Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Getting Religion Wrong Again

I can't help but be unimpressed by arguments like this:

But if you think the current wave of populism is a rough ride, wait until you see what happens when the South is freed of the moral restraint of the Southern Baptists — the Southwest of Catholicism, or the West of Mormonism. The social and political disorder unleashed by those approaching changes could truly be something to behold.

The "moral restraints" of religion long ago devolved into the proprieties of the middle class, which were enforced through religion and, in many cases, in spite of what Christianity (Baptists and Catholics, in the quote above) taught.  My own denomination, the United Church of Christ, is in decline precisely because it tries to adhere to the exegesis of the Gospels I learned in a UCC seminary.  I have a friend from my seminary days who pastored a UCC church that later left the denomination (as did she) to join another former UCC church and start a new non-denomination (I heard her describe it that way recently when we met up for a brief visit).  She told me the new "non-denomination" now has 100 churches, almost all former UCC.  Why?  Because the UCC was "crazy," meaning "too liberal."  (Take my friend as an example of how two people can attend the same classes and draw different lessons, and then tell me again how education will solve all our ills by making us all think alike and agree on everything.)  Her example was a stunt at another UCC seminary where students passed out condoms in rainbow packaging during a worship service, and worshippers were told to "Take two, for the second coming."  It was meant to be an outreach to LGBT worshippers (my own former church now announces it is "Open and Affirming," meaning it openly accepts gay members.  Ironic, since 17 years ago the congregation split over calling a lesbian pastor (first a woman, then gay?  Two strikes, you're out!).  The remnant of that church is now "O&A," which is good, but what social or political disorder has that unleashed, hmmmm?).  I thought the condom thing was stupid, bordering on offensive ("second coming"?  Really?), but it hardly indicted the entire UCC.  Seminary students are notably foolish and think they will remake the church in their preferred image.  Six months in the parish will disabuse you of those notions forever.

What moral restraint is there when churches treat pastors as employees, rather than as shepherds (what "pastor" literally means)?  I don't mean just me, I've seen it happen with several pastors I knew.  The times are changing and the churches are not changing with them.  When the pastor is an employee, what moral force does she have?  But that's not the most fundamental problem facing churches: if I could identify one source for the problem, I'd say it was geriatrics.  My grandfather died at 67; my father's brother died in his mid-40's, of a bad heart.  My other grandfather died about 10 years later, so he lived to a relatively old age.  My father had two heart attacks, two heart surgeries, and never really moderated his diet or his smoking (he finally gave up the latter).  He lived to be 90, longer than anyone in his family, and died of brain cancer.  My mother is 89; she has diabetes so badly she takes insulin four times a day; is on the borderline of total kidney failure, has congestive heart failure, and can only get around with a walker.  She has lived longer than her mother by a decade or greater.  Our churches are full of such people.  My father was "in charge" of his church when he was in his 40's.  When I was a pastor in my 40's, people of my father's generation were still in the pews, and still "in charge."  You want to know why the young people have left church?  It's mostly because grandpa is still there, and it's still grandpa's church.

The UCC was partly the E&R until 1957.  I had people in 2000 in my church telling me to put "E&R" back on the church sign, and the church would prosper again.  Who wants to flock to a church where there are attitudes like that?  I was 45 years old at the time, and I didn't remember the "E&R."  Who was out in the neighborhood who would?

Moral restraint was whatever people allowed.  I buried a friend from childhood who had come out as a lesbian.  Even my parents said she deserved to love who she wanted to; they knew her as a person, they accepted who she was.  Her Southern Baptist congregation, the church she was born into, didn't. That's why I did the funeral.  What moral restraint do we lose in treating people with love rather than judgment and exclusion?

I agree morality is important; I don't agree it is what made America great, or will cost America dear by its absence.  It has been absent for a long time, identified more with that groups who have power want to see allowed as behavior,   The town I grew up in was "dry." meaning no alcohol could be sold in the county.  It was also illegal to consume it there, as the law was it couldn't be brought across the county line.  However, the package stores just over the county line did a thriving business, and led to several jokes about the dominant Southern Baptist damnation of alcohol.  Q:  How do you keep a Baptist from drinking all your beer while you're fishing?  A:  Bring another Baptist.  Q:  When do two Baptists not speak to each other in public?  A:  In the liquor store.  The other joke was that, whenever the issue of allowing alcohol sales in the county came up, the Baptists had to get sobered up long enough to vote against it.

The county has since allowed alcohol sales in stores and in restaurants, and yet the county has not decayed into moral depravity and social decline.  The power of the Southern Baptists was finally overcome by population growth and younger people who simply didn't feel constrained by religion or  tradition.  I suppose this is somehow a bad thing.

In fact, let me put it this way:  the strongest supporters of Donald Trump, the most stalwart and steadfast, are white evangelicals.  We have nowhere to go but up, and nothing to lose but our illusions that religion supplies us with a morality we can all pay lip-service to, and that's enough.

1 comment:

  1. yes. but it ain't gonna be easy. grandpa and grandma are gonna fight hard. hard.