Christian Ethics and Issues

Church Ambush

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Target Audience: Christians, Conservatives, Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

In this post I will discuss:

  1. My Experience
  2. The Seismic Shift Caused by the Moral Majority
  3. The Danger of Dogmatism
  4. Elitism
  5. Conclusion

Intro

The original title of a Facebook post I wrote a number of years ago was Baptist Ambush. I wrote the article, posted it on Facebook, then got an angry call from the lead pastor of the Baptist church I had just left. Cowering under the withering telephone attack by this pastor, who was demanding that I attend a meeting with him and two of his deacons, I wrote the article, posted it on Facebook, then deleted it when the pastor objected. After I had deleted the article, a number of people told me that I should have left the article in place. Once you delete something from Facebook, it is gone forever. I could not recover the post. At this point, I am somewhat blessed by having few followers, but even if I had hundreds or thousands, I would write this article and post it because I believe that, while ambushes are prevalent in Baptist churches, they are by no means exclusive to them.

My Experience

I have been to two ambushes, both of them Baptist. The first one was when I was a student at a backwards Baptist seminary in Henderson, Texas. One morning the president of the seminary called me into his office. Things had not been going well for me. I had slid into depression and my behavior was, even at the best of times, unpredictable, erratic, and irrational. This was a very small seminary in the American South in the early 80s. Colored drinking fountains had disappeared, but I believe there still was a white Dairy Queen and a black Dairy Queen. Anyway, I walked into the office that morning and the president, along with his “dean” confronted me about my behavior. They had every reason to expel me. I was not conducting myself in a manner that was consistent with a Baptist seminary. Instead of compassion and comfort, they told me I had until noon that day to pack up and be on the road back to Canada.

The second ambush was in a conservative Baptist church in Toronto. Once again, I was battling depression, anxiety, anger, frustration and probably a number of other issues. The pastor called me into his office. When I got there, he had two of his crustiest deacons waiting for me. The meeting didn’t go well, but I was trapped. After that experience, I vowed never to be trapped again in an ambush.

The Seismic Shift Caused by the Moral Majority

Evangelical Christianity experienced a seismic shift in the 1980s with the advent of the late Rev Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority (the Majority). Churches, such as the Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and other mainstream churches saw a massive exodus as parishioners fled to evangelical churches where they found definitive answers to moral questions such as abortion, homosexuality, and virtually any other moral or ethical issue that concerned them. In their eyes, the Majority was plugged into God, and as such, spoke for Him.

The Moral Majority, as many opponents pointed out, was neither. Falwell’s objective was to forge a coalition of Christians across the United States as a political force to influence elections and legislation that would be consistent with the declared ideological and moral beliefs of their concept of Christianity.

One of the most significant problems was that it excluded the majority of voters in the United States. It grew in strength and a number of conservative politicians, whether genuine or people who just realized which way was the wind was blowing and played into it, were elected and legislation was passed that satisfied conservatives. As the movement grew in number and power, a smug arrogance began to emerge among evangelical Christians who were the true believers in the Moral Majority. They believed they were right and everyone else kind of missed the boat.

While I attended churches who were sympathetic to Falwell and the Majority in the 80s, I never considered myself aligned with the Majority. I am a liberal politically and just could not swallow their entire agenda, and as I remember it, you were either in or out, but you couldn’t subscribe to some of it. Their world was one of extremes. Things were either right or wrong, moral or immoral. Even if the Bible was silent, the Majority could have definitive beliefs. Is smoking a sin? It is never mentioned in the Bible, but the Apostle Paul says the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and smoking is bad for the temple, therefore it is wrong. Drinking alcohol was also sinful according to the Majority. Virtually anything sexual was sinful unless it was within the confines of marriage and even then between one man and one woman who were married. Everything else was sinful. The boundaries were clear and very narrow.

The Danger of Dogmatism

We all like to be right. I mean, who doesn’t like to be right or feel like they are right? Most people like to feel they are aligned with the right political party, married to the right person, that their sexuality is the right one, and most people like to feel that the church they attend pretty much have it right when it comes to God. Being wrong is uncomfortable. Putting a shoe on the wrong foot is uncomfortable. Wearing the wrong size clothing is often uncomfortable. Getting directions wrong is also something that is not all that popular. Most of us like to believe that our beliefs are right, whatever they may be.

In the 1980s the seismic shift experienced by evangelical Christianity created this perception that people who identified with evangelical churches were now “right” not only in the way they saw God, but in everything else. This narrow-minded dogmatism, this sense of always being right, of elitism, and exclusivity, which I found to be prevalent in the 1980s, was the fertile soil of church ambushes.

Elitism

After I graduated from university I was a devout elitist. Never before had I been part of a recognized elite group of people. When I went to York University in Toronto, about 11% of the population had been to or graduated from university. At least, that was the statistic that I heard. I have to admit, it felt really good to be part of an elite group of people. It was a huge ego buzz for someone, like me, who had struggled most of my life with self-esteem and “finding” myself and my niche in the labor force. FYI, I do not have an ego wall.

While elitism is a definite ego boost or ego buzz, it has no place in the body of Christ. If anyone had a right to be elitist it was Jesus, and He washed his disciple’s feet. If the Son of God shuns elitism, I am not entirely sure why some Christians feel it is appropriate for them to embrace.

Old wisdom is that you can use the Bible to prove just about anything. I am not entirely sure where the Majority got their ideas about elitism, but they definitely advanced the notion that they were a cut above all those who did not subscribe to their agenda. I am not sure if there are remnants of the Majority lingering about in some dark places in churches today. They are definitely not the political force they were in the 1980s, but the impact they had on the psyche of evangelical Christianity has been felt ever since they exploded onto the American scene some 42 years ago. It was a heady time for so many evangelical Christians. After decades, perhaps centuries, of living in the shadows of liberals and liberalism, they felt they had finally seen some political and moral light.

Conclusion

It has been almost forty years since the first ambush in Texas, but the trauma that I experienced has never died. Often we just don’t know the long term impact we have on others when we flex our ideological/theological muscles. I live in a much different era now. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I know there are still dogmatic churches out there that bully people who do not fall in line with their worldview.

Comments

How did you feel reading this post? Do you agree with my assessment of church ambushes? Have you experienced a church ambush, or do you know someone who has? Have you been a part of one? What do you think constitutes a church ambush as opposed to an attempt to resolve a conflict with perhaps the pastor and other church leaders being present? When does an attempt to resolve a conflict become an ambush?

Your comments help connect us to the larger blogosphere community. They also help me develop this blog, and help develop me as a writer. Please share your thoughts. Thank you.

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