Changing the conversation

Published July 27, 2023

By Lib Campbell

If you drive south on Interstate 95, you will cross over Lake Hartwell in Georgia. In Hartwell, Georgia, a man has put a sign in the front of his little church that reads, “The tired, the poor, the huddled masses. Welcome Home.”
Allison Miller, in the Washington Post, writes the story of Mount Hebron Baptist Church and a revival that is going on there. The pastor, Grant Myerholtz, preaches a message of love, welcome, and unconditional grace. Pastor Myerholtz talks about the radical shift in his preaching and his ministry after reading Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.
Whoa, I thought. I have that book. It’s a fairly old book, but I remembered the cover was green. It took me about five minutes to find it. The publication date is 1990. What Manning writes on the back cover is invitation enough to begin changing the conversation that dominates our culture today. 

 “Are you bedraggled, beat-up and burnt out? Most of us believe in God’s grace – in theory. But somehow we can’t                                      seem to apply it in our daily lives. We continue to see God as a small-minded bookkeeper, tallying our failures and successes on a score sheet. Yet God gives us his grace, willingly, no matter what we have done. We come to God as Ragamuffins, dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. When we sit at God’s feet, God loves us   with ‘furious love.’ Believing this will change your life.”
When Pastor Myerholtz began preaching radical grace, the little church began to grow and thrive. Welcome and acceptance, assurance of being loved are in short supply. There is so much cruelty directed to LGBTQ people, so much that threatens the life and safety of African Americans, so much misery being caused in the lives of women for whom abortion is life saving and suffering for fetuses either stillborn or with deformities inconsistent with viability. 
Who thinks it is grace-filled to call names, to threaten people, to deny education of the uglier parts of American history? Pastor Myerholz is not a favorite of other Baptist churches in his little part of Georgia. How dare he welcome the Ragamuffins? But wait, are they not the same people Jesus welcomed? “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden.” Zacchaeus, you may be a wee little tax collector, but “I am coming to your house for supper.” Over and over Jesus bucks the self-righteous religious leaders of his time. 
What if we said NO to the hate and tearing one another down? What if we said NO to the bullies who make money off their lies and showmanship? What if we said NO to the absolute idiocy of obliterating Black History from the American story? Are we bent on regressing fifty, maybe seventy years or more? Where are we erring on the side of grace in American politics? Surely, we would all be better off if we could pull in the same direction. Surely, making even a small change is better than nothing.
The preacher in me comes out. I see a people come into the church, the restaurant and the schoolhouse who just want to be accepted and welcomed. Even the petty and negative people are deserving of grace. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but we are called to pray for and love our enemies. 
What would happen if we changed the conversation and cut each other a little slack?  We might be surprised. We each are unique in our personalities, our preferences, our skin tones, the ways we approach life and the ways we live out love. 
When Saint Paul tells the church, “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way,” he is talking directly to us, we who treat anything “other” as enemy. Pastor Myerholz is offering a church and a community that works to live love and grace in truth and action. He is changing the conversation of Hebron Baptist Church to say, “Y’all come. All are welcome here.” 
Whichever side of the conversation you find yourself on, may you find peace in the words you speak, the ways you act, and in your heart. If there is not peace and joy in your life, a look in the mirror might help explain it. The world is expansive and expanding. We are invited to be part of the great welcoming. 
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite She can be contacted at