A little more than 20 years ago when I was living on Chicago’s South Side, I became deeply involved with a fundamentalist Christian church. I’ll admit up front that the only reason I even bothered visiting in the first place was because of a woman I was dating at the time. Actually she was kind of my fiancee, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that leaving that woman and leaving that church were two of the smartest moves I ever made.
Her name was Barbara. Her ex-brother-in-law, a guy named Bear, had been working on her for years to get her saved because he was convinced (with good reason) that she was a bit out of control. Barbara finally figured, “What the hell?” She went to visit this Pentecostal church that Bear said was quite the bomb (as far as churches go). I didn’t give it much thought, and on that one wintry Sunday morning Barbara more or less assured me that this wasn’t about anything except getting Bear off her back so she could live her life without this guy constantly telling her she was on her way to hell. By the way, Bear said, a good step away from hell would be to dump me and reconcile with his alcoholic, abusive, ignorant-assed fool of a brother. After all, a wife (now ex-wife) should always love and honor her husband, Bear said, noting that he was only passing along what the good book said.
Barbara was fond of Bear, who was nice enough in his own way, so she overlooked his pushiness and decided this once to indulge him. He had come through for her any number of times when Bear’s brother Horace — Barbara’s ex-husband — was on one of his alcohol-fueled tangents. She figured what could it hurt to see what was up with this church thing, right? Make the guy happy. Not that there was a chance in hell she was getting saved.
Barbara was supposed to show up at my place several hours later, but she never made it. She called instead saying that she had been saved and then some, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, she was afraid she’d jeopardize her salvation if she came back to my worldly crib because, well, who knew what might happen? Matter of fact, it pained her to say that we probably couldn’t see each other again unless … well … unless I got saved, sanctified, etc. You gotta be kidding me, I said. Nope. Not kidding at all, she replied. She was with Jesus now, and I should be too. Then I could feel as wonderful as she did.
OK. Deal. I’ll give it a shot.
Actually the deal didn’t go down quite that smoothly, but the long and short of it is that I eventually showed up at the church. Hallelujah. I got saved. Had to go through an exorcism first, you know, to get rid of those demons of lust and whatever else they said the devil had planted inside of me, but it was all good in the end. Joy all around. Pastor’s happy. Congregation shouting and dancing. Barbara’s crying. Yeah, it was great.
I began attending church twice a day on Sunday and a couple of times during the week. We had overnight prayer shut-ins. I was loving it, and I was hooked. I felt so much better. I had new friends. So many people cared about me.
So it didn’t seem the least bit strange when one Sunday the pastor told us that Jesus didn’t even want us to think. He just wanted us to be open to his will and let him direct our each and every step. Not one move without Jesus. He’ll guide you.
“But that’s too deep for you right now,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping in volume.
The place went nuts. All you could hear were shouts of “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” We were all so thrilled to hear that Jesus didn’t want us to think for ourselves that we didn’t even stop to think of what that meant because, after all, we weren’t supposed to be thinking. Jesus would do our thinking now.
It was more than two years before I left the woman, the church and Chicago behind, and another two years before I managed to undo the knots in my brain. Putting hundreds of miles — and months of free-thinking — between myself and that fundamentalist thing had a lot to do with getting back into my right mind. Becoming a cynical, critical, judgmental, hedonistic journalist probably helped too.
OK, maybe that’s going too far. For the record, I still believe in God. Jesus too. But I do my own thinking (for better or worse); as my mother always says, “That’s why God gave you a brain, son.” Also for the record, there were some wonderful people in that church, and in other fundamentalist churches I have attended — and belonged to — over the years. One of my cousins is a longtime fundamentalist minister. I’m not attacking all Christian fundamentalists, even though I seriously question their version of Christianity.
I do have a serious problem when this rigid mentality dictates how the rest of us live our lives — and even how other Christian denominations and other religions are permitted to spread their messages. Which brings us to NBC and CBS’s controversial refusal to broadcast a United Church of Christ ad that essentially says everyone is welcome and no one is turned away. The ad shows two burly bouncer-types standing guard in front of a church, picking and choosing who can and can’t enter. Among those getting the thumbs-down is a gay couple. That was too deep for NBC and CBS (though surprisingly not for Fox) so the same networks that regularly run ads featuring natural male enhancement and that initially saw no problem with a Super Bowl ad earlier this year showing a horse farting in someone’s face just can’t quite stomach the concept of a truly loving God who doesn’t require that your credentials be checked at the door of his church, as if it is some sort of exclusive nightclub.
A CBS official said, “Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact that the executive branch has recently proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast.”
Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research, who is also in charge of broadcast standards, said the spot “violated a longstanding policy of NBC, which is that we don’t permit commercials to deal with issues of public controversy.
“The problem is not that it depicted gays, but that it suggested clearly that there are churches that don’t permit a variety of individuals to participate. If they would make it just a positive message, ‘We’re all-inclusive,’ we’d have no problem with that spot.”
No. The problem is that the newly energized and politicized Christian right has CBS and NBC by the balls. What’s really eerie is that the two networks fell in line and axed the ad before there had even been any type of protest lodged against it. The execs knew their orders without even having to be told. It was as if they didn’t even have to think …Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to [email protected]