Saturday, April 25, 2015

Family-Friendly Church

There is much deploring going on about the unbearable lightness of the gospel in America. Well, it's what we teach the children, certainly, so if you don't attend church after age 12 or so, you will not ever hear much else.  Children's sermons are about being nice to others, seeking to do a good work for any sad or downtrodden person, or praying when you are scared.

That is hardly a terrible thing.  We teach what can be learned, what is appropriate for their age and circumstance, and what is likely to have some reality. Though I suspect that in countries where Christians are persecuted the lessons might be different.  We don't really want to teach those lessons here, because they awaken fears of trials and dangers that are not likely to come to pass anytime soon. Most experienced adults have encountered bright children with strong imaginations who were caused unnecessary pain by sharp lessons.  Those children are particularly good at accusing the church when they grow up and leave it as adults, which puts us back on our heels even more.

Yet children encounter danger in books and movies with great pleasure. (Or do they?  Troubling images stay in the mind for years.) Perhaps we are too timid.

Not only the children.  Because at least the older children remain present at most family-friendly worship services and church events, their parents don't get exposed to much that is alarming either. It is not just that the theology is streamlined - the reality of pain and suffering in this life is politely ignored as well.

Times of public prayer offsets this somewhat.  Even if the requests focus largely on the medical, the military deployments, and the job searches and marital problems (of the extended, not nuclear family), we all get to be reminded that it's not all cakes and ale.  Small groups provide this as well.

Still, I wonder what they teach in Syrian and Indonesian Christian churches these days.


Earl Wajenberg said...

The extreme example of what they teach to churches in tough times is the book of Revelation.

Texan99 said...

My community is heavy on retirees, and the Episcopalian Church is heavy on older people, anyway. Our pastor has been here about 7 years and figured out the other day that he's performed 78 funerals. We have few other challenges, on the whole, but there are always fellow parishioners entering into the twilight of their lives--many with very serious illness.

james said...

Perhaps this is one place where the liturgical churches have an advantage. The prescribed readings aren't generally Disney-fied.

Texan99 said...

It was a little startling to attend a Baptist service with relatives a few years ago. No Communion, not a word of scripture. The sermon concerned Mother's Day and being nice to people.

I know that's not typical of all Baptist churches. The Baptists I know through my Sacred Harp singing are quite serious.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

American Baptist has some reputation of not being much stricter than UU's. Thoreau and MLK get mentioned more than Jesus. I don't know if that is true, I just know I have read that more than once.

Retriever said...

I grew up in Episcopal and Anglican churches and attended many Catholic churches with the Latin mass. I chiefly remember Scripture passages about God either as a HUGE MIGHTY FORCE about to rain down punishment on wicked principalities and powers (read: bullies in school, Bad Presidents, torturers and dictators in the Latin American countries I lived in) or as the Good Shepherd and Great Physician, Someone who loved and healed us. I was a small, anxious child, terrified by a mother's psychosis, about which we were sworn to secrecy, and also by the atom bomb raid drills in our elementary school (before we went to Latin America), and I remember the cliched blessed reassurance of a Sunday school lesson in which I heard the line about God being like a mother hen covering her chicks with her wing (to protect them from evil hawks who meant them harm). I never feared anything again. I don't ever remember being told to ACK nice. It would probably have done me good as I was a cranky kid, wrathful, quick to righteous indignation, arrogant, and wordy...I remember a kind of constant implicit message that we were to set an example of being brave, defending the helpless and weak, that we were to be like Crusaders (who were our heroes). Tho this may have come more from my reading than Sunday school. But we read a lot of things like Daniel in the lion's den (stand up for what you believe and you get to cuddle lions) etc.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Excellent. That is something I do have to hand to Christian schools, in retrospect. Be Brave often finished ahead of Be Nice. That has its own dangers, but it is a message which is ebbing away in the church at present. There is a truth-to-power bravery which has erratically changed over the decades. Whether one is being brave or not is largely defined by where one wants to have status, not by the belief per se. In the Church at present, all opinions are dangerous in some places, warmly welcomed in others. We cite the prevailing opinions of our families, our denominations, our town, our class, the nation at large, or the world at large as it suits us to declare ourselves brave.

The comfort is similarly double-edged. The evangelical churches are good at arousing fear, sometimes morbid fear. Though its comforts have often been elusive to me, I can observe them clearly in others. The Be Nice church seems to provide something different: Satisfaction.

roadgeek said...

I grew up in the Church of Christ. It was never Disney-fied. There were sermons based on Scripture, with plenty of "turn with me now to the Book of Corinthians". There were Bibles scattered on every pew, just in case you'd left yours at home. There was plenty of fire and brimstone, and heavy emphasis on the Letters to the Apostles. About once a month special attention was given to I Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. It was made abundantly clear that those who didn't worship at the Church of Christ were going straight to hell; that included Baptists, Pentecostals and Methodists. One series of sermons compared the Church of Christ interpretation of the New Testament, which was harsh indeed, to the heathens at the "denominational" churches. Our pastor spat out "denominational" like it was a dirty word. But at the end of every sermon there was always the call to come forward to be saved; this involved full-immersion baptism. There was always the promise of salvation. The Church of Christ appealed to the less-educated working class, who were the bitter clingers that Obama so disdained. And the doctrine did create an obstacle to recruitment, especially with the young, who disdained the difficult parts of the New Testament and seemed to want some sort of Christianity Lite, or a "feel-good doctrine" as our pastor called it. Joel Osteen is doing quite well for himself with a feel-good approach to God, but I doubt he's really serving the cause of Christianity as well as the battle-hardened preacher in our little congregation.