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The Hughes Report
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Reaction to Wright and Politics in the Pulpit
Topic: Christianity

Over 20 years ago, I attended a white campmeeting in rural East Texas.  The preacher, who was from Mississippi, railed at great length against liberalism.  He actually said, "We might be legalistic, but it's better to be legalistic than liberal!"

Everybody seemed to voice their approval of this message.  I was aware, first, that the preacher was playing to the predispositions of his audience by preaching against "those people out there" who were not "right like us."  Moreover, I marveled at their ready acceptance of one extreme over another, as if there were no rational alternative.  I wanted to get up and leave, but I had left my trombone on the podium, and would have had to walk up in front of the whole church and pack it up.  Maybe I should have done so, with a flourish.  It seemed unwise at the time to do so without due consideration.

This episode made me begin to realize and recognize that pastors and congregations tend to purge out diversity -- for lack of a better term -- from their midst, by extremes of message or methodology, thereby imposing a "sameness" on the congregation.  It would seem that the saying, "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down," is not limited to Japan.

I can think of other episodes.  Once when I had relocated and was looking for a church, I tried out one whose pastor, every service, called everyone forward and told everybody to hold hands.  As a single man and a stranger, I was not comfortable with holding hands in that way, either with strange men or other men's wives or children or teenagers.  I also noticed the discomfiture of those who awkwardly stayed in their seats, and seemed stigmatized by non-participation.  I have come to regard such handholding as a mere gimmick to give the semblance of unity where there may be none.

Finally, cutting things short, I will mention that small community churches tend to become intermarried and thus increasingly closed to "outsiders," and I have suspected some pastors of trying to achieve permanence in their position by driving non-sycophants from the church.  The point is, it is good to preach a solid Gospel and have unity in the church, but having a narrow and exclusive ministry, in which favored persons are well served and others not at all, is hardly the same thing.


Posted by hughes at 12:49 PM CDT

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