Yes, Churchgoers Are Hypocrites

A lot of them, anyway!

A Facebook friend of mine shared this meme a week and a half ago and I felt compelled to point out that it’s a bit idealistic. Edit: The URL no longer works. Here is the text of the quote, attributed to Rich Mullins: “I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they’re perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning. Every time you go to church, you’re confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don’t have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability, you need some help.”

I made not one, not two, not three, but four comments. The text of each of those, slightly edited, follows.

Hopefully that’s true of many churchgoers, but I know plenty who go because it’s what’s expected of them in their community, because it’s a social event, because they’ve always gone and it’s cultural, etc. And when they’re confronted in the preaching about sins they harbor, or are reminded that ongoing confession and repentance is an essential part of growth in the Christian life, they openly chafe and oftentimes resent the preacher. The experience I’ve had in the last year and a half with churchgoers where I live–seeing the way they abuse their pastors and treat other people–has shown me that all too often the criticism responded to in this meme is valid.

Linking here because it’s A blog my sister compiled (and is still updating) about the clergy-killing our father was subject to. Some “Christians” really are hypocrites, and others–far too many–may be sincere in their faith but they don’t want to pursue the truth in events like this because if they know what happened they might have to do something about it, and that might mean calling out friends and family on wrong, even evil, behavior.

I’ve thought to myself a few times in the last few months that I’m a lot more sympathetic now, both to non-Christians who think Christians are hypocrites and to Christians who are reluctant or even outright refuse to attend church due to really bad experiences they’ve had. All because of what I’ve seen, the way people have treated and turned on my family. (And incidentally, the churchy people in this very homogeneous community have a bad reputation with people in the neighboring areas, and sometimes for good reason. I’m finding that out as I connect with other people around here post-clergy-killing.)

One more post before I stop monopolizing here: How can claiming to be a Christian, a follower of the Man who said the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another, while treating other Christians like dirt be anything BUT hypocrisy? No, going to church doesn’t make a person a hypocrite, and people of the world shouldn’t make such a judgment about all Christians. But there’s a reason the perception exists.”

My comments received no acknowledgment, whether in the form of agreement expressed in “likes” or disagreement expressed in follow-up comments. Instead I apparently prompted the friend who shared the meme to send me a private message in which he expressed condolences for the misery my family is undergoing but ended by admonishing me to love and forgive. I have a problem with his saying that under the circumstances and in the way he did, but that’s a private matter.

What isn’t private and what really irks me is how no one expressed agreement with my comments on the original meme. Not just because of my experience but also because what I said is so blatantly, obviously true.

Of course if someone used the “churchgoers are hypocrites” line on me I’d correct his thinking with words similar to those of the meme, but I would also readily and unequivocally admit that he’s right to an extent, that way too many churchgoers really are hypocrites.

I’d tell him that the conscientious churchgoers realize they need the fellowship of the saints but that many of them aren’t so conscious of their need. Those are the ones who don’t go for the right reasons and whose attendance and profession of faith often do not match the way they live and treat people.

Back to the Facebook meme. To make that point as I did very clearly and receive no acknowledgment from anyone else, and not only that but to receive a private note that has nothing to do with what I said and therefore also isn’t an acknowledgment, is not only insulting, it also makes me worry about just how self-aware some Christians are. It doesn’t help that the post received 13 likes, and some of them after I made my comments.

Like I said in my last comment, there’s a reason that the perception exists. And ignoring or not thinking about that reason, refusing to acknowledge that maybe the outside world is somewhat justified to look askance at us, isn’t going to do any good. In fact it’ll probably do harm, because if we don’t acknowledge the problem we’ve no motivation to fix it. Which makes me wonder: had some of the people who liked that post been in my previous church, would they have been able to take a stand against my father’s abusers? If they lived here and saw how the church people, elders even, are apathetic if not downright mean to people like the single woman whose house my dad and I are renting—a woman who is being undeniably harassed by a (sociopathic?) neighbor—would they take some kind of action? Or would they look the other way?

Perhaps I’m assuming too much, yes, but I don’t imagine the place I live is really that unique. The “churchgoers are hypocrites” line sure gets repeated enough and in disparate enough places!


Blast from the Past–Kind Of

This blog doesn’t have much of a past, I know. The blast in this case is a past writing of mine that predates Puritan Girl by just a few months. I’ve been thinking lately about the matter of human worth and the Christian’s standing before God, and I recalled a journal entry in which I reflected on the messianic implications of Psalm 45, eventually focusing on verses 10-15. What follows is that portion of the journal entry, dated 14 February 2015, with some edits and additions to make it more fitting for a public posting. I hope it’s helpful for someone.

Ps 45:10, 11: “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” (ESV)

The entirety of Psalm 45 was manifestly written on the occasion of a king’s wedding, but the author of Hebrews applies vv. 6 and 7 to Jesus. I accessed a handful of translations and commentaries. Some (especially in the Puritan tradition, e.g., Matthew Henry) view the whole psalm as messianic; the NKJV goes so far as to capitalize the masculine pronouns and “Lord” and “King”. Others are cautious to take it that far, preferring to focus it more in its Old Testament context. I think, however, that even people in that second group would think the points I make here are valid.

If the king in the passage is Christ, then the daughter of verse 10 must be the church, and that is exactly what those who favor the messianic interpretation contend. The body of believers is collectively referred to as the Bride of Christ or of the Lamb, whether specifically as in Rev. 19 or by implication as in Eph. 5.

Forget your people and your father’s house” is in its immediate context a command for the Bride to shift her priorities and allegiances and see herself foremost as a member of the king’s household. One might think of some of the exhortations directed at believers to the effect that they be in the world but not of it (John 17:16), that they renounce ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:12). At one time we were darkness, but now that we are “light in the Lord” we are to walk as such and have nothing further to do with “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-10). In sum, by coming to Christ one joins a new household, the household of faith, and ought to leave behind—forget—the sinful deeds and habits of his past.

It is by doing that, by striving to live in obedience to God’s will, that a believer manifests the submission called for in v. 11 of the psalm. The immediate meaning of the command (rendered “bow to” in the ESV and “honor” in the NIV) is plain enough: the new wife is to submit to her husband’s headship. Likewise the church is to submit to Christ’s rule (and if that relationship is what is in view, the KJV and NKJV rendering of “worship” is fully appropriate). The obedience called for, the purity and holiness, is the beauty this King desires.

Verses 13-15 remind me of Rev. 19:7-9: “’…for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ –for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” The church as Bride is dressed in a garment of holiness, having committed “righteous deeds” that are pleasing to the Bridegroom—again, the “beauty” He desires. Ps. 45:15 says “With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the presence of the king”, and Rev. 19:9 makes it clear that in that passage, the final union of Christ and the church is in view, and its celebration.

I said I hoped this would be helpful to someone, and I’m getting to the part I had in mind. For some people, talk about obedience and living in a way to please God can be depressing. There are those who are aware of what is expected of them as children of light, and acutely aware of how much they fall short of those expectations. They may imagine that God is always displeased with them, a displeasure that ranges from disappointment to anger. And they may feel an intense self-hatred, despairing of ever getting better. Even the things they do that might be called “good” they pick apart and find some reason to see as valueless, because they weren’t enough, or didn’t come from the right motives, or some such reason. I myself have periods where I succumb to such depression and self-condemnation.

That’s why I so appreciate this psalm, particularly verses 10, 11, and 13. The Westminster Confession defines Christians’ good works as the result of their regeneration, the Spirit’s indwelling them, and their own diligent stirring up of the Spirit within them (WCF 16.3). Those works are weak and have many imperfections, but because they arise from regenerate people with sincere motives and pass through the mediating work of Christ, they are pleasing to God (16.6). One of the scriptural supports for this is Hebrews 13:20-21. As it says in v. 21, God equips “us to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Christ Jesus.” I’m grateful for the WCF’s directing me to that verse. I’m grateful for the reassurance, to know that I really can please God, though only by His grace.

The way this connects to Ps. 45 should be somewhat obvious: the church is accepted as Bride by Christ. She is attired in the holy garment He provided. She belongs to Him and worships Him, and He actually finds her desirable, beautiful. The church and the individual sinners that make it up—including me and everyone else who has that struggle with guilt and condemnation. We’re still works in progress and the wedding feast hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not like He hates us or even loves us any less for our lingering impurity.

In May of 2014 I realized that despair at my continuing to sin was itself sinful because it expressed lack of faith in God’s ability to sanctify me. Several months later, it occurred to me that such despair also insults God because it betrays lack of appreciation for what He’s already done in me, the changes He’s already wrought in my character and heart. I ought not hate the person He has chosen to love, even if that person is my own self. Hate my sin, yes, definitely. But hate my person, who has been justified, is being sanctified, is loved by God and even pleasing, beautiful to Him—no, definitely not.

That’s what I hope is helpful. Even now, having articulated all of that, I still need to be reminded of it at times. I still have very low days, when I look at the little petty, selfish things I do, or consider how proud I am, and think, I’m such a worm, how can God love me when I can barely live with myself? But if I’m going to take Him at His word, then I have to believe He does, and for the reasons He gives—He has formed and is forming me into a thing that is more to His liking. And though my cooperation is faltering and woefully meager, Jesus completes and perfects it, makes it acceptable.

Thinking of that truth should be an effective antidote to unhealthy levels of guilt and despair. There is a place for self-examination and all too often is it neglected (antinomianism runs rampant in some “Christian” circles these days), to be sure. But there is such a thing as going too far. And those of us who do go too far at times would do well to contemplate often the Lord’s faithfulness and affection for His children. The Bride may not be pure and spotless yet, but we are still a thing of beauty to the Bridegroom. And He will see to it that we are pure when it’s time for the feast.

The Lies Just Won’t Stop!

The whole church was sent a letter by the “council” (we know for a fact it was written by another pastor who’s been in the VP’s pocket all this time). My dad and I, even though technically still members of the church, were not copied on it. But the judge and his wife showed it to us.

Below is the “letter” I wrote in reaction, which I will not send. As you may deduce, the council’s letter made some misstatements. This is just something I fired off quickly, in the heat of the moment. There’s a lot more that can be said about the factual/historical errors, exaggeration, excuse-making, outright lies, etc. in it.

Members of ________ Church,

I am writing to you out of my own indignation; these are my own words and feelings.

I would like to inform you of a view other than that expressed in the recent letter sent by the council. I will keep this short and only address a few things.

Pertaining to the matter of how urgent this was, and how it was the right decision, the pastor had to go because his “vision for ministry” was not in line with what the council thought the congregation needed: even if that were true, did it necessitate throwing him out so quickly? Could he not have stayed on a few more months, given time to pursue another call? Why does the pastor, with cancer, one leg, no family in the area, have to move in the middle of winter?

That would seem to put the lie to the idea that the council really cares all that much about him and his family, contra what they think the severance package proves. Another item that puts the lie to it is the fact that two of the deacons were in our small group, active for over three years. They, their wives, and one other couple were the closest friends I had in our congregation. Since this has happened, not one of those people, not even the wives, mothers, has stepped forward to offer any word of encouragement, concern, or compassion to us. Even if they think my dad is a bad person not deserving such sentiments, what about me?

Moreover I feel I must address the matter of the council not wanting to do this. My father was informed by two of the elders that the third [the VP] “wants you gone”. That was said to him as far back as summer.

As to the matter of the council having “a unanimous belief that this decision was right”, just last week I heard from one of those two elders that he “threw in with” the rest of the council because he was “just scared I guess”, and he feels terrible about it now. He went against his conscience. And he also said that to the man I believe, with good reason, to be the real author of the council’s letter. He even went so far as to say “I’m sick of [the VP]!” I think I’m justified in saying that whoever wrote that letter is lying.

Now, one more thing. About the “tentative plan” for an open house on the 3rd of January. Whether such a thing happens is more up to my dad and the council than it is to me, but if it were up to me, I’d say “hell no!”


The pastor’s youngest daughter

One Week From Christmas…

And I’ve just been helping my dad pack up some of the things from his study at the church building. Today’s the first day this month that it’s snowed, which brings to mind two things. One, it’s cold, cold enough for snow; and two, it’s finally starting to look just a little like how Christmas in Michigan should look.

So there I was, standing outside in the cold next to the dumpster so my dad could pass me things through the window to throw away. We’d might as well get working on this now, as we’ll have to be out of the church parsonage by the end of January if the council has its way. You see, my father is a minister in a certain denomination, and, as a local Circuit Court Judge and friend of ours put it, “[Elder’s name] and the Cabal have won”—the Vice President of the church council, who for years was actually one of my dad’s closest friends (was that all fake? At this point, I’d have to say, most likely yes) and the abusive members of the congregation have succeeded, aided and abetted by the Classis (the leadership of all the other churches in our denomination located in this area), in not only getting rid of God’s appointed shepherd but also in maligning his character.

The documentation produced to justify his removal is, frankly, libelous. The Circuit Judge, an older and lifelong member of this church, wrote a scathing rebuttal to the primary article and had it submitted to the Classis, but they weren’t interested in the truth and let said article go on the record the way it was written. Compounded with my dad’s age, health issues (cancer), and disability (he lost a leg to cancer a few years ago), the character defamation in the record made basically means: no church is going to call him. His career as a pastor in this denomination is over.

I wish I could convey well just how rapidly all of this happened, and describe how secretive and shady everything has been, the collusion between the VP and the people the denomination appointed to handle a “conflict” that really didn’t exist, how quickly the pastor was thrown out and the total shock it was to many in the congregation (the judge and his wife aren’t the only ones who have left the church over this, and apparently the VP is now blaming the other elders for the pastor’s removal because he wasn’t expecting his decision to be unpopular with some!). But I don’t want to go on too long.

Dad was presented with the termination document on November 5; its original stipulations required us to be out of the parsonage by the end of December. There had to be a special Classis meeting to approve the firing (though they’d no doubt prefer I use a more sanitized term, like “separation”), and no doubt it was the VP and friends who were pushing for it to happen NOW—first on the 18th, then the 23rd, but the Classis couldn’t make either date work, so finally it happened last week on the 8th of December. It was a travesty—the judge compared it to the Star Chamber, and not unfittingly. But one thing that was changed was the move-out date, which was pushed back to January 31st.

I suppose the council and Classis think they’re being really nice and generous. Not just in giving us one more month in the house but also in the other stipulations of the severance package (which I won’t list because that might result in it being canceled). Well, forgive me for not being very grateful.

This whole past year has been hellish for my father, and especially in the last few months. Yet despite the conflict that went on in the council room (and the cold treatment he was beginning to get from others who had been our closest friends and some of the most enthusiastic fans of his preaching—more on that later), the termination was a surprise to him, and it happened so damn fast! As my sister said on her blog, the man had been tormented for months and months and was finally unjustly fired.

It was unjust and evil, as the judge and his wife said. And there’s simply no way a nice little severance package can make it all okay, this abrupt and wicked firing of a minister of the Word of God who has done nothing wrong (even the documents produced could indicate no specific failing, just a lot of vague generalizations about how the whole congregation was suffering, was “spiritually depressed and frustrated” because of his oppressive sermons—cf. that with my earlier observation that a lot of people are upset the council did this, and some of those people have up and left).

My emotions the last month and a half have been quite the roller coaster. At any given moment I can be very angry, very sad, resigned, or maybe happy (if I’m distracted by something). I recently wondered how it was that I wasn’t as bad off as one might think I’d be, when I hadn’t been the best at availing myself of the immediate access I have to the throne of grace. The conclusion I came to was that other people must be praying for me.

But waves of anger at the injustice, the (frankly) demonic evil that occurred, still come over me with some frequency. And that happened today as we were moving things from Dad’s office. Like I said, the snow meant both “cold” and “Christmas”. And there we were. The minister had been fired in early November, with the holidays right around the corner. And he was ordered to vacate the premises the week after Christmas. Why? What was the rush? If he was “certainly accused of no moral failing” as the termination document said, why did he have to be kicked out so quickly? Fired abruptly, and given less than two months to find another place to live and move in there?

Apparently someone somewhere realized how stupid the December 31 date was and pushed it back one month, but is that really so much better? The man is single and has only his 22-year-old, can’t-drive, Aspergers daughter living with him. He lamented yesterday how incredibly hard it was moving boxes of books from his church office to the house with only one leg. We have no immediate family living nearby. I suppose my aunt and uncle probably wouldn’t be opposed to making the hour and a half long drive to help if they have to, but that’s a lot to ask. And in the winter!

It’s all so disgusting! He was “suspended” from pulpit duties a few days after Pastor Appreciation Sunday in October, then the week after that officially fired, just before Thanksgiving and the Christmas season! (Happy holidays, Reverend!) And now we have to move out in the winter. What a great time to be scrambling for a new residence (and job!), packing things up and transporting them, getting around and everything—the cold and the snow just makes it all so wonderful. The use of only one leg makes it even better. A month and a half to find someplace else to be, and that probably only a holding place for the rest of the time we get the severance package and housing allowance; then we’ll have to move again! Two moves for the one-legged, still cancer-ridden (he had an appointment at the U. of M. hospital in Ann Arbor two days ago to have the tumors on his lungs checked on), divorced (my mother ran out on him seven years ago) pastor. And did I mention we have a 20-year-old sick cat that I think will probably die as a result of the stress that will be involved with moving again? He can’t even make the 30 minute drive to the vet clinic anymore without getting so nervous he throws up on the way.

As someone else asked—What was the bloody rush? Why did this have to happen NOW, the pastor be forced out so abruptly, made to move in the middle of winter despite his disability and aloneness? Why couldn’t it have waited—the council could have said, “Your ministry here isn’t as effective anymore, it might be a good idea for you to start looking for another call” then let him go on preaching through spring. Would all the complainers really have left if they’d waited? I’m dubious.

No, the rush was because the VP wanted him out now. For a number of possible reasons—he wanted it to happen while he was still on council so he could be seen as the hero by the complainers is one. Here’s another one. He’s gone out of his way to humiliate and hurt my father throughout the last several months, by undermining him to his face and behind his back, turning our friends and supporters against him, raising his voice and making accusations against him in council meetings that he doesn’t even get a chance to respond to, and just generally being what is commonly called a church bully or “clergy killer” (there are books written about how people like this ruin pastors and destroy churches; see here, here, and here for examples). So I think he wanted us to be in this situation, to have to leave in a rush at this celebratory time of year. It’s cruel, but I don’t think it’s beneath him at this point. There are other reasons too that relate to our (and a lot of people’s, actually) conviction that the VP has a character disorder, but I won’t get into that now.

The VP was probably never my dad’s friend. Not really. He was his, our, friend for as long as it suited his purposes. Then he retired from his position as County Prosecutor. Absent someone to go after, and frustrated that my dad wasn’t doing what he told him to (that is, the pastor was following God’s leading on what and how to preach, and didn’t think it’d be right to let parishioners extort a sermon out of him because it was what they wanted to hear), he decided my dad didn’t suit his purposes anymore. So Pastor T. had to go, and fast.

That explains his behavior; but what about that of the other parishioners who we thought were our friends? He deliberately sowed discord among them, that’s what happened. The handful of couples that comprised our small group for three years, and were basically my only “IRL” friends, lost interest in it due to apathy, seemingly, and that’s when he was able to have his influence in encouraging them to find fault with the minister. All of them turned on my dad to some extent, treating him coldly, even treating me coldly. And now they’re so cold to us that:

–he can be abruptly fired

–I can send them all a letter expressing my confusion and grief about the way they’ve acted toward us and the effect it’s had on him for months

–he can be told that he has to move out over the holidays

–he can have a cancer appointment and at least two of the three couples know about it

…and we don’t hear anything from them except 1) a response to my letter by one of the wives, who was very callous and dismissive of my feelings, accused my dad of various evils and said things that were historically inaccurate to justify her behavior toward him (and I have the e-mail record to prove inaccuracy), and said other things about my brother that showed she has no idea what she’s talking about, and was just really cold, period; and 2) a visit yesterday when two of the husbands, deacons, met with Dad to sign the final version of the termination agreement. There’s been no overture, no expression of sympathy. And even if they really believe my father is the ogre he’s been made out to be (I asked in my letter when their perception of him changed; I guess no one wanted to answer that) who doesn’t deserve to be treated like a person, what about me? What have I done? It seems we’re nonentities to them. The Absalom spirit that has been energizing the VP has indeed stolen many hearts.

I have written much, much more than I thought I would. I just became so indignant thinking about us being thrown out in the cold like this by people we thought were our friends! I had to write something to vent, and I had no idea I’d go on as long as I have.

I suppose I’ll close by giving a summary statement: A little leaven leavens the whole loaf, and the VP really has had a cancerous influence on these people I used to trust. We have been betrayed and turned on, and it hurts like hell. I understand now why a similar event at our last church caused my mother to pressure Dad to resign from the ministry, and why there really are sincere, devout Christians who know they should be in church but are too afraid because of really awful and scarring experiences. So many people here have made a mess, a huge mess. Discord, pain, grief, anger—the church may not even survive it if enough of my dad’s sympathizers leave, and it can’t stand to lose a lot because it’s small already. So much ruin. The demons that dwell in this area must be having a jolly good time at the silencing of God’s Word, the decline of the church, and the persecution of the minister.

But they won’t have a good time with me. Because unlike my mother, I am not going to let this diminish my faith. I will continue to affirm God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. We are His to do with as He will, and His will is always good. And also unlike my mother, I’m not going to take the hurt I’ve been caused by all of this and let it make me bitter. Rather I hope I’m able to forgive and heal somewhat, and that the overall effect this has on my character will be positive.

God has to be training me for something.

Open Letter (pt 1?)

To the small handful of followers I have, especially those from a certain IRC channel who know me as “pegasister” and are somewhat aware of my recent experiences, the grief and trauma connected to our church and my father’s ministry–things have gotten a lot worse.


It’s no wonder that people make so much of man’s relationships with animals.  Cats, dogs, horses.  A dog is your friend, or it isn’t.  A horse trusts you, or it doesn’t.  A cat can’t be evil–it can’t betray you, it can’t disappoint you.  Animals don’t believe rumors about you.  They don’t sell their good opinion of you for an ego trip.  Once friends, they believe the best about you until you prove yourself unworthy, and some people have to prove that many times to disabuse dogs of their naive notions.

An open letter to a church:

I know many of you.  I thought I knew many of you well, and have called you friends.  3 1/2 years ago, I got married in this church.  All of you were invited to the ceremony; some of you to the reception, and most of you came.  That’s only one event of many I’ve…

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I’m making this post mainly as a means to vent some frustration and grief, and I won’t be going into detail regarding the history and problems alluded to. For those who might be interested in such, I will link to articles from another blog, the author of which is a friend of mine and has been documenting events and patterns in the church in question, and the churches in the area, for a while now.

Imagine a church– a small, country church, less than a hundred members, number of regular attenders somewhat smaller yet. The church has had problems and, perhaps, problem people for some time–several years, anyway–that have been tolerated. But over the course of the last year or so things have gotten worse. Congregants have increasingly manifested ignorance of the Word’s teachings, and of what constitutes a good sermon. Criticism of the pastor has begun to run rampant, usually spread behind his back and heard by him only second- or third-hand. Among the complaints are that his sermons lack “joy”, are “doom and gloom”, and are thus to blame for the apparently joyless atmosphere–seemingly these people are unaware of the fact that a) a proper minister of the Word preaches what he feels led by God to preach; b) rather than complaining and telling him he’s a horrible preacher (implicitly, anyway), they should search themselves and see if they are as diligent as they should be in praying that God would lead him as He wants, as he is supposed to lead them; c) that lack of perceived “joy” may have other causes–such as the judgment of God for too-long tolerated wrongdoing and even rebellion; and d) if the possibility raised in c is true, then mere cosmetic changes such as the addition of coffee to the morning worship experience, besides raising questions of what is reverent and what gives proper attention to the difference between the holy and the common, will change nothing.

It’s bad enough that these criticisms are unfounded and undermining of the pastor’s authority and potentially of his confidence as well, and in a sense dehumanizing. What’s worse is that some of them have come from people within the church that until recently might have been called good friends of his. The actions of those individuals are thus both seditious, and worthy of being considered betrayals of the pastor’s friendship and trust.

The pastor, it is true, has been pressured much lately to avoid the subject of repentance, and to preach happy, joyful messages (as the Ekklescake author has elsewhere noted, no one seems to know exactly what that would entail). But seeking God’s guidance through much prayer and, this past week, through fasting as well, felt called to preach on confession from Daniel 9. The message this morning stressed the importance of prayer to the Christian life, and the benefits of fasting as an aid to prayer. Fasting as a voluntary action was stressed, and some specific reasons one might choose to fast were listed. A main point of emphasis was the value of crying out to God in confession, not just for oneself and one’s own sins but also on the behalf of one’s nation, leaders, even church. The pastor noted how Daniel’s hope for relief from God rested not on the people’s righteousness, because they had sinned grievously, but on God’s mercy and reputation.

The pastor ended his sermon by suggesting that any who felt compelled to stay in the sanctuary following the closing hymn and pray should feel free to do so. He doesn’t normally make such a suggestion, but he felt it appropriate today in light of the subject matter of the sermon, and in light of his concern for the church’s current state and direction. One would think that since so many people in the church have detected something is wrong, that there’s no joy, etc., that some would consider the words of the message and the universal call to prayer, and stay behind–but no, out they all filed to the fellowship hall, chattering as they went. None but the pastor and his daughter remained.

Some might say I’m making too big a deal out of this. As one who has seen the declension of the church and the scapegoating and unfair, sometimes cruel treatment of its minister, I can only say that it reinforces the conviction that the congregation doesn’t think deeply of what it has heard, and truly is blind to the need to seek God diligently rather than apply little gimmicks and fixes in order to save the church they can tell is sick.

I suppose there’s cause for hope in that seeds might have been sown that God will grow in time, but I can’t help but think of how discouraging that response must have been to the pastor. Thank the Lord he has support, from his daughters and from those outside the church, because many within it seem to have abandoned him.

Sex and Consistency

Finally, something I’ve been musing about that seems worth turning into a post.

I’ve been watching a lot of the old(ish) sitcom Frasier lately. I won’t go into any detail describing the premise, just say it’s in a class by itself in terms of writing and the sophistication of its humor (that it won 37 Emmys during its eleven year run, more than any other comedy series in television history, should assure you this isn’t just my opinion). At present I’m about halfway through the third (1995-96) season. For the most part I find it to be quite hysterical; it and the 80s BBC comedy Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister may be my two favorite sitcoms.

Then there are the episodes in which sex, especially casual sex, is a major plot point. I’m not so fond of those. Throughout the first two seasons I watched them anyway for the sake of viewing the whole series (a compulsion I have when it comes to my TV viewing; maybe it has to do with my Asperger’s. I dunno), and just figured “these are the ones I’ll never watch a second time”. Then I got into season 3 and decided to heck with it, I’d just skip a few here and there. So no more watching the risqué episodes—I didn’t particularly enjoy the ones I had sat through anyway.

That’s not to say, however, that watching them was a waste of time. I had a sort of epiphany as a result. There’s an episode in the first season in which Frasier’s ex-wife, Lilith, comes to town. They talk about reconciling and even end up sleeping together that night—before deciding that was a mistake and they couldn’t possibly get back together. Then in the second season she returns to tell Frasier she’s engaged. It crossed my mind that, for all they could have had the fling they did when she was unattached, now that she has a fiancé they couldn’t do that again—the man probably would not be too thrilled if they did. My next thought was: Why should it matter that much?

Granted, the fact that Frasier and Lilith were once married and therefore had a long term committed relationship complicates things, but overall the show seems to have a “that’s just fine” take on casual sex, as evidenced by a handful of other episodes. That’s hardly surprising given current cultural norms, in which “hooking up” early in a relationship—or sometimes even before a relationship can be said to have started—is seen as acceptable and harmless. While entertainment can shape culture, it also reflects the culture that gave it birth.

So then I pondered: in our culture, sex has largely been divorced from long term commitment. That being the case, why is a couple expected to be sexually monogamous just because they’re a couple? It’s not like their previous relationships were any more serious for being sexual. Which is why, when I think about it, those who are fine with sleeping together on the first or second date can only consistently be for “open” relationships/marriages. They might see value in marriage as a sort of partnership—you marry to own a home, start a family, and join your life together with someone. But I don’t see how people can say marriage also involves monogamy while okaying casual sex during the dating period. It’s highly inconsistent.

Of course, some couples realize this, and that’s why “open marriages” exist, in various forms. Couples who “swing” apparently see it as a way of spicing up their marriage; having another sexual partner doesn’t mean one can’t be emotionally attached only to his/her spouse, after all. Then again, there’s one article I just read on the subject that suggests each spouse have more than just one other person on the side, to make sure things stay casual—because meeting regularly with just one boyfriend/girlfriend will make it easier to stray from just sex to emotional/romantic bonding. Ah, the heights of—something, I’m not sure what. Wretchedness, perhaps. All the while proclaiming that open marriages are great and can work because sex is just, after all, a bodily function, even their proponents have to admit that the activity creates a bond between the two people involved, and to prevent that, you’ve gotta switch it up frequently.

I found a number of articles claiming that swingers had happy marriages, but didn’t find much in the way of statistics. Being a Christian and subscribing to the biblical teachings on human sexuality, I rather doubt they work out so well. Then there’s the Romans 1 bit about people who reject God being blinded and turned over to their sin—that might explain the articles’ claims too, a bit.

Well, enough rambling on about that. Next in the episode queue is “Moon Dance”, the tango scene at the end of which is considered one of the show’s best moments, as I understand. I’ve actually seen that one many times but may just watch it again. Not right now, though. Think I’ll go read some Virgil–just three books left of The Aeneid. Incidentally, remember how I said the humor in Frasier can be a bit sophisticated? I was so happy when Frasier’s brother Niles made a reference to Aeneas’ tragic affair with Dido and I knew what he was talking about!