Doubt not a sin, says pastor to church hit by murder

Charles Carter, the interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, preaches that it is not un-Christian to harbor doubts after the brutal murder of the associate pastor's wife and his subsequent two-day detention and questioning by police. 

By Jeff Brumley

The Alabama church whose associate pastor was detained in a murder investigation learned Sunday that it’s OK for Southern Baptists to express anger and sadness and even to harbor doubts about God and faith when faced with adversity.

“I imagine God has been bombarded by questions from Birmingham, Ala., and particularly from First Baptist Church,” interim pastor Charles Carter said in his Sunday sermon posted online. “It’s OK to ask questions.”

Those questions surround the death of Karen Shahan, 52, whose body was discovered by police in her home on July 23 after she failed to report to work. Authorities said she had been brutally murdered but provided no further details.

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Just as puzzling was the Aug. 8 announcement by the Homewood Police Department that it had detained Shahan’s husband Richard, 53, who is First Baptist’s children and families pastor and facilities director.

He was released from custody Friday night, The Birmingham News reported. On its web site and Facebook page, First Baptist said Richard Shahan is on administrative leave “to give him time and space to focus on his family and healing at this time.” It did not mention his detention by police.

Why Karen Shahan was killed and why police detained and released her husband – without charging him – remain mysteries that First Baptist members must wrestle with, Carter said. His sermon was replete with references to biblical personalities who struggled with doubt and pain, from Job to Jesus Christ.

“Many of you this week have been praying for Richard, you’ve been praying for our church, you’ve been praying for the whole situation,” Carter said. “And yet so far, the answers that we’ve been searching for – who did it, why’d they do it, all this – they haven’t come.”

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There is no stigma, and there should be no guilt, for praying such prayers and asking such questions, Carter said, adding that people who say good Christians should have no doubts are “thoughtless” and “mindless.”

“Even Jesus asked questions,” he said, referring to Christ asking God, “why have you forsaken me?”

“God is never intimidated when we ask questions,” he said.

Likewise, it is natural and biblical to feel and express emotions like anger, sadness and pain at this time, Carter said. Case in point: when Jesus wept after learning of Lazarus’ death.

Carter said he had met with Richard Shahan Saturday night – he did not say where – and that they had prayed and cried together. Carter urged the congregation to be willing to vent in a similar fashion.

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“We’ve been traumatized by this – you have, I have. Everyone who knows this church has been traumatized by this,” Carter said, adding later that “it’s OK to cry. Express just as much grief as you feel.”

It’s also acceptable to have uncertainties because God and his designs cannot be fully understood, Carter said.

“There is nothing un-Christian about saying ‘I do not know.’”