Defense of canceling church on Christmas

Southland Ministers Answers Critics

Southland Christian Church senior minister Jon Weece yesterday lashed out at the media, the devil and “a handful of misguided and jealous Christians” for second-guessing his congregation’s decision to close its doors on Christmas Sunday.

The minister also criticized “the entire Christian community” for failing to support Central Kentucky’s largest house of worship as it faces scorching criticism.

News that Southland and other megachurches would cancel worship services on Dec. 25, first reported by the Herald-Leader, shocked many Americans.

Hundreds of Christians from all 50 states e-mailed Weece to protest the closure, Southland officials said. The New York Times, Time magazine and Paul Harvey all pounced on the story, as did newspapers in India, Ireland, Australia, Great Britain and Taiwan.

Preaching before a crowd of about 1,150 last night, Weece said the world has not heard the full story.

“I was deeply saddened by the knee-jerk response of the Christian community as a whole to give the benefit of the doubt to the media and not a church or a Christian brother. I’m still troubled that more Christians did not stand up for us,” said Weece. “Can you see or begin to see that the devil is stirring the pot on this?”

Many Protestant Christian churches pay little attention to liturgical calendars and gather to worship on Christmas only when it falls on a Sunday.

But the idea that a church would abandon the nearly 2,000-year-old tradition of Sunday worship — so staff and volunteers can celebrate Christmas at home — shocked many evangelicals.

The church will hold one service on Dec. 23 and three services Christmas Eve, Weece noted. He called on the congregation to perform acts of charity on Christmas Day.

Weece praised the church’s elders for making the decision.

“You chose to value families. People over policy,” he said. “I’ve watched too many ministers in my life sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry, and ego and pride …”

Yesterday, standing on a stage decorated with 15 artificial Christmas trees, Weece downplayed the significance of the day many Christians consider holy.

“Christmas began as a pagan holiday to the Roman gods, and if we were to really celebrate the historical birth of Jesus, it would either be in early January or mid-April,” Weece said. “I’m only pointing out the historical technicalities not out of intellectual arrogance, but again because of the illogical, ill-informed and even hypocritical arguments that were aimed at me this past week.”

Weece also argued that the church would be worshiping every Sunday in December — at least technically.

Referring to Christianity’s Jewish roots, he said that Sunday begins at sundown on Saturday according to biblical tradition.

Weece says media reports cast Southland in a negative light. “Our volunteers have been made out to be lazy and selfish) because they’ll be home on Christmas,” he said. “They’re anything but that.”

The media coverage and the backlash from fellow Christians bothered Weece, 32, one of the youngest megachurch pastors in the nation and the leader of a 12,000-member congregation.

“I had a little pity party in my office on Wednesday,” he said. “People e-mail me, calling me pathetic, a disgrace to the church and the kingdom, a child of Satan. That one came from Montana. Steve in Vermont called for my resignation.”

The criticism comes at a time when Weece’s mother-in-law is battling cancer. The preacher’s father is also gravely sick.

As Weece described their condition, he paused and stared at the ground, unable to continue speaking.

After 10 seconds of silence, a woman in the audience shouted, “We love you, Jon.” As Weece struggled to continue, the crowd rose to its feet and gave him a thunderous ovation.

Weece noted that Jesus was also criticized for breaking tradition. “There were some whose zeal even in the days of Jesus was misguided,” he said. “They emphasized religion over relationship.”

After the service, churchgoers vigorously defended their pastor.

“It’s absolutely appalling that he and this church have been treated this way,” said Olivia Byrne of Wilmore, a church receptionist who has attended Southland for about five years. Others called on the Christian community to unite. “We’re all on the same track. We’re all on the same mission,” said Mary Susan Wellman of Nicholasville.

Weece is expected to give a similar sermon today.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Lexington Herald-Leader, USA
Dec. 11, 2005
Frank E. Lockwood, Herald-Leader Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday December 12, 2005.
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