Clash with a social conservative at church

Mike GristLife 6 Comments

The church I go to seems to never have the vicar himself preach- but rather a ‘lay’ preacher from the congregation, who gets up there and gives us what for. Our favorite lecture (sermon?) is still the first one we attended, where ‘meekness’ was contrasted with ‘weakness’ as the prerequisite for getting into heaven.

Then there was yesterday, and the social conservative who got up to speak the good word. He started off well, with a joke, then got in talking about the persecution of Christians (by way of Daniel in the lion’s den). I’m aware of this riff from following American politics, where the religious right are often concerned that Christmas is under assault, gays getting married are assaulting their freedoms, and similar.

I’d never heard any of it being said in the UK before though- and the last place I expected to hear it was in church.

The lay preacher started a bit odd, then got odder, then bordered offensive:

  • Women who go to fertility clinics and get pregnant without any involvement of a man are wrong. (I started muttering disagreement at this point.)
  • Halloween is sinful and celebrating it, according to a study done by the Vatican’s exorcism specialists, increases the incidence of depression and suicide in young children. (At this point I was chuckling. While ridiculous, it didn’t seem very harmful.)
  • Christians are persecuted by ISIL. (OK, can’t argue with that.)
  • Muslims wanting to build a mega-mosque near us, that can hold half a million Muslims at once, maybe shouldn’t be allowed? He wasn’t too clear here with why this wrong, but there was a very clear impression that this was not-our-sort-of-thing. (About this I was nonplussed. I think he’d love it if Christians were rallying to build a new church half a million in capacity, but unfortunately the enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be there…)
  • Finally he gets onto the gays. A baker was put out of business for refusing to make a gay wedding cake, in accordance with his/her religion. The lay preacher said this was persecution of Christians. He made the analogy, would it be OK if he went into a Jewish butcher and demanded pork? No. It’s the same thing, he says. Call this THE ARGUMENT 1. (I started mumbling stronger dissent here, and was conflicted about standing up to offer a counter-argument).
  • Finally he rounds out by saying he’ll probably get in trouble with the bishop for saying all this, despite the fact that he has a gay cousin, went to a gay friend’s funeral, and once sponsored a black preacher to speak at the church. This is the ‘some of my best friends are black/gay defense’.

By the end I was pretty angry, and couldn’t get into singing hymns or even saying The Lord’s Prayer- which I like. I started turning over in my head if I’d done the wrong thing by letting these words from the pulpit go unanswered- but it was hardly protocol to stand up and debate in the middle of a sermon.

On the other hand, neither was it protocol, surely, to espouse social conservative viewpoints from the pulpit. He was breaking a covenant and overstepping his authority.

So I fumed. I thought about THE ARGUMENT 1 and came to the reason why his Jewish butcher scenario is not a fair analogy. It’s simply this:

Jewish butchers do not sell pork. They don’t sell it to anyone. End of story.

Whereas bakers do sell cakes. For it to be a true analogy, let’s say I’m not Jewish and I go to a Jewish butcher and I ask for a nice shoulder of lamb, but they don’t give it to me because I’m a gentile. That is the same thing. That is discrimination that should be illegal. It shouldn’t matter what I am. Everyone has a right to some delicious roast lamb, if they want it. You can’t turn me away based on my religion or sexuality.

Therefore, it is not persecution to redress this balance. The persecution was being conducted first of all by the offending baker. They were persecuting the gays, trying to push their religious beliefs into the public domain.

True persecution would have been the government going to this religious baker’s home and telling him to bake gay cakes for his family, or telling him he had to recant his beliefs, or eat gay wedding cake all day, or even become gay himself.

None of that happened. The baker’s life was his/her own. The business however, in the public domain, must conform to the mores of modern society.

BUT- I also heard this case was possibly less about the gay cake, and more about a gay slogan. It is entirely possible the gays were activists who tried to force the baker to write a slogan like:

We should all be massive gays!

On the cake. I think the baker is within his/her rights to not write this. You can’t force speech. A cake, fine. The names of two gay guys on the cake, fine, grit your teeth and do it. But if you want a pro-gay slogan, you can’t expect someone anti-gay to write that for you with their own hand. It isn’t fair.

But- if the baker was a printers, I think they’d have to print a poster with that slogan. The printer doesn’t have to type it by hand, it’s all data now. Run it through the machines. And yet, there are things you couldn’t force them to print, surely. For example, they could surely say:

No, I’m not printing this SS regalia.

There are limits. There are reasonable things we can expect and can’t expect. It is not a crime that these boundaries, or mores, might shift. They needn’t be absolute. We’re all striving toward a more perfect society, and we should be. That’s evolution.

So I stewed. After church, I went to talk to the lay preacher directly.

“I’m not too happy about your lecture,” I tell him. “It’s plain you’re a social conservative. I’m not. But I have no problem with your beliefs. I don’t seek to argue with you about them. But I don’t think the pulpit is the place for them, when there is no possibility of counter-argument, and you’ve got the authority of the church behind you.”

He took it very well. He said he had expected this, and maybe the vicar would take him off the preaching circuit for saying it. He said these were his beliefs and he was trying to express them honestly. He complimented me on my courage for coming up to speak to him.

“I understand,” I said, “but can you see it from my point of view? I have a different idea of what Christianity is. But when you stand up there and inject politics I don’t agree with, saying ‘this is what Christianity is’, when you’re in the pulpit with the weight of the church behind you,? it makes me and others like me feel excluded. You mentioned how you were glad the church was growing, but part of that growth is me starting to come here. Do you want to exclude me?”

Credit to him, the gentleman apologized for any offense caused. I suggested maybe next week on Sunday some counterpoint might be added. Not even an apology, but an admission that his view was not the only view.

It was very cordial. It was also I suspect fairly obvious to everyone in the church that we were having a heated discussion in the vestibule. I wonder what will come of it? It’s mostly old people in our congregation, so maybe they fall in line with him? Of course age is not an accurate predictor of such things.

One lady came out as we were finishing and shook his hand and said, “That was a wonderful sermon, it’s about somebody stepped up and told the truth.”

“She’s one of yours,” I said, then headed off.

Ah, well. Afterward I began to feel that perhaps I had been the bully? The Political Correctness bully, stepping my boot down on the neck of feeble Christians just trying to be mildly intolerant. Hmm. Off the pulpit it didn’t bother me. I could get along very well with this gentleman, I believe, in normal life.

Just not from the pulpit, with the weight of Jesus, God and all the host of angels at his back.


Comments 6

  1. You were definitely within your rights to object. The Church/Temple/Mosque/Synagogue or whatever is not the place for politics. It should be led in a ‘what would Jesus do?’ way. Jesus came to save all of humanity – not whites, men, heteros and so on. To preach an exclusive rather than inclusive view is to narrow the Godhead

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      Cheers Ailz- I was thinking just the same thing about Jesus. In the highly unlikely event that the church was to ask me to preach something, by way of rebalancing the scales as I suggested- I was wondering what I would want to say. Something celebrating a gay lifestyle?

      No, because why? Jesus probably would do that, but I’m not looking to put people’s hackles up, just try and have them massage their hackles down. Just get along, and remember Jesus loved everybody- probably even those who ‘practised’ Halloween.

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  2. Well argued, Mike. What an uncomfortable lecture to sit through. It would also have made me angry, using church space and time to spout views.
    Jenny x

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      Thanks Jenny. I know from his perspective, he was doing a brave thing and standing up for his belief that Christians are being persecuted, which is the sort of thing Jesus might do. But then he’s blind to the persecuting those Christians were doing first, so it’s a very selective kind of righteousness, I feel.

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