Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 19th, 2014 by Joel Watts

The Irrelevancy of the “Relevant Church”

Seal of Cobb County, Georgia

Seal of Cobb County, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the choir my children are a part of participated in a service in another denomination’s church. I was expecting something of a similar sermon to our own – although it wouldn’t be nearly as good, of course. The preacher, a part-time supply, began rightly by turning to the New Testament lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary. It was John 14.1-14, a favorite portion of Scripture.

Let me first draw a sense of the surroundings. This particular church is rather old in the city, neatly situated across from the state capitol. It once, as we were told, housed over 800 congregants but today has a membership of 48, and an attendance of 25 or so. This morning, they had another local congregation, same denomination, join them. Still yet, our portion as visitors far exceeded the members in attendance.

The pastor began his sermon by referring to Randy Mickler from Mt. Bethel UMC in George, a megachurch (5200 members). Most recently, Mickler made the national news by suggesting he would remove the Boy Scouts from his church if they went forward with the change to allow gay scouts and leaders. His reasoning?

“I’ve had two counts where the scoutmaster molested a Boy Scout and the trauma that kid goes through is deplorable. I’m not saying that all homosexuals would do that, but at the same time, they were homosexuals,” Mickler said. 

He is adamantly opposed to “the gay-lifestyle” even to the point of breaking the Book of Discipline and has no issue breaking U.S. tax laws either (note, this is an opinion of mine. The IRS has yet to prosecute churches for such. They should, but they do not). This was not the story we were told.

Indeed, we were told of the gallant minister, a “Methodist — you’ve might of heard of ’em,” who defended the Church from irrelevancy. What happened? In the small town, a baccalaureate service was to be held. As this pastor said, everyone was invited to give an opening prayer — the Jew, the Buddhist, the Muslim, even the Wiccan. But, they refused to allow a Christian to speak. They wanted the crosses covered up. They wanted, by God!, the name of Jesus Christ stripped away and buried in the mud as ALL Liberals really desire! But, he stood firm, we are assured. Yes, this man suggested the graduation service move and move it did! “And, as you might expect, it became another circus.”

Except, that’s not really what happened. What really happened is that in Cobb County, Georgia, home of previous anti-semitic outbursts, a Rabbi was asked to give a talk at the graduation service that was to be held at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church. Mickler was incensed. He said,  “To have a person who is a non-believer of Christ is, in a sense, dishonoring Christ.” Thus, he refused. He had the final word as all acknowledge. The parental committee organizing the graduation relents and disinvited the Rabbi. Mickler himself grew the myth of the persecuted Methodist pastor and the hidden name of Jesus. There were and are students today disputing Mickler’s “Buddist, Jew,…etc” claim, the very line the pastor before me used.

Mickler and the pastor before me wants to make the church relevant by any means necessary. The pastor before me suggest that the reason for the great decline of his congregation is because they refused to preach Christ. He ignores the changing demographics of Charleston, the lack of parking, the visual structure, and his own style. He ignores a great many things. What he doesn’t ignore, he either makes up or doesn’t fact check. In the search for relevancy, he has become irrelevant.

I believe in the message of John 14.1–14. I believe that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. Likewise, I have no issue if others belief differently. I want people to believe in something (even if it is non-belief, philosophy, science, or spaghetti monsters). It is demanded. Otherwise, we grow apathetic as a society and will waste away, or be conquered. Nevertheless, I have no need to make up persecutions and oppressions. I have no need to be offended if someone disagrees with me. Rather, I enjoy it. We live in an increasingly pluralistic society. If the Church desires to remain relevant, it must not force its way in by creating monsters.

It was not my “liberalness” that was offended with yesterdays rant-disguised-as-sermon, it was my Christianity.

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

7 Responses to “The Irrelevancy of the “Relevant Church””
  1. I guess I have a problem with the whole lying thing.

    Wasn’t there something in the Bible about not bearing false witness? I seem to remember that being a thing … I mean, not like God would carve it into a rock or THAT big a deal, but kind of a thing …

    I guess not. Never mind.

  2. Know More Than I Should says

    In my experience, preachers have never let a few details stand in the way of a good story.

  3. We had the same scripture in church this Sunday. Although no politics, no controversy.

  4. How can this be “relevant”? This is a 13-year old story, told as if it happened yesterday.

    As a Jew, I’m puzzled when Christians seek to portray themselves as the persecuted minority. From my perspective, y’all are doing all right. There’s a branch office everywhere I go. If this is the best and most current example of local persecution this pastor could manage to come up with, then y’all are doing better than all right.

    • AGREED!

      I find it ironic that in the middle of a particular area given to Jewish persecution, a Christian pastor would claim persecution because of a Jewish rabbi.

      • Know More Than I Should says

        The story of “a Christian pastor [claiming] persecution because of a Jewish Rabbi” is little more than a rehash of white settlers moving West, often in violation of previously signed treaties with Native Americans (treated as separate nations in The Constitution of the United States), and having to fight off supposedly unprovoked attacks by wild savages.

        Claiming to be victims of persecution, while being the aggressors, is a classic white Christian tactic. It is often a constituent of United States foreign policy – as was the case with military incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. Until recently, it worked quite well in America because the vast majority of the population in the United States consisted of ethnocentric nominally Christian whites.

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