New York's First Corinthian Baptist Church Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr. has finally responded to a controversy over his statements during a sermon a few weeks ago, where he seemingly implied that it's insane to think people will go to hell if they don't believe in Jesus Christ. That statement sparked an outrage from the public after the video went viral.
The pastor spoke about the controversy in another sermon. He clarified that his words were interpreted out of context as he was actually trying to point out that many Christians today are more "punitive than loving" and are "so quick to send people to hell."
He quoted from John 13:35 that spoke about loving everyone and doing away with prejudices. He also said that God's enormous power and influence couldn't be captured in just one book, as a response to people who worship the Bible over God.
The pastor, whose congregation grew from 350 members to 10,000 followers for the last 14 years, was explaining the purpose statement of the church to his community last February. He said that this purpose statement puts emphasis on "transcendent words" because he believes that there are many paths to God, regardless of one's faith or background, hence some outdated ways of thinking have to go.
"There was a time when you would see people in the pulpit say, 'well, if you don't believe in Jesus you going to Hell,'" the pastor said. "That's insanity in many ways because that is not what Jesus even believes," he added.
Walrond wanted to highlight the importance of inclusivity and tolerance in defining the church's purpose statement. He wanted to guide his followers into unity despite everyone's differences. The pastor's statements, however, drew criticisms especially on Facebook, where a video posted by Kevin O. Davis of the Friendship Baptist Church went viral.
"There's but ONE WAY to the Father, and Jesus is the way," one commenter stated, quoting the Bible. A few remarked that the pastor could be leading his flock straight to hell with such a pronouncement that went against the Bible's words.
Bishop Robert E. Smith, Sr., who founded Total Outreach for Christ Ministries, told The Christian Post (CP) that Walrond's statement was both right and wrong. Smith said that while there are indeed multiple paths to God, it's the path with Jesus Christ, regardless of one's religion or philosophy in life, which saves one from eternal fire.
Ken Stone, an academic at the Chicago Theological Seminary, also told CP that he supported Walrond's emphasis in acknowledging different religions. Stone also said that they welcome everyone, including Muslims or people who have no particular religion, in his seminary. He would, however, pick other words or terms to define this inclusivity if he were to give a sermon among Christian followers.