The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 10, 2013

Alabama academy chooses policy over people

The Back Porch column

By Nerissa Young

— The following story is why mainline Christian denominations are losing members hand over fist and why Baptists have become the bad guys in American society.

The Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser reports that a winning coach and athletic director resigned his position because he wasn’t attending the “right” church.

East Memorial Christian Academy accepted Scott Phillips’ resignation after Phillips told the sponsoring church’s leaders that he wanted to attend his home church — the place he was attending before he took the job as coach and athletic director.

Guess a winning season doesn’t trump everything. Guess being a Christian doesn’t mean much unless one attends the church one is told to attend.

Well, glory be! With all that’s wrong with athletics and organized sports today, one would think the folks at East Memorial Baptist Church would shout “Hallelujah!” to have a coach who can win without cussing. One is assuming here that a good Baptist coach doesn’t.

Instead, church leaders played mind games with Phillips for a year, applying that subtle pressure that employers can apply when an employee has slipped out of the fold.

In the church’s defense, Phillips said he knew the athletic director’s position came with a requirement to be a member of the church. Phillips said he and his family tried. For a year, they attended East Memorial services and his home church’s services at Church of the Highlands.

But in April, Phillips said, he had an epiphany that trying to do both was not what he and his family needed. He wanted to attend Church of the Highlands exclusively. He shared his epiphany with school leaders.

“I knew what was about to take place,” Phillips told The Advertiser. “I knew they wanted the athletic director to be an advocate of the church, but it was never in my contract, and it was never talked about again — never.”

He said he told a school official he had nothing against the sponsoring church; he merely wanted to continue at his home church.

The coach said the “policy” was not in writing on his contract. A school official told The Advertiser in an e-mail, “It was made very clear when we hired Phillips that the AD position is required to be a faithful member of our sponsoring church East Memorial Baptist Church.”

Phillips said, “Their thing was they wanted the school and church to be connected, and I get that. But I was really never spiritually connected at East Memorial in that year; my heart just wasn’t there. And not that they were doing anything bad because I wouldn’t tell anyone not to go there — I wouldn’t.”

And so he tendered his resignation rather than give up the church where he, his wife and two children are faithful members.

The former coach added, “If I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, I don’t think it mattered where I was sitting on Sundays.”

Amen, brother, but it does. What matters is churches out scavenging for members of other churches rather than reaching out to those who are hurting and need to hear the Word. But too often, those kind of folks can’t give a lot of money and don’t bring with them influence or wealthy friends.

Nobody courts them. Nobody cares where they’re sitting on Sunday mornings — the sidewalk, inside a cardboard box or a tent along the river.

The Bible says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Maybe the ones living in the heavenly mansions won’t have belonged to any church. They simply met God where He found them and lived accordingly. The academy’s new athletic director is a member at East Memorial.

Phillips played the system and lost. He knew the expectations before he accepted the job. Maybe he was being greedy to think he could have it all.

Or maybe the system is wrong.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2013 by Nerissa Young