Marvin Winans, pastor of Perfecting Church in Detroit, Michigan ruffled some religious feathers recently when he refused to publicly bless a child born out of wedlock.
Earlier this month his church planned a ceremony in which Pastor Winans would bless the children in his congregation that were two-years-old and younger.
Wanting to participate in this ceremony to have her son blessed by Pastor Winans, unwed mother Charity Grace called the church office to make the necessary arrangements.
When Grace revealed that she wasn’t married, the woman she was speaking to informed her of Winans’ policy of not publicly blessing the children of unwed mothers in front of his church. Pastor Winans thinks that by blessing the children of unwed mothers before his congregation, he would be condoning the idea that having children out of wedlock- behavior that many Christians see as unbiblical and rightly frown upon- is acceptable.
Pastor Winans doesn’t exclude children of unwed mothers from being blessed whole cloth; they can be and still are blessed. Unwed mothers can arrange for their children to be blessed by an elder of their choice during the week during a private ceremony.
As a result of the church’s policy, Grace was offended (of course) saying, “I’ve never felt so degraded and disrespected in my life,” and that she wouldn’t return to the church because she felt the church was wrongly judging her and other unwed mothers. Grace also said that the church is the last place a person should be judged or denied.
Some think that Pastor Winans’ position puts him at odds with the traditional teachings of the church citing the Pope, who recently said that babies of unwed mothers should be blessed because their mothers “chose life over death.” The Pope said in a private mass in Vatican City, “Look at this girl who had had the courage to carry her pregnancy to term” (and not to have an abortion). “What does she find? A closed door. This is not good pastoral zeal; it distances people from the Lord and does not open doors. So when we take this path…we are not doing good to people, the People of God.”
Does refusing to publicly bless children born out of wedlock convict Winans of being judgmental? Does enforcing this strict policy violate biblical teaching? Is this policy at odds with the Pope?
The answer to the first question is yes- but in a righteous way. The answer to the other two questions is no.
Let me say that I agree with Winans’ policy. His principled position is a moral stance against an action that has become all too prevalent in the black community- out of wedlock births. According to the Centers for Disease Control as of 2010, seventy-three percent of all black children are conceived outside the bounds of marriage.
That statistic should make anyone- Christian or not- shake their head in dismay.
Figures compiled by Kids Count Data Center, a project sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, showed that the 2011 Census Bureau reported sixty-seven percent of black children under the age of eighteen live in single-parent households (which include the parent cohabitating with another adult).
It is no secret that the destruction and dissolution of the black family from threats internal and external has been happening for decades. And very few people have had the courage to speak or act publicly to acknowledge this sad, embarrassing and unfortunate reality.
And I believe this is why Pastor Winans holds fast to his policy of not blessing children of unwed parents publicly.
Ms. Grace, Winans’ is judging alright, but he wasn’t judging just you (and for you to think so is a bit shortsighted and narcissistic). His judgment was righteously against an action he sees as detrimental to families- particularly the black family.
And yes, Christians are supposed to judge, especially against words and deeds that are detrimental to the body of Christ. Recall Paul’s instruction in I Cor. 5 as he warns the Christians in Corinth not to associate with the sexually immoral, the greedy, the idolater and such. Paul teaches that not only are we to judge those in the church, we’re to expunge the evil from among us (I Cor. 5:12-13). (And no I’m not suggesting that Ms. Grace is eligible for expulsion from the church.)
This point is buttressed by Jesus’ teaching in both Luke 6 and Matthew 7. These passages are generally appealed to as a warning against judging; it’s actually a warning against judging hypocritically or using differing standards when judging ourselves than when we judge others. Jesus taught that we should first remove that which obstructs our view and informs our judgment in our own lives before we attempt to judge others. In other words, we should be honest about our own shortcomings, faults, and sins which then allows us to judge our brother fairly and in love (loving our neighbor and treating them as ourselves).
Now- this is why I think Pastor Winans hasn’t run afoul of biblical teaching regarding children. Matthew 19 (Mark 10 and Luke 18) describes children being brought to Jesus to be blessed. The disciples tried to prevent as much and were admonished for it. Jesus taught that children should not be hindered from coming to him precisely because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those such as these.
I don’t believe Winans was- or is- guilty of hindering the children of the unwed from coming to Jesus. If Winans’ policy held that children of the unwed couldn’t be blessed regardless of when or by whom, one would have a very strong argument that Winans and his church are in clear violation of Jesus’ directive.
But that isn’t his policy. Winans’ policy is that he will not baptize children of the unwed publicly before his congregation yet these same children can be- and still are- blessed by an elder in a private ceremony. In my view, this is virtually Solomonic. Winans will not condone or validate the sin of out-of-wedlock births by blessing these children publicly but he doesn’t prevent them from being blessed, from coming to God or from being members of his church.
In the same way, Winans’ position also doesn’t place him at odds with the Pope. Again, Winans isn’t standing at the entrance of the church doors waving a flaming sword back and forth refusing admission of unwed parents and their children. He’s simply not going to condone the fruit of immoral behavior. Unwed parents and their children are still welcomed at Winans’ church (and the worldwide Church, for that matter) to commune with the saints, worship, study, and pray.
But as a pastor, Winans has the responsibility to teach and lead his congregation as best he can with the guidance and assistance of God’s Spirit. Part of that involves making some difficult decisions and taking principled stands.
This happens to be one of them.
Rather than holding scorn and ridicule for Winans’ because of his position regarding the children of unwed mothers, he should be congratulated for the courage he’s shown. It may not have been a popular decision, but it was the morally right one. If more black pastors hadn’t confiscated their ability to shame self-destructive behavior and held their congregations and communities more accountable (like they once did in American history), maybe there would be fewer broken black families, fewer black children born outside of marriage, fewer blacks engaging in violent and criminal activity and there wouldn’t be such disparaging views of blacks and black families.
God bless Pastor Winans.
 Genesis 3: 24