In Elevation's Defense...

June 11th, 2011
A local news story gets national attention.

There has been some online outrage over the last few days about an incident that took place on Easter Sunday at Elevation Church, a prominent North Carolina megachurch. The mother of a 12-year old boy with cerebral palsy claims that her son was removed from the service for being a “distraction”.

Stories like this appear in the news media from time to time, and even in the Christian community, our reaction is usually to shoot first, ask questions later. Elevation Church is only five years old and averages a weekend attendance of 8,000. It’s a successful church with a young charismatic pastor, someone who’s likely viewed with suspicion by some in the religious establishment. Megachurches are big targets, and megachurch scandals are good blog fodder.

According to the mom, she and her son were escorted out of the service after the son said “his own kind of Amen” after the opening prayer. Some people have read more into this incident than what actually happened. The mother and child weren’t asked to leave the church--they were taken to an overflow area where there were other people. I suspect the service was being beamed into this area live. Some may think this was too harsh, but I think it’s hard to pass judgment without knowing exactly what happened. I’ve been in church services that were disrupted by a number of things: cell phones ringing, babies crying, people talking, kids fidgeting. And occasionally I’ve seen special needs children or adults create distractions in worship services, usually unintentionally. It’s awkward for almost everyone involved, because sometimes action needs to be taken but no one wants to come across as a jerk.

Let’s show this church a little grace. Perhaps they did jump the gun a little. But before we pass judgment on an overzealous usher, we need to face reality: most churches would take a similar action if a disruption reached a certain threshold, regardless of the reason behind it.

And consider what happened after the incident:

The mom approached the pastor about starting a special needs ministry for kids, an idea which she says was rejected. She then requested a meeting with church leaders, which according to WSOC-TV, was canceled after the pastor found out she had also contacted the TV station.

This is where we need to give the church the benefit of the doubt and ask a few tough questions.

  • This incident happened over a month and a half ago. Why is it coming to light now?
  • Would you allow a visitor to start a ministry working with kids before they had been part of your church for a while, and before they had gone through the proper procedures for establishing a ministry? I wouldn’t. No church leader in their right mind would.
  • Why didn’t the mom meet with church leaders before contacting the news media? She comes across more as a bully than as someone trying to work things out. And that’s saying something, because this news story was obviously advocating for the mom and son. At best, there was subtle intimidation going on.

Some local newscasts are notorious for shoddy journalism and their advocacy pieces don’t always present information objectively. This is certainly a sensitive issue, and it’s a potential PR disaster for Elevation Church. WSOC reports that the pastor has requested special needs training for staff, which is a good thing. But wouldn’t it have been nice if the church could have taken that step without having their hand forced by a local TV station experiencing a slow news day?

Related Links:
Special Needs Boy Removed from Church Service (VIDEO) - WSOC-TV 9 Charlotte
Special Needs Boy Removed from Church Service (TEXT) - WSOC-TV 9 Charlotte

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