The Texas Bohemian

Word artist. Jack of all Trades.

Selling God

Years ago I used to tell the story I’d heard somewhere about a man who became a new Christian.  In those days Christians were taught and expected to live a higher moral and ethical standard than people “in the world” or outside the church.  A Christian was expected to stop living “like the world,” which mean not to curse, drink, or get involved in things that were “worldly.”

This guy, I’ll call Frank, became a Christian a few weeks before the annual fishing trip he always went on with “the guys.”

As he studied and learned about what was expected of him as a Christian Frank fretted over that trip.  He and the guys always had plenty of beer, was loose with their language, talked about their sexual exploits, all that “guy” stuff.  He realized the new standards he was supposed to follow were not compatible with what the guys did on that trip every year.

Frank shared his concern with his wife.  She, too, was a new Christian.  They had both tried hard to live the new life “in Christ” as they were being taught.  A Bible had replaced Frank’s Playboy, movies they watched were G rather than R rated.  Frank tried to clean up his language.  He even began to hint about his conversion at work.  But the trip with the guys!  What will they think?

They’ll call him a religious fanatic, that’s what.  They’ll say he wimped out on them.  They’ll call him a “goody two-shoes” if he turns down a beer and a wuss for avoiding rough talk.  Frank knew the guys.  That’s what would happen.

Eventually the day for the trip came.  He’d thought about just not going, begging off for some made up reason, but he did so enjoy that annual trip.  As he got ready to leave Frank’s wife asked, “what will you do?”

“About what?”

“About your being a Christian?”

“I don’t know,” he muttered.  “Something.”

When his best bud picked him up Frank leaped into the truck cab with glee.  Time for fun!  Frank’s wife watched him go, wondering how he’d fare as a Christian among those wild men.

A week later Frank was back.  When he came in the door, ragged, sunburned, happy, his wife asked him, “what did they say?”

“About what?”

“About your being a Christian.”

“Oh, that.” He looked at her flatly and said, “nothing.  They never knew!”

In the old days when I was a Christian in ministry I used to tell that story as an example of “compromise.”  In those days Frank was an exception, not the norm.

Ronald Reagan used to say of his leaving the Democratic Party: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.”  To borrow his phrase, I didn’t leave Christianity, Christianity left me.   Through the years I was a Christian the church grew more and more like Frank.  By the time I’d walked away the differences between Christian culture and “the world” were so few that one mirrored the other.

Christians isolate themselves in their own clique and claim to lead “Christian” lives but what they do inside their little Christian Bubble is a mirror image to what goes on outside.

I’m working on a re-write of my book The Lies, The Truth, The Way that will greatly elaborate on this point.  Today, though, I have a specific thing in mind: how churches sell God.  In particular, I am almost speechless about the way the Christian youth culture has embraced non-Christian (in the old days I’d say “secular”) culture and blended with it.   Corporations use gimmicks, give-aways and pop “music” to promote their new stuff.  (I put music in quotes because rap and hip-hop is not music!)  Church youth groups have adopted the exact same methodologies to “reach the youth” with the “message of Christ.”

The local First Assembly in my town is giving away a car.  And an Xbox.  And other trinkets.  They’re giving it away today (April 15, 2009) at a “Christian rap concert.”  The headline in the paper is this: “Lucky teen will take home a car from Lufkin First Assembly Church.”

“We are doing this because we feel this is our call here at Lufkin First Assembly to reach the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said outreach minister Alvin VanderLeest. “This outreach is a fresh and new creative way to reach the youth of Deep East Texas.”

There’s nothing fresh or new about their methods.  Coca-Cola and Hershey’s and Chevrolet and the TV Networks have used this kind of marketing for decades.  It’s nothing more than gimmick marketing.  Snake-oil salesmen used similar techniques a hundred and fifty years ago.  First Assembly is just selling God.  That is all.

Consider two conversations between Frank and the Guys that might have been:

“Hey, Frank, have a beer!”

“Oh, um,” Frank stutters, “well, I’m a Christian now.  I think I’ll pass.”

“Oh,” Bud shoots back, “gone religious on us have you?”

That conversation might have been fifteen or twenty years ago.  Now here’s today’s conversation:

“Hey, Frank, Have a beer!”

“Oh, well,” Frank pauses, “I, uh, I’m a Christian now.”

“Cool,” Bud says, tossing Frank the beer.  “Religion is ok if it’s not to radical.  Let’s go see if the fish are biting!”  Bud and Frank walk to the lake with their cold brews.

One might not see the comparison between Frank’s story and the First Assembly giveaway but I sure do.  I didn’t agree with fundamentalist junk way back when but I did believe Jesus taught a standard of living that would set Christians apart.  That standards Jesus set includes selflessness, modesty, ethics, and morals designed to improve the human condition and end greed and hatred.  Frank ignored those standards when he went along to get along.  First Assembly, along with most modern “Christians,” have not just ignored but redefined the standards.  Christianity is fun.  Jesus is cool!

The minister said the church’s goal is to reach the next generation with the “gospel of Christ.”  But what is that gospel?  It is a worthless and meaningless idea that all one has to do to be “saved” is say a few words, pull the Slap Daddy sticker of your car and replace it with “Jesus Rapper” sticker, say “Praise the Lord” a few times and drop a dime from every dollar in the plate.

Preacher VanderLeest, the youth “pastor,” said “I always thought church was dull and boring but it would have been different from the beginning.”  Different how?  Less meaning?  Less reverence?  Less respect?  Less demanding?  Bingo!  True Christianity, based upon what Jesus taught, would be far too demanding for the Jesus Jumping Rappers at First Assembly.  They might have to stop “having fun” altogether.  The sad thing is that VanderLeest can’t see how stupid all this is.

Read the article here: Church Car Giveaway

Read the letter the paper printed here: Christianity Giveaway

More comments are on an update (150409) under “Lufkin Daily News and Me” at right.

These words may sound a bit out of place or just weird coming from a non-Christian and a Buddhist.  They’ll not be as accepted as they might be if they came from a conservative Christian writer.  They’ll be ignored anyway.  Such is the reality in this country these days, pick and choose what makes you happy, what makes you feel good, what makes you rich, and go for it.  Some find happiness in parties, others in Jumping for Jesus.

Religion should not be malleable.  True Religion should be solid, consistent, unchanging.  How can a religion be valid that changes with the seasons and blows with the winds of culture?  In my lifetime I’ve seen modern Christianity move through phase after phase.  Ways to “reach the lost” are changed and adjusted.  What it means to be a “Christian” change.  Right out front is the “cutting edge” youth ministers pushing the envelope of acceptability.

Conservative Protestant Christianity as a whole should take a warning from the fate that befell Unitarianism.  In colonial days Unitarianism was a strong movement.  I could have been one easily.  I did, in fact, subscribe to colonial era beliefs before my ability to believe anything crumbled away.  Because they were a minority and trinitarians constantly fought them over doctrine their numbers waned.  They joined with the Unitarians whose beliefs were more liberal but still somewhat similar.  After the joining the new UU organization started listening to people in the group and changing things about the denomination rather than sticking with church roots.  In the end UU became what it is these days, a religious organization devoid of any religious standard.

The Dali Llama said, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.”  How can giving cars and video games away, rap music and wild concerts accomplish any of that?  It can’t.  All First Assembly’s God Giveaway does is encourage greed, selfishness, avarice, and consumerism.

The image of Buddhism is of a person sitting in meditation, seeking understanding, calm, quiet, serene.  The practice of Buddhism involves rejection of consumer goods, fancy things, and wealth.  A Buddhist has no need for fancy cars or X-Boxes for the true Buddhist recognizes how those things are mere diversions that corrupt the mind.

A person whose heart and mind might be seeking truth, might be trying to understand the great questions of this world, will not be helped but terribly hindered by First Assembly’s God Giveaway.  They’ll be shoved away the “still small voice” that speaks to the human heart that which is true and blasted with the noise of greed and selfishness.

My mom used to look at modern culture and moan, “what is this world coming to!?”

Indeed.

April 15, 2009 - Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , ,

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