An event that was supposed to be a lighthearted celebration of how Christian lives have changed through music at the 138-year-old The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Travelers Rest) church in Decatur, Georgia, led by Senior Pastor Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr. has triggered a barrage of criticism and even death threats for the use of secular music by popular entertainers such as Chris Brown and Lil Jon in the sanctuary.
The frenzied reactions to the celebrations first started after short clips of the event began circulating on social media.
Among those sharing one of the clips from the event was popular televangelist and singer Juanita Bynum who noted "THIS IS WHY WE HAVE TO PRAY!!!!!!" in a post along with the clip on her Facebook page last Monday. The post has since been liked nearly 1,800 times and the clip itself has been shared more than 26,000 times with many people criticizing the portion of the celebration depicted in the video.
In a 44-minute YouTube video of the entire event as well as a strong follow-up response to critics on his church's Facebook page after the event, however, Pastor Smith explained the church has held the event annually for the last seven years and it was meant to be "fun." The criticisms are also not new.
"A few years ago we started an annual tradition at our church that we would celebrate every generation for our church anniversary. Our church is a church that believes in the Lord but we also believe laughter is like medicine and that if you're a child of God you can have a good time. All the time you don't want to be deep," Smith said ahead of the dancing at the event in the YouTube video.
"Some people so deep you shouldn't listen to that in the sanctuary, just listen to it in your car. You shouldn't dance like that in the church 'cause it's a sin. It's ok, you can cuss at home just don't cuss in the church," Smith threw back acknowledging his critics.
"We compartmentalize God and live so many different kinds of lives … people don't want to be real. So if that's you God bless you pray for us. But the rest of us, we're gonna have a good time and enjoy the Lord 'cause we know that the letter killeth but it's the Spirit that gives life and he came that I might have life," Smith continued before kicking off the event with music for the oldest generation in the church.
"For seven years, this has been one of the highlights of our annual calendar. To see our 80-year-olds interacting and with our 15-year-olds is not only extremely hilarious but also respectful, loving and kind!" Smith noted on Facebook after clips of the event had gone viral.
"Unfortunately, each year that we've celebrated 'our' generations, within 'our local assembly,' some of our brothers and sisters who don't attend our ministry take offense. Some of the 'saints,' who don't know us, have even sent death threats to me, in the name of Jesus. I guess their salvation allows them to represent Jesus while threatening a person's life," he continued, highlighting a number of questions from his critics about the event.
After further questioning his critics, he defended his decision and asked those who disagree with his leadership to pray for him.
"I have absolutely no theological or biblical dissonance with our annual generational dance celebrations. I don't believe it is a sin. The same snippets of music that were played during our celebration on Sunday, I have no problems with on Monday," said Smith.
"I'll forever teach people that we can love The Lord and laughter simultaneously. I'll never live my life based on the opinions of others. I'm a Gospel preacher who preaches the Word of God. I don't believe that 'holiness' is based on how we pretend on Sundays. I teach God's people that we should love Him and each other. I'm at peace that my approach can help people to 'live with God every day and in every way.' If I am wrong, I'm comforted by the fact that God will be my Final Judge," he said.