Members of Seventh and James in Waco help clear debris in West, Texas. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)
Members of Seventh and James in Waco help clear debris in West, Texas. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)

Doctrinal disputes disappear in disaster

When people are suffering, Christians of differing viewponts are able to agree that helping others is the most important act of faith.

Jeff Brumley

The capital "C" Church is on display in West, Texas, as Churches of Christ, Methodists, Mennonites and Baptists join together to help the Central Texas city recover from the April fertilizer plant explosion. Doctrinal controversies such as grace-vs.-works or whether the Bible is inerrant take a back seat to mowing and edging lawns, bulldozing wrecked homes and removing debris.

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“It’s just not important right now,” John Crowder, pastor of First Baptist Church in West, said about doctrinal differences among Christians. “We’re not doing politics here.”

It’s more important that the residents of West are helped during this difficult time – and that God gets the glory regardless of the denomination of volunteers. The issue is currently magnified thanks to “Loving West,” a weeklong program organized by the Baptist General Convention of Texas to help rebuild West. Some 600 volunteers were expected to participate in the effort that ends today.

“God’s people are God’s people, and we don’t have time to pick at each other right now,” Crowder said.

West isn’t unique in that regard. In other communities impacted by disaster, first-responders report Christian groups overcoming differences to help victims, said Harry Rowland, former coordinator of the North American Baptist Fellowship’s disaster response network.

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Christians seem to forget their denominational identities and disagreements when people are hit hard by disaster, Rowland said. “Once on the ground, all of that self-identification seems to fall away, people work together, friendships develop and resources are shared,” he said. “It’s a beautiful portrait of what you wish the rest of our work would be like.”

Why does this always seem to be the case? Rowland has a theory: “disasters help us reprioritize.”

That happens when the intellectual part of faith with its firmly held doctrinal beliefs and theological bottom lines suddenly meets the heart-felt acceptance of Christ, Rowland said. In a disaster setting “there’s an experience where you really are the presence of Christ, and that disaster experience connects the head and the heart – and the heart usually wins.”

And that’s an especially important moment for Baptists, said Erin Conaway, pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.

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“This is who we have always been as Baptists – that we don’t have to agree on everything to work together,” said Conaway, whose congregation is participating in the “Loving West” campaign this week. “Here we still have that common calling with our sleeves rolled up and getting to work.”

First Baptist's Associate Pastor Phil Immicke said he’s been encouraged at seeing BGCT members working alongside those from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a group of churches that separated from Texas Baptists over biblical inerrancy in 1998.

 “The politics are out,” Immicke said. “It’s about helping people.”