When Tim and Earl had their fight, I’m pretty sure it didn’t get physical. No rolling up their sleeves and duking it out in the parking lot following the worship service or anything like that. But a difference of opinion between two strong-willed men that led to not-so-kind words, hurt feelings, and Earl deciding to leave the church.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that these Christian brothers were also leaders in the congregation. Earl’s departure left an empty space in the church family and a hole in many people’s hearts.
But the biggest deal of all was how Tim and Earl decided to handle the aftermath of their falling-out. On a Sunday morning in September, the two men were invited by Ron Bowell, their pastor at CrossRoads Church in Salina, Kans., to take their apology public and offer forgiveness to one another in front of the entire congregation.
I just happened to be there that Sunday as a guest speaker when Ron introduced Tim and Earl. “These brothers have something to share with you,” he told the congregation. “Earl and Tim, get your buns up here.”
Tim went first, and admitted to his stubbornness, saying he’d literally gotten to the point of not caring about Earl. But then something inside him had broken, and he’d recognized that he needed to start thinking about his brother, and not just himself.
Earl read from Matthew chapter 18, the part about going to someone and making things right when there’s a rift in the relationship. He said he didn’t want to lose Tim as a friend. “I have a terrible temper,” he confessed. Once, as a teenager, he took to his brother with a shotgun. Fortunately, his brother was spared injury because, as Earl put it, “Thank God the wall was thick.” His voice began to break, and all he could say in a moving, Christ-inspired summary was, “I’m sorry.”
Tim and Earl embraced with one of those awkward, backslapping man-hugs that guys exchange when they don’t want to appear too tender. The congregation went crazy, giving them a standing ovation and welcoming both back into the family with open arms. A girl sitting next to me was dabbing her eyes, while I was almost breathless seeing Christians actually doing what we always talk about needing to do.
It was one of the most transparent moments I had seen in a church in a long time. It occurred to me that the most powerful witness that the Christian Church has to a cynical, unbelieving world is to simply do what Jesus tells us to do: to respond to one another as Christ would have us respond. Forgiveness, after all, is a language that everyone understands. It is the lingua franca of the Christian faith.
Since Christians are so often maligned as being two-faced and inauthentic, it was refreshing to see an exhibit of forgiveness so decidedly un-hypocritical and pure. Maybe impacting the world for Christ wouldn’t be so difficult if more people could just catch a glimpse of Christ-followers living more like Jesus, and forgiving one another like Tim and Earl.