I was saddened to read the May 2 front-page article “A dismal parting for D.C. pastor and church.” If I hadn’t known the two men quoted, I might have wondered if this were my church. Are there people in the congregation who could be described as racist or anti-gay? Probably. You might be able to count them on one hand, and I’d be hard-pressed to identify them. But First Baptist Church has always nurtured and loved the people who have come through its doors: rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight.
Those of us who choose to join a church do so for all sorts of reasons. Mine (among others) had to do with the style of worship — a formal liturgical style. Now it is suggested that I am a racist because I find applause disruptive during worship. Are we just a little over the edge these days?
Virginia Nelson, Arlington
The article about First Baptist Church didn’t tell the whole story about why many members, including my family, are leaving. Many of the criticisms of the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray were drawn from unattributed sources, and upon further investigation they would be found to be almost entirely unsubstantiated. Mr. Haggray’s changes to the service were small but greatly needed and widely appreciated by the new members he was drawing in. His minor hires were approved by the church council, and his leadership was helping to accomplish the church’s mission in a changing city.
Mr. Haggray’s preaching was the most dynamic I have heard in Washington, and it kept me in the pew on Sundays. He is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person, but he was continually attacked by members who were afraid of change. Those actions were dishonest, un-Christian and even un-Baptist.
This tragedy at First Baptist was about power, money and race. The church is now unnecessarily suffering because of age-old dynamics of powerful “insiders” trying to keep the “outsiders” away, which is the opposite of what the Gospels require. Tragically, the church will now continue its earlier decline and may die before anything there can be born again.
Jim Wallis, Washington
As a longtime, active member of First Baptist Church, I was disappointed to read your characterization of the church. One of the many aspects I have appreciated over the years has been the diversity of the congregation. Each of the smaller groups within the church in which I participate is racially mixed, and this adds greatly to the richness of our worship, study and mission experiences. Please come and visit us; our doors are open to all.
Janice Osborn, Potomac
In 2001, after having spent nearly a lifetime in another Baptist church in the city, I was ready to abandon the Baptist faith. However, I visited First Baptist and was impressed with the diversity and the welcome I received, so I joined in 2003. There were people of color, women and openly gay members in positions of leadership, unheard of in the Baptist churches I previously attended. More than three years ago, our largely white congregation overwhelmingly voted to call an African American pastor.
So it was with sadness that I read the Post article, which suggested that the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray’s departure was due to race or his attempts to promote inclusiveness. I do not believe this was the case.
Many in our congregation have been hurt by words and deeds and will be hurt anew by the comments in this article. I believe our goals now, as a community of faith of imperfect people, are to move past recriminations, promote healing among all of our members and show our love and openness to all. I believe we can and will achieve those goals.
Michael E. Henson, Arlington