In Praise of Southern Baptists, Part One (Bet Some of You Never Thought I’d Use THAT Headline)

Cemetery and Church

Photo by Keichwa, Creative Commons

I grew up Southern Baptist, and am currently an active member in good standing of a Southern Baptist Church. And I criticize the denomination from time to time. But today I want to praise them for something they do well:

Funerals

I bet I know what you’re thinking:

  1. This is a morbid topic for the day after Christmas
  2. Aren’t Baptists the ones who always feel the need to have an invitation and altar call at funerals?
  3. Don’t liturgical denominations have more meaningful, beautiful rituals?

Maybe it is a little morbid, but it’s what I’m writing about today. 🙂

As for the altar calls, as crass as it seems sometimes, it makes sense given the strong belief in the need for a conversion experience. On the one hand, it can be offensive, but on the other hand many people grieve without hope, and may find hope and life transformation in an encounter with God.

It’s hard to fault a preacher for trying to provide an avenue to such an encounter. The methods are sometimes heavy-handed, and that’s worthy of criticism, but the motive and the action itself is good.

As for the service itself, I’m not sure. I haven’t been to that many liturgical funerals. But I’m really not talking about the “official funeral” where the preacher or other officiant says a few words and someone sings a song or two. I’m talking about the time before and after.

Baptists live by one maxim, if no other: nobody should have to cook and grieve at the same time.

Food pours in: casseroles, chicken, roasts, salads, vegetables, desserts, enough to last at least a week. And it keeps coming, so that when the first batch is eaten or gone stale, a second wave arrives.

The entire extended family is brought into the church and fed by the church members either before or after the funeral.  This gives them a collective time to grieve and visit.

Too often in our globalized, far-flung society, funerals are the only times we get the whole family together. That time needs to be spent together, not making arrangements for food.

This sounds trivial. But as someone who’s been on both sides of it, I can tell you it is not. It is a powerful part of the healing process, and one that I’ve taken for granted for a long time.

I used to think it was universal, but it has recently come to my attention that it is not. And that blew my mind. You mean other groups, other churches don’t do this? It seems so basic.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re certainly not the only ones that do this. The Jewish tradition of Shiva is similar, though perhaps less informal. Lots of other churches and groups do the same, with varying degrees of formality.

But not everyone. Not every church member in every church in the world or even America gets this kind of treatment. Not every church community pulls together and spends not only its money but its time to aid the grieving process.

And so I want to praise the denomination that takes care of its grieving so well and so consistently that I assumed everyone did it.

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Repenting in Sackcloth and Ashes, Part 1

confession booth

A large part of my world came crashing down last night. On the drive home from work, I realized that my church was a fraud. I realized that all my non-Christian friends were right when they talk about Evangelicals as immoral.

They don’t say that we’re stuffy. They don’t say we’re superstitious. They say we’re immoral.

Let that sink in, just in case you hadn’t heard it before. My non-Christian friends, for the most part, believe the Christianity is immoral, or at least that American Evangelical Christians are. And they’re not alone. Barna found that most young Americans feel the same.

They don’t think we’re stuck in the mud, old fashioned, or goodie-two shoes. They think we’re immoral. They think we hate. They think we don’t care about the poor. They think we don’t care about the violence done in our name.

And they’re right. God help me, they’re right.

It all became terribly, brutally clear last night.

And I got angry, so angry I could barely even go to church last night. But we were putting together fruit baskets for our church’s homebound (mostly elderly) and nursing-homebound, so I felt like I really needed to go.

That was definitely the right thing to do. It forced me to be civil and communicative for an hour or so, and it helped me rise above my anger.

But there is no rising above the sorrow. We – and that we includes me – I – owe a terrible apology to the world and to Jesus Himself.

This repentance will take a while. Today I begin, simply by offering an apology. In following days, I will confess what I see as the sins I am and have been a part of, the corporate sins of my denomination (Southern Baptist) and general affiliation (American Evangelical).

My goal isn’t to convince you that I’m right. And I certainly don’t feel any need to defend myself.

Ultimately, I owe this apology to God first. But for those of you who are reading this who have been hurt by various branches of American Evangelicalism, this apology is to you, too. Even if I’ve never met you, I owe you this.

Even as I now

Turn from these wrongs, I realize

My hands helped build them

My tithes funded them

My silence affirmed them

My words proclaimed them

And I am sorry. Terribly, terribly sorry.

The Danger of Being Right, Part 1

One of the worst temptations I’ve ever had to fight was the temptation of being right.  Let me explain.

 

When I’m right, when I really, truly believe I’m right, I am without doubt.

When I am without doubt, I stop asking questions.

When I stop asking questions, I start telling other people the answers.

When I start telling other people the answers, I argue with the ones that disagree with me.

When I argue with the ones that disagree with me, I really want to win the argument.

When I really want to win the argument (for Jesus!) I pull no punches.

When I pull no punches, I hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ.

 

And that’s why it’s dangerous to be right.

Chick-Fil-A day?  A great day for “freedom of speech,” but a bad day to be gay in America, and a terrible day for anyone who actually wants to bring gay people into the Church.  You want uglier examples?  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Manifest Destiny.  Guantanamo Bay.

Show me one place where Jesus or the apostles operated like this.  Well, Paul did, but back then, they called him Saul.  But one encounter on the road to Damascus changed all that.  When we’re right, and we really know it, we’ll roll over anybody who stands in our way, and we’ll do it in the name of Jesus.

Because if we’re right, and they’re not just like us, they’re wrong.  And if they’re wrong, then we have to defeat them.   And if we have to defeat them, we need to take the gloves off.  And when we take the gloves off, we hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ, whether it’s Guantanamo Bay, Chick-Fil-A, or arguing on Facebook.

Doubt is our friend.  Not doubt of Jesus’s resurrection, or God’s love and grace, but doubt of ourselves, doubt of our own rightness, our own righteousness.  After all, didn’t the prophet Isaiah say our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags?