I remembered Ben as a man filled with racial animosity.
He didn’t want people of other races coming to our church, and he frequently accosted me when he thought I was defiant of his wishes, which I was. We disagreed, and we often talked about it. At least this was a start. Once he admitted that I could be accused of “stirring the waters” anytime I preached about brotherly love on Sundays.
Later, after I’d moved to another church, Ben told me his church had approved some minority members. He told me they were “nice people” and he and they were friends.
Thank God he still works in human hearts since we all have areas that need cleaning up.
I attended a conference in another town lately and saw someone I knew from Ben’s church. “He’s in a rehabilitation center near here,” they said. So I went by to see him when our conference was done.
Ben is weakened from health issues and undergoing physical therapy. He recognized me and called me by name. We had a nice visit and talked about our acquaintance over the years. I asked if I could pray with him before I left. He said, “Certainly,” and he grasped my hand. When I was done and said “amen,” Ben started praying for me.
I can only remember a few other occasions when others surprised me like this, and I was moved when Ben thanked God for my ministry, my family and our friendship. I was humbled by his affirmation in prayer.
This experience underscored a principle to which I’ve always held — Christians of goodwill can find a way forward together.
Leslie Flynn wrote a book entitled, “Great Church Fights,” based on conflicts in the New Testament church. These are stories we often overlook when we longingly wish we were “more like the New Testament church.”
The truth is, we are like them! They excelled, and they stumbled, and so do we.
Sometimes two people of faith disagree, and sometimes disagreement grows when fighters involve others and a larger group chooses sides.
Sometimes ministers are terminated in conflict. I’ve known ministers who’ve done some stupid things that brought career crisis, and I’ve known many who were simply like the coach with a bad season and became convenient targets.
Conflict is inevitable, but conflict should be handled in a Christian spirit.
Ben reminded me of this in a small room in another town on an afternoon when I was tired from sitting and learning and ready to go home. But God impressed me to stop by and say hello to Ben and pray with him.
He’s a man whose heart is different.
I pray mine is, too.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.