Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fear and the Religious Right: a role for liturgical practice?

BP and I were chatting on the way home from Church this morning as I told her about Bp Gene Robinson's latest article in The Daily Beast, Even After Hobby Lobby, the Religious Right is still terrified.     Bp Gene begins with a description of attending a service at the mega church of Pastor Jim Garlow, whom we know in San Diego as one of the biggest proponents of Prop H8.
I get my latte and am assured that I am welcome to take it with me to my seat in the church. I find a seat, which is plush and comfortable, and sure enough, there’s a cup holder for my coffee. 
Latte?  Really?
I am struck by the starkness of the worship space: no windows, all black, no cross or stained glass, and not a single sign that this is a place of worship. ... It’s hard to tell, really, when the service starts; it just seems to grow organically, with additional people coming onto the stage over the course of 15 minutes, everyone dressed in jeans and comfortable clothing. The sense of expectation grows minute by minute. 
....Although there is a brief prayer early on, the service seems oddly devoid of any mention of God, much less Jesus. ....  soon, the mood turns dark. In between the uplifting songs, the message is: they’re coming to get us. One by one, the speakers lay out the parameters of the siege under which Christians live, attacked by liberal and godless forces on every side. ....Every message, action and gesture seems calculated to ratchet up the anxiety of those who are listening. And then it’s over. Just like that.
Bishop Gene goes on:
I honestly don’t know how typical such a service is among evangelicals, bent on making people fearful, but if you left that service feeling hopeful, at peace with God, and eager to help the poor and needy, then you weren’t paying attention. It is no wonder to me that many conservative, Christian people are fearful, and believe that there is a war on religion (especially Christians) in this country. After all, it is drummed into them every week. ....
Within only a day or two after the Hobby Lobby ruling, prominent evangelicals called upon President Obama to declare broad religious exemptions to his upcoming executive order banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by federal contractors. Just stop and think about the image of religious people pleading for the “right” to discriminate against certain fellow citizens. What would Jesus do, indeed?!
One of the most striking things in his article is not just the fear-mongering-- we know that one of the biggest concerns expressed by Evangelicals is the idea that they will be forced to marry LGBT people.  (You know, the way Roman Catholics are forced to marry divorced people. Yeah, right.) But the description of that service, coming on a day when we enjoyed a full throated chanted service with clouds of incense and Latin anthems--it seemed completely foreign to us.

We're liturgical people, BP and I, born Roman Catholics, and now high Episcopalians.  I've never been to an evangelical church (heck, I found the Roman Catholic guitar mass a bit trying) and it sounds like it can be whatever the pastor wants it to be. Not the pattern of the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Table, not the rhythm of the first and second readings and then the Gospel, not the A-B-C triennial cycle of whose Gospel is read, not the commonality across mainline protestant and Roman Catholic churches all engaging the same verses.  Part of the appeal to me in attending Mass is that ancient liturgical rhythm and the structure it gives.  And the discipline that structure gives the preacher, too.

Formerly-evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans has with some sorrow left her evangelical roots and is worshiping with Episcopalians these days.  And that means, she is not only in a liturgical community, but one that uses the daily lectionary.  It's not up to the pastor to pick and choose a verse to preach on. Again, a discipline and a  structure.  She writes 
Suddenly, I like[d] the idea of having an “assignment,” a sort of spiritual and creative challenge that kept the focus on the text and not on me.....I discovered this whole world of online collaboration happening among clergy from Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, and Lutheran churches (and more!) all working through the same few passages in preparation for their services that week. And they weren’t just thinking about their sermons. They were joining with artists and musicians and liturgists and Sunday school teachers and writers and laypeople to think about how Luke 17:5-10 might translate into art, worship, poetry, children’s messages, even bulletin designs. (Even after the sermon was finished, I loved checking the blogs and sermon podcasts of some of my favorite pastors to see their “take” on the passage.)

And it struck me: This is exactly how the Bible is meant to be engaged—collaboratively, in community, with a diversity of people and perspectives represented.
So, the question I ask here is whether the Evangelical Protestants, by abandoning that liturgical structure, have made themselves targets for fear-mongering that blocks out the message, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.  

You know, maybe they should try preaching on that verse.


JCF said...

Great post, IT (you're my favorite High Church non-theist, y'know ;-p).

But this:

"we know that one of the biggest concerns expressed by Evangelicals is the idea that they will be forced to marry LGBT people"

I think the fear's a little more base than that---that they'll be forced to, um, "honeymoon" w/ LGBT people (and most terrifying of all, they'll LIKE it!). They don't need another megachurch...much less another SCOTUS decision. They need THERAPY!

IT said...

Here's another reflection of an Evangelical discovering liturgy:

"I found that I had developed a craving to be a part of a community that also celebrated these things - These ancient traditions that felt shockingly relevant to my modern life.

And so, rather unexpectedly, I found myself comfortably perched on three legged stool of the Episcopal tradition. "

Brian R said...

Two weeks ago I worshipped at the National Cathedral in Washington. This had been planned late last year when I began organising a 6 weeks tour of the USA. Imagine my absolute delight when I discovered +Gene Robinson was to preside and the preacher was to be a transgendered priest. Of course the readings were the same as back in my home church in New Zealand and the liturgy was very similar. I grew up in the Evangelical diocese of Sydney and the sermons could be on whatever the preacher wanted that week. I, myself as a young man, was guilty of this as I considered entering the priesthood and my rector let me loose on the evening congregation. I was told that Roman Catholic and High church Anglicans were not biblically based.
I obtained a position teaching at a Roman Catholic school and later moved to one of the few high churches in the diocese because it openly welcomed LGBT people. I discovered that what I had been taught was all lies as the preaching was based on the set readings and I was often amazed at how the preacher interwove gospel, set lessons and even psalms. Also I can now come online and find from all over the world the sermons preached on the same readings as I have that day experienced in my own church. usually their are different slants which I find very useful.

dr.primrose said...

I rarely have occasion to go to evangelical church services. When I've gone, I always know that I will miss the Eucharist. What always surprises me, however, is how much I miss hearing the Bible.

We hear the Bible by the shovel-full. It shocks me to go services at churches that are self-proclaimed "Bible centered" where there is one Bible reading of maybe two or three verses, picked solely to support whatever point the preacher intends to make is his (almost always) sermon.

Wade said...

I went to a funeral last year at a Baptist Auditorium. Nothing there to indicate it was a place of worship. The seating was very comfortable. The "Pastor" never talked much about the deceased, mostly he told us about all the people he had "saved" and he can save us visitors too. The deceased was saved because he accepted Jesus when he was 7. I suppose it's a lucrative way to do the "Religion thing" but I found it sterile and unfeeling.