The Churches of Nice Greet You

As I write this, reports of another terrorist tragedy stuns the country, complete with all of the endlessly repeated banalities that we have to listen to on the media every time we want an update. The pundits of our airwaves reduce tragedy to black and white cardboard stereotypes and then pontificate in hackneyed solemnities for hours. On call-in shows the callers are even less articulate.

church+pewSo I think about church. The majority of my church experiences have been similar to the above. What started 2,000 years ago with a sweaty band of followers of a poor man who was banned from all the synagogues he attended, has evolved into trudging to church every week to listen to tired stereotypes of niceness.  Church is the only place where life is more G-rated than a Disney movie. Sex is almost never mentioned, except in reference to sins.

No thinking is encouraged at church. National and local tragedies, again, are processed in stereotypically trite phrases as familiar as “guide, guard and direct us”, “separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper”, and “inclement weather”.

We would be first astounded at church, and then we would see a huge protest, if we heard the following in a sermon:

“Why have we, as Americans, made so many people angry? Are these people all insane, or do they have a legitimate beef against the United States? When the United States goes overseas does it trample on others? Does the government set up puppet governments that serve the U.S. and not the people governed by that puppet government? When the Shah of Iran was torturing any of his subjects who opposed his rulership, was that the U.S.’s fault, because they had set him up and supported him, or was that Iran’s fault? Does the U.S. threaten nations with overwhelming fire-power so that those nations will give the U.S. what it wants? Does the U.S. send drones into sovereign territory and kill (mostly) the people it hates? Could the billions of dollars that the United States spends on the military and industrial complex be more wisely spent such that the world would be more peaceful? Are bombs the only way to secure the United States?”

Why are there no sermons that sound like that? Because those who want to hear those sermons have all been driven out. Occasionally young people grow up in the church, and eventually speak up, wanting something more thoughtful and less xenophobic, and are drummed out of the church in short order.  We have let the self-satisfied, stereotypically black-and-white thinkers take over our churches.

As an illustration, what would you do if your 10 year old came home from church and said that there was a story in Sunday school about Noah, who got dead drunk and was sexually molested by his adult son? It is certainly not what we expect from Sunday school.

Or the perennial problem of people who fall in love with God and suddenly want to compose songs and sing them at church. That is not allowed in almost any church. Only people who are not in love with God are allowed to sing in church. The people in love with God upset us.

About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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7 Responses to The Churches of Nice Greet You

  1. Brad Harrub says:

    I send you all warm greetings from Nashville. I hope that all is well with you and your families. I wanted to see if any of you would be open to completing an online survey to help me better understand why people are leaving the church of Christ. Is it the doctrine? Is it how you were treated? Is it legalism? I know your time is valuable, but I think your responses would help open up some eyes that have grown dim over the years. Here’s the link:

    Thanks for your consideration.

    • This is a good survey for those who have left the “Churches of Christ”. It is put out by a member of the “Church of Christ” who is doing research on why people leave the “Church of Christ” group. Some of the questions are difficult to answer because, evidently, the surveyor has not taken into consideration some of the viewpoints of those who have left. But fortunately he has given lots of blocks so you can write in your own opinions.

  2. Roger Scully says:

    Hi, I don’t have a comment on this writing, but was wondering what advice you have for preachers who are leaving the traditional churches of Christ, yet who are called to the ministry of preaching? Where do they go? What do they do? What if all their education and experience has been developed for the purpose of ministry and serving? What options exist? How do they find a progressive church? Do they leave the CoC all-together and if so, where do they go? I NEVER see anyone address this. Thank you.

    • The short answer is network. I went through this 20 years ago unsuccessfully looking for employment as a preacher not in the hard line Churches of Christ. I found I was unprepared for grace oriented churches in many ways. First of all I wasn’t as educated as the progressive church’s ministers, I didn’t know as much about the history and theology of Christianity to understand where we are in the history of trying to follow Christ as those ministers. I didn’t understand the issues the grace-oriented Churches of Christ were wrestling with: feminism, political stance, etc. I had just discovered one or two things that got me booted out of the hard line churches. I was still miles away from the progressive churches. So I trained as a psychotherapist and went into debt. Then I couldn’t find a job as a therapist because my resume was too religious. So I started my own practice and made almost no money the first four years, doing all my own car repairs.
      Eventually I tried the Christian church, Baptist churches, Assemblies of God, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Christian & Missionary Alliance, liberal Mennonites, conservative UCC, but by the time I got to them I was spoiled. I wanted the perfect church and they wanted what they were used to: a preacher like them. The hard line Churches of Christ don’t even believe in the trinity. There are many hurdles and barriers between the Churches of Christ and other groups.
      I think the reason nobody addresses this issue, of where does a preacher go, is that there is no good answer to your question. The only answer is to network. Join pastors’ breakfasts, pastors’ support groups. Meet and make friends with pastors. If you are willing to go back to school for two more years you could qualify as a preacher/pastor for most groups, including the progressive Churches of Christ.

      • Roger Scully says:

        Is it possible we can share a personal email:
        Thank you!

      • garycummings says:

        Been there and done that. When I left the paid pastorate of the Friends Churches, I went back to the medical field and got my LVN and RN nursing licenses. Then I could have a decent living and be consistent with my conscience and religious beliefs. You are right, churches want their own kind preaching to them.

  3. Dean Smith says:

    This reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ distinction between “nice” people and “new” people in Mere Christianity.

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