Discrimination or Christian kindness? This is one of the questions following a controversy that erupted after Southern missionaries passed out fliers urging public school children to attend Bible school in New York City.
Three white men from Concord Baptist Church in Pickens, South Carolina (and we'll tell you why their race is important in a moment), were in New York City this month for an annual week-long missions trip. In an effort to help Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, a church in Park Slope, Brooklyn, bolster its membership, the missionaries stationed themselves outside P.S. 282 to pass out vacation Bible school (VBS) invitations to the children.
The men allegedly stood at the public school's front gate on Tuesday to hand out the invites during morning drop-off, a busy time during which children and parents flow into and out of the building. While church members claim that no children were forced to take the fliers, DNAInfo.com reports that a number of parents were uncomfortable with their children, ranging from grades first through fifth, being urged to do so.
What resulted was furor on the part of some who believe that it's irresponsible and improper for missionaries to be taking such actions outside of a public school. But the criticisms went well beyond the traditional church versus state argument, as some parents even charged that the missionaries are "discriminatory."
"I know this church. Every summer they truck these kids up to proselytize," said Ernestine Heldring, a mother with children at the school who also attends a Dutch Reformed church in New York. "It's a brand of Christianity that's homophobic and homogeneous, and I find it oppressive to have three white guys standing there making it impossible for kids to pass without taking a flier."
While this may seem like an odd statement, apparently Heldring was uncomfortable with the racial differences between the three white missionaries and the diverse student body (67 percent of students at the school are African American). She was also upset over the church's rejection of gay marriage.
Here is reaction from another parent who also stood opposed to the missionaries actions, as per DNAInfo.com:
A dad at the school said he was equally upset, especially because of the number of P.S. 282 kids with gay parents and the fact that the school serves children of "Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Tenrikyo, Buddhist, Agnostic and Atheist parents," he said.
"These outsiders from South Carolina are showing little respect for our school, our neighborhood, our diversity and our values here in Brooklyn," wrote the father, who didn't want to be named, in an email.
"Park Slope is relatively affluent — perhaps if they really want to honor Christ's teachings they could go to some disadvantaged areas of the city and feed the poor."
But the church denies these discriminatory claims and Concord Baptist Pastor Guy Roberts merely says that Jesus Christ is the message that the church wishes to spread. That's why his parishioners have run a missions trip for young members to go to New York City and help out the community for the past 15 years.
"Christ loved us and we love the world. That might be offensive to some people because they feel like we're ramming it down their throats, but we feel like we have the truth," Roberts explained. "We want to share it because we love Christ."
The pastor went on to say that the fliers in question didn't contain scripture or Christian doctrine and that they were merely invitations for the children and families to consider. The school's principal was apparently unaware of the dissemination of information for VBS, but Heldring later notified her.
In the end, the key question is: Were the tactics used by the missionaries appropriate? Considering that this is a diverse public school and that young minds are impressionable, was the outside gate the most viable place to hand out fliers? Take our poll, below: