(Photo: Facebook/E. Dewey Smith)
Pastor E. Dewey Smith Jr., longtime friend of Pastor Teddy Parker Jr., who shot himself outside his home as his church and family waited for him on Sunday, dismissed "diabolic" chatter about his friend Thursday, including the notion that he is going to hell for what he did as "ludicrous" and "unbiblical." Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., agrees.
"People have been saying absolutely diabolic stuff. My friend wasn't even cold yet, he hadn't even left the crime lab. ... My friend was not in anything illicit or immoral," said Smith, senior pastor at The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Travelers Rest), to The Christian Post Thursday.
"My friend was sick. He was the most kind, loving, humble, most genuine, loyal person I've ever met in my life and he was sick. He had a sickness and that's it. He had a sickness just like somebody who had cancer and it was a sickness that was beyond his control," he said.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday, Smith had revealed that his friend the late Pastor Teddy Parker Jr. had struggled with manic depression and had emotional issues, and had sought treatment.
"It's terrible how we blame people. Is it fair to blame a victim for being sick? Is it fair? Is it fair to expect sick people to always be rational? It's terribly painful for me to watch pundits and people who don't even know the story to assail and assassinate my friend's character. I know him. I know his heart. He struggled. He was loving, he was kind," said Smith.
While many readers have been sharing their condolences for the pastor and his family on CP's Facebook page, others have damned pastor Parker to hell for taking his life.
"Sorry but anyone who takes their own life is not resting in peace. He's a coward, instead of getting on his knees, like a real Christian. He took his own life," wrote Stephh Machado Lizama.
"Very sad ma brother lost the fight... the race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong but it is for those who endure to the end... nobody can put you into heaven after committing such act sorry!!!!" wrote Georgette Williams.
But Smith, a graduate of the prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., who holds a doctorate of ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, said the suggestion that his friend won't go to heaven because he committed suicide is "ludicrous" and unbiblical. Passing such judgment, he said, is also "insensitive."
"It hurts me to see how insensitive some Christian people [are]…I expect people of no faith to weigh in on the stories, but to see some of the things that have been posted by people that are supposed to represent Christ, it's heartbreaking," he said. "I believe people should speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the scriptures are silent."
"The only unpardonable sin that the scripture speaks of is called the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," he said.
Smith then further dissected the supposition that suicide victims won't go to heaven.
"The implication behind that is that if someone kills themself they are unable to ask forgiveness for their sins after the commission of a sin. Well my question is, if that is the case, what happens to the person who died in adultery? What happens to the person that had a difficult argument and didn't ask forgiveness and was in a car accident? So are we saying that asking forgiveness before death, is that the prerequisite for eternal life? Does the blood of Jesus bring salvation, or asking for forgiveness right before death?" he asked.
"What about the stuff that we've done, the sin of omission, the unknowing sins that we've committed? So does that mean that because we had some unrepented sins that we weren't aware of that we didn't ask forgiveness? That's ludicrous!" he said.
"If that's the case, then it's the receiving or request of forgiveness before death that brings us to eternal life and not belief in Jesus Christ. My friend was weak. My friend was sick. My friend was irrational," Smith said.
Dr. Richard Land, who was a professor of Theology and Church History at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, and received a Master of Theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed Smith's sentiments by adding, "It's an unbiblical position. The position that suicide somehow would cancel your salvation has no biblical support whatsoever."
"When it is a result of mental illness it is not a sin. Sins are when you knowingly do things that are contrary to God's will and that involves rational thought processes and choices. A person who is in the midst of a tremendous depression for instance, is not a rational person," said Land, who is also executive editor of The Christian Post. "This is a diagnosable, physiological, neurological condition. It is not an emotional state. It is a physical mental illness."
Smith said since Parker's death hundreds of pastors including Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Elaine M. Flake of The Greater Allen Cathedral in New York have reached out to him.
"Our prayers are with you and we also lift up the family of your friend, Pastor Teddy Parker Jr. Peace be still!" The Greater Allen Cathedral tweeted to Smith Tuesday.
Other Christians, like Joshua E. Smith, called on Christians to show Parker grace in a 5-minute YouTube reaction to the pastor's death, which he described as "painful" and "hurtful."
Ministers such as John Chiar, who reached out directly to this reporter, as well as Smith on Twitter, expressed thanks for shedding light on members of the clergy struggling with deep depression.
"Just want to say, I love you my God, bring peace in this sad time. As a minister, I wanted to end my life. I am weeping," noted Chiar.
"I'm literally getting responses from hundreds of pastors who are talking about this story and need help," he said
Smith explained that he was up late Wednesday night listening to another pastor's struggles.
"His [pastor's] mother just passed away. He's been down in depression. He wanted to do something to continue this conversation. Bishop (T.D.) Jakes reached out to me. He's doing a session for depression at his pastors, leaders' conference next March," he explained.
"I'm encouraged because sometimes it takes difficulty to get us to have honest conversations. We've got a lot of work to do in our tradition in terms of pastors and leaders and expectations. People have to be mature and pastors have to be free to find resources that can find Sabbaticals and healthy outlets. Because too many of our people are suffering," he said.