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The Saving Message

This short story is excerpted from “The Gospel Blimp (And Other Parables)” by the late Joe Bayly (1920-1986), and is reprinted here with the permission of his son, Rev. Tim Bayly. The word “colored” has been substituted for the N-word as it was in the original (which denoted the attitude this fictional 1920s pastor had for blacks).


The page was blank except for some doodles, doodles that had no relation to a sermon outline. Circles completely filled in with ink. Plain circles. And the unending stovepipe that he learned to draw years ago in grade school, with “arm movement.”

“Push and pull, push and pull, move from the elbow, push and pull.”

Good old push and pull. Those were the days, when push and pull meant an exercise of the lower arm. Under the black and white doodles he neatly lettered the words Push and Pull.

Come to think of it, life was pretty much push and pull. Some people being pushed around, others with pull.

Take the colored.

Probably pushed around all his life. And pushed around when he died. Maybe he was guilty — maybe not. One sure thing, there was no way of telling now since the case would never come up in court.

And the men who took him from jail. All that testimony in court, and their confessions to abducting the colored. And what they did to him in the woods beyond the town line before merciful death took over.

In bold script he lettered the word Dachau.

Pushing his chair back from the desk, he stood up and stepped over to the window. Wisteria and red clay and sunlight contained no suggestion of violence or death. About time he stopped thinking about the lynching and started on tomorrow’s sermon.

A passing car stirred up clouds of red dust. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” Funny thing, how black dust and white dust finally became red dust. And someday part of that red dust would become glorified dust.

As he turned away from the window, a bus lumbered past. A smile touched his face for a moment as he imagined a bus in heaven with a sign inside the door: “Law of the State of Glory — White Passengers Will Seat from the Front, Black Passengers from the Back.”

When he was again sitting at the desk, his thoughts returned to the sermon outline for tomorrow. Sometimes a man could think of a dozen things to preach about, other times there didn’t seem to be a thing. Today there didn’t seem to be a thing. And the barrel was empty.

What had old Prof. Forbes suggested in homiletics class at seminary?

“Before preparing a sermon, imagine that your people are walking across your desk, single file. As you watch each one parade by, consider his problems, his suffering, his sin. Then go to the Word for God’s message to your people. That is the secret of true preaching.”

Well, let the parade start.

He was surprised to see who led the procession, for it wasn’t a member of his congregation. Past the orderly row of books, in front of the calendar and fluorescent light, over the Bible walked the colored. His body was grotesque with all the marks of violence at the hands of the lynching party.

After the colored had stepped off the far side of the desk, a familiar figure stepped from behind the row of books. Yesterday he had seen that face in the courtroom laughing heartily after the jury returned its verdict in the trial of the lynching party: “Not guilty.”

Of the eleven men involved, this was the only one from his congregation. Tomorrow morning he would be ushering at the worship service.

He watched the figure slowly parade across the desk, offering plate in one hand, shotgun in the other.

Leafing through the Bible, he temporarily halted the imaginary procession. At Exodus 20 he stopped, and his lips moved as he read the words, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Immediately, another verse came to his mind, and without turning to it he repeated, “He hath made of one blood all nations of men.”

What repercussions there would be if he coupled these verses for tomorrow’s sermon! The fire would be kindled at eleven thirty a.m. and spread from church through the whole town shortly after noon.

“A sermon against lynching! Why doesn’t he stick to the gospel?”
“That poor usher. I never felt so sorry for anyone in my whole life!”
“A preacher should be positive — not negative.”
“Why doesn’t he take a colored charge? Or go up North?”
“I never expected to hear our minister preach the social gospel.”
“He’s probably a Communist.”
“About time we had a change of pastors.”

He dropped his head to the desk between his hands. If he were the only one who would be affected. But there were his wife and the two children to consider.

He drew a solid line of push and pull across the bottom of the page. Push…yes, where was he being pushed? And where was the church being pushed? From proclaiming the Word of God to appeasing the prejudice of men?

Washing the outside of the cup and leaving the inside filthy. Money to send missionaries to Africa. Africa on the other side of the world, not Africa on the other side of town.

Still, why should he be the first one to stick his neck out? There was his reputation for true, evangelical preaching to think about. Certainly a doubt — and a big one — would be planted in people’s minds. It would affect his whole future in the ministry.

Besides, he understood that other forces were already at work to solve this problem. Why not leave this matter to the Catholics, who were pouring millions of dollars into the South to win the colored? And the Federal Council modernist crowd?

His business was to preach the gospel.

He interrupted a final push, and crushed the doodled paper in his hand. Unwrinkling it, he tore it into tiny pieces and dropped them in the wastebasket.

Then he reached into the drawer and removed a clean sheet. Placing it upon the desk, he wrote his sermon text in a neat hand without hesitation, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

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Adult fiction, Book Reviews


by Joseph Bayly 1981 / 216 pages In this dystopian novel, Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands. When Jonathan and Grace Stanton’s six-year-old son Stephen falls off his bike, they don’t know what to do. The fall was minor, but their son has hemophilia and he needs treatment. But the law says he shouldn’t exist: had his condition been diagnosed prenatally the State would have required that he be aborted. Stephen survived only because he mother never visited a doctor during her pregnancy, and when the time came a friend helped her have a home birth. Now the Stanton’s wonder what the State might do, even six years later, if they bring their son in to see a doctor. Do they dare find out? Winterflight was written over 40 years ago, but it got my heart racing – it all seemed far too probable for my liking. Abortion is already being used to “cure” genetic disabilities like Down Syndrome and while it isn’t mandatory, pressure from doctors and culture are such that in some countries 98% of Down Syndrome children are killed before birth. When it comes to killing the elderly, we don’t demand their deaths at 75, but we are already exploring the cost savings that can be had from their early departure. In countries where euthanasia has been legal longer, there are regular reports of involuntary killings. In Canada, attempts are already being made to make involvement on some level mandatory for all doctors. But what hits closest to home is Bayly’s portrayal of the confused Christian response to these government abuses. When Grace’s elderly father is told he must report soon to be euthanized, their misunderstanding of Scripture has them thinking that they need to obey the governing authorities even in this, since those authorities are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). But at the same time, in saving their son, the Stantons show that on some level they do understand we must sometimes defy the State. Is their confusion realistic? We’d never march ourselves off to the local euthanasia clinic just because the government demanded it. But why would we resist? Do we understand on what biblical basis we could reject such demands from the “governing authorities”? During World War II there was confusion on this point among some good Reformed Dutchmen. Among those who joined the Resistance, some felt guilty about it because they were worried that in acting against the Nazis they were resisting God’s chosen rulers. The confusion persists today. Even as we know the government shouldn’t mandate euthanasia – even as we recognize that there are limits to their power – many Christians will still turn to the government asking it to solve our problems. We understand the government has limits, and yet we’ll also ask them to do more and more. We are double-minded.. And that’s what makes this book such a fantastic read – the discussion it’ll prompt is one we need to have. Cautions There are just a couple cautions to note. First, there is a small bit of language – I think “damn” might be used two or three times. Second, without giving away the ending, when the book was first published some Christians misunderstood the ending as being prescriptive – they thought the actions of the book’s confused Christians were what we should do. So it’s important to understand that’s not so. These are confused Christians, under enormous pressure, acting in a confused way and the author is not endorsing their actions. In fact, the book is primarily about warning us not to do as they do. Conclusion This is a fantastic dystopian novel, as prophetic as they come, and certainly unlike any other Christian fiction you’ve read. The topic matter is weighty, but because there’s nothing graphic this could be appropriate for as young as early teens. However the younger a reader might be, the more they’ll need a guide to steer their interaction with the story, and particularly the not-at-all happy ending. It would also make great book club material, with fodder for some fantastic discussions....