Pretty provocative proclamation. (yeah, I know it isn’t truly a proclamation, but alliteratively more attractive than…”title”)
I hired a man this week to bring his skid steer and backhoe and help me repair some culverts and redirect two different creeks that last May’s rains redirected overnight. His was the second bid I entertained, and I liked the fact that he was deliberate when assessing the job and he was more than fair about the compensation he expected. He arrived on time, with all the right tools, and gave me two days honest work. I made the right choice. We managed to get a great deal of work done together, and talked frequently and honestly. Before long, I knew he was a committed Christian, and we were able to discuss faith in a thoughtful and polite manner. He attends what I suppose is best described as a mega-church and has recently been asked to teach there from time to time. He really likes the church’s pastor, and so he drives what I’d estimate is 30 miles for services and fellowship. He told me that the pastor was giving a five-part sermon, “Lies The Church Believes”, and that this week lie #3 was being addressed:
God Is A Republican.
I had to go hear this. I missed parts 1 and 2 ( “Good People Don’t Go To Hell” and “God Hates Gay People”, respectively) So last night I finished my chores, took a shower and put on the closest things I have to church clothes, and headed out. The church itself is large, and it is apparently referred to as a campus, and has additional campuses (capusi?) in neighboring communities. Enormous parking area, but the church has grown such that it had to build auxiliary parking where shuttle buses await. It is a beautiful place, well-landscaped and set in an unobtrusive way along a major thoroughfare. I parked close to what I thought was the main entrance, but turned out to be well off to the side. The main entrance is a cavernous, mall-like area that features a coffee kiosk with all manner of flavored drinks and muffins and snackety goodness. To the left is a campus bookstore, or ” resource center” I think they called it, and an armed, uniformed policeman. The place was staffed by fresh-faced, helpful kids who appeared to be having a great time at their various stations. I bought a coffee for a buck and found myself a seat inside the auditorium.
There were no shortage of big screen video monitors. No such thing as a lousy seat in this place. The seats were all ergonomically correct recliners, covered in diamond tuck n roll calf leather. The enormous stage was by flanked by a wall of 4th generation Dolby®-enhanced Quadio Quadra Quirk 3000 speakers. (I’m pretty sure I’m making part of this up) In short, the place had the necessary infrastructure to put on a SHOW. The monitors all have a digital clock counting down time toward the start of the service. At 5:00 p.m. sharp, the curtain went up.
The service began with an elaborately choreographed musical tribute to Mother’s Day. It could have been pretty cheesy, but it was actually very well done. It was a medley of famous pop tunes with a few lyrics changed to fit the occasion, (“loved, conceived, delivered, I’m yours!”) and the music and singing were both excellent. Just the right energy for the room.
The service started with a humorous though thankfully short video featuring Lucifer hisself opining on the state of American politics, in which, by the way, he poked fun at both the Democrats and Republicans, but pretty much marginalized the Libertarians as “too Liberal, even for me.” I, unfortunately, had just taken a pull on my delicious coffee drink which I ended up spraying across several rows in front of me. “Sorry, Sir, I hope that comes out.”
Then the pastor began what can only be described as message safari on his way to explaining why God is not Republican. Truthfully, he never arrived there. He sort of meandered about, briefly exploring various chapters of the Bible and how they might pertain or relate to what it means to be a citizen and a Christian in these, The United States of America. There was the expected “render unto Caesar” example of Christ’s admonishing of those seeking the Father’s approval for avoiding tax, which I thought could have been fleshed out a bit more, frankly. I felt that he glossed over Romans 13-1, which says “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” and “there is no authority except that which God has created.” (Now, maybe it’s my preference for Eastern philosophies at work here, but I see at least a couple of different meanings to that passage.) From there he segued into what it means to be citizens of two kingdoms, “civis romanus sum” as uttered by Paul,(the alternative being anarchy, and who wants that?) and of course, to the hidden kingdom which has no drawn boundaries save for that found in the hearts of men. He said Christians should “be” these three things:
1. The moral conscience of America
2. An example of outstanding conduct
3. Communicators of the Gospel.
From there, I thought the sermon sort of strayed and strained to set up a admonishment over both our collective debt as a Nation, and our personal debt as American consumers. He is troubled by too many Christians practicing idolatry, not like those who might light incense and chant over a statue, but by “misplaced love, affection, or trust in substitutes for God.” He implied that too many Christians worship false Gods, and named three of them. The God of Materialism, which results in high personal debt, (he deftly tied to this the Church’s budget, lamenting a 30% decrease in the amount of love offerings received by the church, though he startled me when he suggested that the fall off wasn’t attributable to an reduction of wages, as this didn’t afflict most Americans? Next came the God of Sensual Pleasure, in which he cited various “Promise Keeper” surveys that showed a significant percentage of them having watched pornography that same week, and proclaimed the best way to avoid trouble was to be a tee-totaler, the better to be filled by the Spirit, instead of filled with spirits. The third example caught me a bit off-guard….The God of Comfort and Complacency. Apparently, many Christians are quite fond of comforts like say, air-conditioning, and almost feel entitled to them as we are all “living the American dream.” To those people he said, rather emphatically, “God will mess with your American Dream alright.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Then followed another not so gentle reminder that the Church is way behind it’s fundraising goals, and went so far as to place a $200.00 per family suggested offering in addition to your normal weekly gift. (I’ll admit to being pretty thin-skinned about this aspect of the modern Church, and in fairness, they do quite a bit with their staggering annual budget of over 3 million dollars.)
To cap it all off, there was a two minute, prerecorded video clip from, wait for it…..Chuck Colsen. Now having experienced grace and forgiveness myself, I am all too ready to see it extended to anyone seeking it, but sitting there listening to Chuck admonish his fellow Christians about allowing Govt over-reach was akin to being lectured on frugality by The Donald. True to form, Chuck then went into a rant about those of us who want Republicans to cut the budget but leave “the entitlements, like social security and medicare fully funded.” I kid you not. It ruined the whole experience for me.
I think I’m being too hard on this pastor, and I will certainly admit that I went in hoping to hear a sermon more along the lines of Neal Donald Walsh, or even Rob Bell. So thats on me. I liked the pastor, I just left thinking there was so much there to work with, and I thought he pivoted away from any provocation except in the title of the sermon, and stayed on predictable, Baptist doctrine-approved ground. Apparently, he is doing a great job as Pastor of this large, affluent church, and that can’t be an easy gig. Also, I was moved when he called MLK “one of the greatest leaders this country has produced.” He sounded sincere and I believe he was.
Funniest line of the night? “God isn’t a Republican, but he is a UT Vol fan.”
I’m pretty sure my friend John Lamb told me God is a Horned Frog.