|Some churches are rotting from the inside out. (Photo: fineartamerica.com )|
I thought long and hard about writing this post because if you are attending a church which helps you, and you feel is doing God's work, then I am very pleased for you and I don't want to interfere in that relationship at all. However, I feel I do have to say something in terms of identifying some issues.
To my way of understanding, Jesus Christ was a man who lived two thousand years ago. I accept that he was the Son of God made into man, but if you don't, that's fine. Each of us are on our own spiritual journey, and I have seen God reveal himself to people in many ways in the course of their lifetimes, and so I won't preach to you. I don't plan to convert you. It's not my job. Even if you don't accept that he is the son of God, then he was a remarkable human being in many ways, and the simple memory of him has fueled the devotion of millions of people over the past two thousand years. Great good has been done in the world overall, in the name of Jesus Christ.
When I was a child, my parents were of the belief system that a parent should not impose a particular faith upon a child. We were free to go to church if we wanted, but we didn't have to. My mother was Church of England, and my father's family were Christians, but when my parents moved back to the US after my father attended college in England, there was no Church of England here, and my mother didn't think that the Episcopal Church was anything like her C of E ! When I was six, I chose to attend the Presbyterian church nearest our rural home. My parents didn't attend, and they did take some heat for this, but they were reasonably supportive of my own attendance. Overall, it was a good church. Almost everyone in our small rural community attended, except my parents. The people supported one another, and with a very few exceptions, behaved respectfully toward one another. I do remember the out and out rejection of a young girl in the 1960s who became pregnant out of wedlock. I also remember that the Sunday School class did some rather heavy hazing on a child who was a little slow. Overall though, they were a charitable bunch. They did the bake sales,chicken dinners which occasionally yielded salmonella, provided birthday parties to the families whose fathers had died in the year prior, and supported a few kids overseas using Christian Children's Fund. They weren't wealthy people, but they found a way to give, either time, talent or treasure. I benefited greatly not only in terms of the fellowship, but as the choir director was a Juilliard trained musician. In effect, I received private singing lessons as a member of the choir.
As a young adult, as a college student, and a young parent, in different areas, I casually attended a number of churches afterward. Some had great Sunday School programs. Some had terrific outreach. Some were good fundraisers and did good things with the money they collected, and some were not. I actually think that I am fairly easy going and that I don't seek perfection, particularly in something administered by man. It just seems that as the world's cultures and societies have deteriorated that the churches have followed suit. Rather than being a beacon or a support to those seeking to do the right thing, they seem to have failed many times in many ways.
These are just a few of the concerns I have had with regard to ministers and to churches in the last so many years. My in-laws were kind and gentle people who tried to do the right thing, not just on Sundays, but the rest of the week as well. They gave money to their rural church quite regularly, even when it was a hardship to do so, with four sons all of college age. When both of them died before ever collecting the first payment of social security, a percentage of their estate went to their local church, and in consideration of this, they were allowed to be buried there. I was a little miffed that the minister had not found the time to visit my mother-in-law at home before her death, but she understood saying that perhaps he thought that the role was adequately being played by her large family. Funny. I am many things, as are my brothers-in-law and husband, but a minister isn't one of them. In the following year, there was an investigation of where the contributions of my in-laws and other monies of the church had gone. Eventually the minister resigned. It was determined that he had not broken the law, but had taken the discretionary funds of the church and allocated them all to hospital beds for AIDS patients in the closest city. The parishioners were fundamentally good people. They would have accepted a percentage of their tithes went to helping those with AIDS. They were not okay with all of it doing so, especially when our church was the only one in the county not contributing to local foodbanks, which helped every type of family.
This was also the church that sent us a beautiful brocade box filled with lovely preprinted envelopes for our tithe to be sent to them weekly. There was actually a letter which suggested exactly how much we should provide to them. The minister knew that we had just had a premature infant and that since our insurance had changed mid-pregnancy, that we were left with huge expenses for what became out of network physicians. We were having trouble making our house and car payments, and I could not go back to work with a sick preemie. Eventually, insurance paid for a nurse in our home so I could return to work, which lasted all of five minutes when the agency sent a nurse over with a dirty uniform who proceeded to fall asleep on our couch as she had worked the previous night on pediatrics. I didn't expect financial support from the church, but I did expect some slack with regard to my tithe. We left the church just before the minister was forced to.
At our next home, we were less concerned about finding a church for us, and more concerned about finding one with a good youth program. The next church had our kids pushing Bibles (at ages 8 and 7) and looking for donations, and they bussed them into one of the most dangerous areas of the city, just past the "non-prostitution zone". My son heard a shotgun cocked that day just before one man opened his door. The church wasn't only not very nice to children, but required the memorization of large chunks of scripture without imparting any understanding of them. When one of my children was hospitalized, we didn't hear a word from them.
When we moved out to the country we made a considerable effort to find a family church. This proved to be a lot tougher than we had ever realized. The first church had doors on the pews which were locked during the service. It was less a church and more a concert series by the lovelier child members of the choir. Our kids didn't like not being able to go to the bathroom during the long service.
The second church was very devoted to its private Christian school and I thought this might work well for us. The minister seemed nice enough. One of his sermons was two and a half hours talking about washing feet. My husband nixed this church because he said it offered nothing scriptural and was little more than motivational speaking. The Sunday school seemed good though. We were glad we looked elsewhere though when one little girl was molested by someone in her class.
A third church was supposed to be "homeschooler friendly". I suppose they were. They offered a rock band, contemporary worship and they knew all the songs on my local contemporary radio station. You did have to be a sandal wearing Christian-just-like-them though. We had a Russian child with us at the time, and they apparently weren't terribly supportive of helping people who weren't exactly of their upper middle class appearance or roots. That church bought a bank building, and I swear I think they were working toward "drive-up-communion". Anything to make church easy and to attract "customers".
The last church we tried seemed nice enough. They had a foodbank ministry which we actually think is very important. They do, however, have ALL of their church elders as cohabitating couples. Now, don't get me wrong. I have friends who have lived together for many years and I don't care that they had children and didn't marry. (Although I don't see how a child is less of a commitment than a marriage.) We just thought that ALL of the elders shouldn't be cohabitating. One of the "elders", my age, making a pass at me also which didn't help their case.
Since then, our family prays regularly, and we do good in the world with our time, our talents, and our treasures. We exceed the ten percent " recommended weekly contribution". I am honest about following Jesus Christ, but I honestly haven't seen too much good lately coming out of the churches I have found.
I do attend the funerals of good people I know. This was where I encountered the giant picture of Barack Hussein Obama hung in the church hall where Jesus used to be. I also attended one in a lovely church in Richmond where families were encouraged to contribute to the memorial garden at the church. A thousand dollar contribution would plant twelve tulips, five hundred bought liriope. A bush was six hundred bucks ! Where are these people buying their flowers ??? !!!! I get mine from a catalog. They are being shaken down by their church ! What was the church doing with the extra money ? This was doubly disturbing because when I inquired, I found that other church members were donating the flowers and the cash for the memorial garden was going straight to the church.
The last thing I want to mention is that just after my youngest son died, I needed to get some extra pictures of him enlarged for the funeral. I went early to the Ben Franklin Store which has an automated Kodak color enlargement and printer. It makes lovely enlargements of photographs, particularly those on flash drives. I had entered all my data in the machine and was awaiting the requisite 25 minutes or so for the machine to spit out the enlargements, when a man turned up, annoyed to see the machine in use. He asked me at once, "Will you be much longer ?" I told him that my information had been entered but that the machine could take 25 minutes or more to complete its tasks. He was annoyed. I thought he might wait better if I shared with him why I was printing the enlargements. He didn't react one way or another. He needed his civil war reenactment photographs and he was a busy minister and didn't have time to wait ! Could I cancel my order and let him go first ? I was surprised at his apparent callousness. He waited with me, and then he became additionally distressed when the machine ceased, apparently requiring more rolls of large photo paper inserted into the machine. The reinsertion of the rolls took time. It was a Saturday and the normal Kodak machine savvy employee was off. He sighed loudly. Finally, the minister asked me what had happened to my son. I told him that he had collapsed and died and that an autopsy was being done. The medical examiner thought it might be a sudden heart rhythm disturbance which has been happening a fair bit around the world recently. He said something about my looking okay, even though I certainly wasn't. I told him that Daniel was loved by us very much, but that he had also been God's to call. He became angry that I apparently had more faith at that moment than he. He said, "God didn't NEED your son. He doesn't need any of us !" There were some similar comments as he waited. Eventually, I told him that as a minister, he was not suited to counseling the bereaved by virtue or training or of temperament and that if he chose to do so, that the family might resort to suicide. He seemed upset that a bereaved person would call him on his incompetence and his negligence. After he left in a huff, the final and most beautiful pictures of Daniel slowly emerged from the machine. Somehow, the enlargements showed Daniel's beautiful greenish blue specked eyes. The woman who placed my enlargements into large acid free envelopes knew the minister and told me who he was. She said that he is "a difficult sort".
The problem is that for some time, we have been seeing a deterioration of our churches and some of our ministers. I deliberately did not mention which churches these were. They were all Christian faiths of one variety or another. I have long believed that although you can't be all things to all people that as a Christian, you lead by example, not simply words, that often judge someone whose path you know nothing about. You can't talk about purity to young girls and then have the minister sleep with his secretary. You can't talk about being generous with the funds you receive on this Earth and then divert them and spend them on your own pet projects. You can't talk about Christian love and then exclude the people who don't attend your country club ! You can't pay to black top the church parking lot and then lobby loudly at the county meeting to make the presence of homeless people and panhandlers illegal county wide ! Jesus Christ asked us to "love one another". Sometimes that means giving someone whatever canned goods you can spare. Sometimes that means driving them to the doctor. Sometimes it means taking a homeless person to lunch. Sometimes it means telling a friend something you would rather not. Sometimes it means agreeing to take an obese elderly pet for someone who is dying. Sometimes it means forgiving someone. I guarantee that when you do these things, that you get more from it, than likely the other person does.
I hope that you have or that you do find a church where the benefits of membership exceed the draw, or at least without the insanity of some of these places. I don't actually care what your church is called or why you choose to do good. However, if you attend a church,or you don't. you can still be a force for light and for good in the world. The world is as dark and can be as difficult as it was in Biblical times. Perhaps we each can model the behavior of Christ and the lessons he taught, quietly to one another. Love and best wishes to you all.
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