Having spent 40 years on the “professional” side of the Baptist world — as pastor, journalist, and professor — I’ve seen my share of “Buzzard Baptists” — the sort of folks who seem to enjoy dragging up things that stink, flocking around, and generally making life miserable for those who are more interested in congregational life and health.

Any church that’s been around long enough to go through a couple of growth cycles and several pastors is likely to have a few vultures on the roll: they hold to the vision of a former golden age — which has probably grown far better with the telling than it ever really was — and prefer to pick over the past than to participate in the present.

Credit: JDNews.com, photo by Don BryanSuch “Buzzard Baptists” are generally found inside the church (unless they’ve slipped outside for a smoke), but the good folk at Bethlehem Baptist on Gum Branch Road near Jacksonville had a different problem. They weren’t plagued with metaphorical vultures, but with a whole flock of real buzzards roosting on the roof. The unsightly critters weren’t just messing up the place, but actually chewing on the shingles and causing real damage, according to Jacksonville’s Daily News.

To discourage the carrion-lovers, church folk got some help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and obtained an unappealing decoy — a taxidermist-prepared buzzard carcass with an artificial head (the unfeathered real ones don’t last very long). They mounted the carcass on the roof — hanging upside down so it’s obviously post mortem — and voila! The local vulture population wanted nothing to do with it, and found other places to hang out — like in trees, where they belong.

I don’t want to suggest that church folk should adorn their sanctuaries with effigies of deceased grouches suspended from the chandelier: that would probably send the entire congregation flying to a friendlier roost.

My experience has been that angry birds need love, too, and the best way to deal with “Baptist buzzards” is to care for them and include them and to honor their picture of the past while steadily encouraging them to join the party of the present.

Even buzzards can sing. It’s true.

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