of teenagers have done?
Since the lock is still attached to the gate, I’m not sure what is being protected.