Today I was in a student’s apartment. I was cleaning up helping a painter, and I found some bent spoons in the sink as I was washing up, with black on the back of the spoons. Then the parents of the tenant came in to help him move. His mother immediately started into him about the mess of the apartment, asking him where the furniture was that she had given him. “It got trashed,” he mumbled as he sat on the couch chewing his fingernails. Then he started in asking for more favors from his parents.
It reminded me of the age old dynamic typical of alcoholic or addiction prone families: lots of shaming lectures from the parents, but they never say “no”. The parents are totally unaware of the dynamic, believing that their lectures are good discipline for their kids. They try to run their children’s lives long after their children are adults.
The piece that also reminds me of the Church of Christ is the custom we had whenever we met someone new of asking them what religion or church they belonged to, and then when the person said “My church is the Baptist church in town,” well, we didn’t know which end to start the shaming on. Usually it would go like this: “Your church? How can it be your church? It’s the Lord’s church, not your church.”
A few preachers would come out against this obviously illogical and ungrammatical harangue by saying, “Our children speak of ‘our family’. Are they saying they own their family, or are the head of their family? It has nothing to do with being the owner or head of, but merely membership or belonging, like saying ‘my baseball team I play for’.”
But then the next gospel meeting the next preacher would trot it out again: “It’s not your church; it’s the Lord’s church.”
The real reason we used these harangues on our new neighbors or acquaintances was the same reason the alcoholic parent harangues their children: to feel superior. Anyone with low self-esteem can get a rush by just putting someone else down. And every Sunday and every Wednesday night we studied how to put people down. This is not exclusive to Churches of Christ. I sat in a Bible study in a mainstream evangelical church and heard one woman announced with a smile that she had told her Jewish neighbor that she was “sorry, but you’re going to hell.”
Another purpose this shaming of outsiders serves is to isolate members of Churches of Christ. Their only friends end up being members of Churches of Christ, because no sane person would tolerate the sheer illogical shaming of “It’s not your church, it’s the Lord’s” for long enough to become friends. Just as old order Mennonite and Amish are separated by their clothing and their language, Jehovah’s Witnesses were separated by not celebrating birthdays, Christmas or saluting the flag, Roman Catholics used to be separated by not eating meat on Fridays and going to parochial schools, members of Churches of Christ are separated by their deliberately abrasive attitudes.