Thursday, January 27, 2011
Book Review: The Devil in Pew Number Seven: A True Story
As you may know, I love memoirs. Especially ones that can recount some sort of struggle that can be overcome.
When Rebecca Nichols was a baby, her family moved to a small unincorporated village in North Carolina so her father could become pastor at a holiness church which had been floundering under lack of leadership. Her father, with his natural evangelistic style that could reach both those who had long stopped coming to church and those who never started, soon set the church on course to become a vibrant Christian congregation. It would have been the ideal setting for a young family in ministry if not for the ominous figure in the back pew.
For years, a man who was not actually a member of the church but who attended every Sunday and was politically well-connected in the good old boy network of the south had been allowed limited control in the congregation. For years, he continued to manipulate the brethren to the despair and eventual decline of the church. A young vibrant pastor setting up accountability and expanding the church ministry could never figure into the plans of Mr. Horry Watts, who wasn’t used to not having his way.
Rebecca spent her childhood living in fear as Watts launched one terrorist campaign after another on her family, ultimately taking everything they had. All the while, her parents advocated for and maintained the practice of loving their enemies. While their home was repeatedly bombed (yes, you read that right) the Nichols family never retaliated outside the boundaries of the law. There is one surreal moment in the book when a man with inside knowledge of the harassment approaches Rebecca’s father and makes an offer to do what the authorities (local, state, and federal) had been unable to do up to that point; stop the violence and harassment once and for all. It would be permanent, kept quiet, and likely accomplished by use of murder. The pastor never even weighs the offer and kindly explains “it’s not our way.”
You would think that this book is about survival, but here is the real theme: Forgiveness. Even after Watts’ crimes stole her closest family from her, she forgave him. In the final chapters of this book, Nichols explores the reasons why, as she puts it, we have no choice but to forgive our enemies. The alternatives to forgiveness simply aren’t worth the risk in our own spiritual lives. For myself, it was difficult to read of the devastation done to an innocent family and not feel anger and resentment at the perpetrators. I cannot imagine that it was easy to forgive the man who terrorized their family, but I can believe that forgiveness is always the best course of action, and in our best interest. Truly one of the more worthwhile stories I’ve read on this theme. There are many Scriptural references throughout the book that the author uses to show why her parents chose to make the decisions that they did along the way. Rebecca never lost her faith, and her story deserves a lot more publicity than it has gotten!
Part true crime, part memoir, and wholly inspirational, this is a story you won’t soon forget.And thanks to my friend Hope for drawing my attention to such a good book!