Pastor’s denial of baby dedication reflects poor theology

October 18, 2013

AP Photo/Detroit News, David Guralnick

Prominent pastor Marvin Winans of Perfecting Church in Detroit joins a growing list of preachers who have recently made headlines for taking theological positions that do not seem to be in the best interest of the people they were appointed to serve. Winans’ church allegedly denied single mother Charity Grace’s request to have her 2-year-old son included in an upcoming baby dedication at the church.

How does a mother who says she wants to “instill values and morals in [her] son based upon the word of God” get turned away? While many people will point to this incident as evidence of the church’s never-ending hypocrisy, it’s not faith that is to blame here.

Elitist, patriarchal theology is the problem. And we all need to play a part in correcting this behavior among our pastors and religious leaders.

Winans has not yet commented, but I’m sure he genuinely believes he is reflecting the “will of God.” Without getting into scriptural interpretation, it’s safe to say that the alienating nature of the church’s decision doesn’t reflect the radical inclusion displayed by Jesus Christ in biblical accounts. In contrast to setting boundaries that left people on the outskirt’s of community, Christ’s ministry sought to bring people in.

What can be gained from magnifying the loneliness and isolation that comes with being a single parent? Nothing but a heightened sense of guilt and condemnation. This is a matter of disconnect – an inability on the part of a leader, specifically a wealthy male, to truly empathize with someone whose reality is very different than his own.

For many American households without a father present, a pastor may be the first and only image of manhood that children will encounter. While it is not the duty of a preacher to serve as a substitute parent for children born out of wedlock, it is their responsibility to not further feelings of rejection.

This situation could have played out very differently if more nuanced theology was at work. In a country where pews are often filled with women and their children, this toddler boy’s Christian dedication should have been celebrated by the church. In a city like Detroit where violence, poverty and incarceration run rampant, this was an opportunity to begin “training a child up in the way he should go” to help ensure he doesn’t become another statistic.

This wasn’t a teachable moment for Charity Grace. A child’s relationship with God should never become a pastor’s lesson to adult Christians. This was a teachable moment for the church. Winans may have missed the mark on this one, but other pastors can learn from this mistake.

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Natalie Jennings | October 17, 2013