A drunk: To seat or to escort out?
A professional acquaintance and friend wrote recently on Facebook that during a church service he was attending a drunk man entered the sanctuary, took a seat in a pew, and placed two open bottles of beer under the pew as though trying to hide them. The man was immediately escorted without resistance from the sanctuary. No information was given about what happened after he was removed from the sanctuary. I don’t know if he was offered counsel, turned over to the police, or what.
However, the incident raised some questions in my mind and caused me to contemplate the situation.
Was removing him from the sanctuary the right action? Did that cause more distraction or disturbance than might have occurred if the man had been allowed to remain seated? How would I have felt had I been there? What would be the reaction at my church if a drunk walked in and sat down in a pew? Would we react the same way or differently?
These and other questions have been gnawing at my mind, and I’m somewhat frustrated that I’m not reaching firm conclusions or answers. Truthfully, I seem to be asking as many questions as I am answering. So, I invite you to share my journey with me.
A drunk walking into a service, whether by accident or purpose, is not something we expect to happen and, most likely, is not something ushers have been trained to handle. My church, and perhaps yours, has some security measures in place to prevent late entrance into a service already under way or to make entry as unobtrusive as possible. We don’t want to distract from the worship mood we hope exists at each service. Although it is not likely or probable that a drunk man would enter the church building and the sanctuary without being stopped, I don’t think we can believe or assume that it could never happen.
So, if it did, what would be the right course of action?
Someone more versed in the Bible than I might be able to quickly cite verses that would provide some answers. My first thought was the admonition in James, Chapter 2, about how to react when a well-dressed, obviously rich man and a poor man in vile raiment enter the church. If we seat the expensively dressed man in “a good place” and tell the poor man to stand or, in effect, sit on the back row, James asks, Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
While this passage does not mention a drunk, could it be that the principle presented in the scenario has application? The drunk, like a poor man in vile raiment, is just as much a soul in God’s sight as an expensively dressed man given favored seating. I recognize that two bottles of beer would be unacceptable in the sanctuary, but could those be removed without removing the man?
If the drunk is disruptive, such as being noisy or getting up and down from the pew, it might be appropriate to escort him out of the service, though I would hope that once outside of the sanctuary an opportunity for counsel and assistance would be offered.
However, there needs to be some agreed-upon definition for disruptive before removing someone from the service. For example, I remember a service in which a man fell asleep and began snoring. Our pastor paused in his sermon, requested that a deacon sit by the man and keep him awake, and then proceeded with the sermon. The result: minimal disruption and a man afforded the opportunity to hear the sermon.
Disruptive can also be cell phones going off or wandering in and out of the sanctuary or auditorium, whether to use the bathroom, get a drink, or whatever. I remember once visiting a church and finding it disruptive that a man dressed in walking shorts and wearing flip flops that went clickety-clack as he walked got up from his seat on the fourth or fifth row and walked in and out of the auditorium two or three times. He certainly did not appear to be drunk, but a quiet drunk man sitting in the back portion of the auditorium would definitely have been less disruptive. And no one escorted the man with his floppy flip flops from the auditorium.
In reflecting on the incident with the drunk man, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had come to church thinking he might find what he needed there. Escorting him out may have robbed him of that opportunity unless he was counseled after being removed from the sanctuary, and that is something I don’t know. I am convinced, though, that his soul was every bit as important to God as any of the sober souls in attendance.
Our pastor often encourages people to be mindful of not being a distraction during the service because we don’t want to take away from the worship of God. He often mentions that members and visitors are in the service for a reason and that some may be there as a divine appointment.
Could that have been true for the drunk man?
“On a Sunday morning sidewalk/I’m wishing, Lord, that I was stoned/’Cause there’s something in a Sunday/That makes a body feel alone…” Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down
“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:30-32
I think you’re right on with your James 2:4 quote. This could be a backslidden Christian come to God’s home where he belongs and where he should be met with open arms, not open doors turned the opposite direction. Maybe the Spirit moved him to that place. He could be counseled after church. Perhaps God had his message for this man, whether saved or lost, in the sermon, in the music special, even in the church bulletin. When I meet the homeless, often alcoholic, on the bus, the train, or waiting for same, I find men who are in grave need of human contact. They want to shake your hand. They want you to pat them on the shoulder. One guy even wanted to sniff my beard. He did, and left a happier man. The stand-up-and-shake-hands-with-your-neighbor might have been just what this man needed to know there is a home.
To take him out for counseling is judgmental in and of itself. How did they know he was drunk? He could have stopped and picked those cans up on the way to church and just not thrown them away yet. Maybe he wasn’t hiding them, just keeping them from getting kicked over. Maybe he has a physical and/or mental illness that makes him appear to be drunk when he’s not. Having a beer or two does not necessarily make a person drunk. He has two cans of beer and gets labeled “sinner, probably unrepentant” and “troublemaker.” How many cans of adultery, greed, gossip, and such are sitting under those pews, but no one is escorting those people out. Nor should they be.
I want to comment on two other things, but one of them, alcohol in the church, I’m not going to except to say if you’d like to know why I think beer in the church is no more sinful that cookies or coffee (both also addictive and harmful to the body if misused) or wine in communion, I’ll be happy to chat about it. Just remember Jesus’s first miracle was stronger proof than what was in those cans and he was giving it to people who’d already had a lot to drink. (I guess I did sort of comment…)
What I do want to discuss is disruptiveness in the church. I’ve been in churches that don’t allow infants in the sanctuary. In doing so, they suffer the little children to not come unto Him. Think millstones. As for a place that locks its doors when the service starts, thus keep people out upon the unbiblical basis that noise is worse than not allowing people to hear God’s Word expounded and to worship their Lord if they can’t get there right on time, well, Jesus was constantly having people show up during his services. Sometimes, the crowd would grow so much he had to get into a boat. No locked doors. Nobody making sure if someone came in late or left early, they did so in a quiet and orderly fashion. Is or ability to worship so weak that the worship “mood” is destroyed by some distraction? Is our interest that low? Are our nerves that shattered? (See next paragraph for related content.) “Be still and know that I am God” does not mean every service has to be tomb quiet. This sounds like a bad case of inflexibility, in extreme cases it could be an idolatry of order where the service becomes more important that the served.
I think your quest for what constitutes disruptive should include the question of whether disruptive is necessarily a bad thing. The guy you mentioned sleeping in the pew might not have fallen asleep if there had been a bit of commotion around. Maybe a baby crying, for example, or somebody waking him up walking by in noisy shoes because they’re the shoes he has and he’s having the runs (maybe he’s got the flu). I can tell you that, if I attend a service, it can’t be a full one. For one thing, the meet-and-greet will kick in my anxiety and crowd disorders and I’ll be out the door like a shot. I have to come in after that. Or, I have to not come at all. Depression and anxiety are epidemic in our culture, and a whole lot of people have, to greater or lesser degree, my mental illnesses. Does God require that I have to be able to sit quietly for an hour in a crowd, doing all the ups and downs, or I’m not allowed into His house during worship? Do you need to have the right kind of shoes? Does wearing a low-and-behold miniskirt make you too disruptive? Jesus liked hookers. Like the “idolatry of order” I mentioned above, getting overly concerned about how people are dressed can become idolatry as well as judgmentalness. Is a man wearing a woman’s dress too disrespectful to be borne? Jesus liked sinners and people with psychological problems. How about someone who comes and heckles the pastor during his sermon? Didn’t the Pharisees do that to Jesus and did He send them away because of it? In fact, can you find any time Jesus, Paul, or anyone else told disruptive people, or anyone else, to leave a service? WWJD with disruptive people? Say Pussy Riot, for example?
This is an excellent blog. Thanks for letting me air my responses, especially since it’s longer than your blog by some 150 words ore more. You’re indication that you need Scripture is so right. It’s in the Word that we find out how to deal with the world, worship, and the church.
As always, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Personally, I am not as distracted or bothered in services by children or some of the things others find distracting or disturbing. I do expect an attitude of reverence; and, yes, I recognize that topic is a discussion in itself.
Just a short coda to my lengthy tome of a few minutes ago.
I’m aware from I Cor. 14 that “God is not the author of confusion” and that we should ”Let all things be done decently and in order.” I think in your considerations about disruptiveness you need to keep in mind who is being disruptive. Is it a member of the local body, and therefor under that body’s discipline and familiar with the normal order and conduct of services, or is it an outsider? Are weaker brothers being harmed by the disruption or is the disruptive person the weaker brother whose weaknesses you are to bear?