July 25, 2014

Disgust Psychology in the Church

angryface

Yesterday, we were talking about Richard Beck’s book, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality. In the comments I promised I would give some real-life instances of how I’ve seen the “psychology of disgust” play out in Christian communities.

Let me reset the theme by quoting something Beck writes early in the book:

Unclean-CoverI was often told that I should “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Theologically, to my young mind (and, apparently, to the adults who shared it with me), this formulation seemed clear and straightforward. However, psychologically speaking, this recommendation was extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to put into practice. As any self-reflective person knows, empathy and moral outrage tend to function at cross-purposes. In fact, some religious communities resist empathy, as any softness toward or solidarity with “sinners” attenuates the moral fury the group can muster. Conversely, it is extraordinarily difficult to “love the sinner”—to respond to people tenderly, empathically, and mercifully—when you are full of moral anger over their behavior. Consider how many churches react to the homosexual community or to young women considering an abortion. How well do churches manage the balance between outrage and empathy in those cases? In short, theological or spiritual recommendations aimed at reconciling the competing demands of mercy and sacrifice might be psychological nonstarters. Spiritual formation efforts, while perfectly fine from a theological perspective, can flounder because the directives offered are psychologically naïve, incoherent, or impossible to put into practice.

Here are five real examples from my own experience of how Christian people commonly let “sacrifice” triumph over “mercy” — how, as Richard Beck puts it, “empathy and moral outrage tend to function at cross-purposes,” and how we often let our aversion to sin and/or the perceived “uncleanness” of our neighbors control the game when it comes to relating to them. Since these things happened in congregations in which I was involved, I know that the people described here have been taught well and understand that believers are called to “hate sin but love the sinner.” But deeper impulses are keeping them from practicing love and participating in missional living.

These are simple illustrations from everyday church experiences, not dramatic headlines from the media about hot-button issues. These events happened in good, solid evangelical congregations. I don’t doubt that situations like these are replayed daily in thousands of similar churches across the U.S.

I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about them.

* * *

Five examples of the psychology of disgust (as discussed by Beck) in church situations:

1. Parents pull their children from the children’s and youth programs in a church. The leaders are trying to reach out to more un-churched families and these parents don’t want their own kids influenced by the outsiders’ children.

2. A small church is interviewing candidates for its pastor position. One of the most qualified and likeable candidates used to lead a ministry that reached out to gay students at a university in another town. Several church elders reject him out of hand and refuse to consider him because they say he might attract gays to the church and they don’t want the families of the church exposed to them.

3. A crisis pregnancy center that was started by a local congregation asks for people to take an interest in young, needy women as part of a new program they are starting. Though church members support the ministry financially, no one agrees to become a mentor or have the women and their children to their homes regularly. The director tells the pastor that this has been an ongoing problem for the ministry. People will give dollars but won’t get personally involved. She’s even been told many would prefer the women find another church to attend.

4. Several families approach their pastor and tell him they are leaving the church because the new families the church is attracting are from a part of town that is of a lower socio-economic level and they don’t like mixing with them or having their children around theirs. They don’t feel at home in the congregation anymore.

5. The elder who directs a large church’s sports ministry is interviewed and asked why the church started the program and built their large, impressive facility. He tells the paper that when his child was in a community sports league, the coach yelled at the team and his boy was exposed to behavior and language he thought was unacceptable. He wanted to start a program in which no children or families would have to endure that.

Comments

  1. Don’t forget the Christian school founded to shelter our good Christian kids from the cold, cruel world. (Or the homeschooling parents who pulled their kids from public schools for that very reason.)

    I butt heads with this thinking from time to time.

    I’m reminded of when a bunch of church ladies came up to me one Sunday morning because a homeless man was eating from our fellowship table. I already knew about it: I was the one who had greeted him, then pointed him to the table and told him to help himself. Their worries were entirely based on how he looked, and what he might smell like. Mine were based on whether their lousy attitudes would drive him away from the chance to hear about Jesus’s love. And who knows?—maybe see it in action. Maybe. Wasn’t boding well.

    It’s hard for me to love those fellow Christians of mine sometimes. ‘Cause of the very same moral anger thingy. Notice all the Christians who are ditching the evangelical church because of the World Vision debacle.

    • I was going to respond below but after reading your comments on homeschooling/Christian schooling I thought my response would better fit here.

      In 50 years of church attendance I have personally observed #1 and #5 from the list above so I have doubts as to the widespread nature of this problem of disgust. Or maybe I’ve just been blessed in the churches I have been a part of, that is a possibility since I choose carefully.

      And as far as #5 goes; I don’t think it should be included as an example of disgust and my feelings are the same concerning your comments about Homeschooling and Christian schooling. Children are not made with a cookie cutter. Each unique child has different needs and is ready for things at different ages. What one child can handle (i.e. a coach yelling and swearing at them) may be emotionally crushing to another child of the same age. That is why I don’t think it is warranted to criticize churches for giving parents options. Maybe for some it is part of a retreat mentality but for us (and other Christian families I know) it is about knowing what is best for our kids. Of my three children one started out in public school and graduated from a charter school, one started out in homeschool and graduated from a charter school, the last started out in homeschool and is now attending public high school. Each child is different and it is irresponsible parenting to treat them all the same or just toss them into a system.

      • I agree with you and one should not generalize. However I can assure you that the person being interviewed was quite clear about his intent. He didn’t want Christian families to have to mix with the unwashed, at least not in a setting he couldn’t control.

      • I agree, too. Let us not be quick to judge the reasons why parents choose to home school or place their kids in private schools. Even within a public school there are levels of segregation based on ability but which in the end boil down to socio-economic status as a leading predictor of who gets placed where and the student’s current and future success.

        • Some of us are not necessarily “quick” to judge. Some of us were pulled from public schools, and we know the reasons why quite well, thank you.

          • Perhaps you are taking this too personal, not that I blame for that. But the truth is that there is a tendency to paint folks with a broad brush stroke.

            Speaking of taking this personal, it’s personal for me, too. I home schooled all three of my kids from the start and I have had to deal with people who to this day question my motives for doing so.

            And yes, they are “quick to judge.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            But there’s a lot of Crazy in the Homeschooling Movement, especially in the Christianese end of the pool. From “Seal them away from the Big Bad World” to Quiverfull breeding programs with Homecshool as Culture War Boot Camp to Homeschooling as a Religion in itself. Just check out websites like “Homeschoolers Anonymous”, and some of the spiritual abuse blogs.

          • Seriously, there’s a lot of crazies in the world–home schooled, public schooled, private schooled, tutor schooled, whatever schooled.

            Please show me some data where it clearly states that home schooled kids are crazier, more likely to commit crime, more likely to be wife beaters, abusers, tyrants, fly wing pullers, …, whatever malady you want to describe–and you will not find it. The best you will find is that they are more likely to succeed academically. Other than that, home school parents & kids are just as much sinners as anyone else.

            Again, can we PLEASE stop picking on a particular group of people simply because they don’t fit the expected norm. Is the only good home schooler a post evangelical one? What good can possibly come out of any of this?

          • Well said Calvin. You can find crazy people anywhere. But much of the public school Christian community appears to have a particular antipathy for home school families. They do use the proverbial “broad brush” to condemn all involved.

          • Thank you, Seneca. At my church we have several home schooling families, albeit only a fraction of what it used to be several years ago. Most of our kids now attend public school. Over the years we have actively promoted a culture of freedom with regards to schooling (among many other things). In effect, parents choose whatever they deem best for their kids and everyone else accepts it–and minds their own business. That’s it, no criticism, no pressure.

          • The truth is, Cal, that within the pale of homeschooling in the US, there are a large number of conservative evangelicals/fundamentalists who do so for isolationist reasons. I don’t need a study to prove this, I’ve been there, seen it, and lived it. It’s not painting with a broad brush to say that it’s out there, nobody is saying that all homeschoolers are like that. If it is completely foreign to your experience, I’m quite glad for you. I can think of a ton of good reasons to not make use of the public education system. But the psychology of disgust is a double sided sword. It sounds like you have experienced it a little in the way that people have reacted to your decision to homeschool.

          • Miguel, you are absolutely right that “he psychology of disgust is a double sided sword,” and I have most definitely experienced the other edge of the sword. This is why it’s best to let people be free to to choose what they want in this respect and to be positive towards them with regards their decision.

            There is much wisdom in Romans 14 in this respect.

        • We started attended a church via an invite from a neighbor. Joined their small group also. Why not. Our kids were the same ages but my wife an I had 10 years on most of them due to getting married in our 30s.

          We left this group within a year. Stayed with the church but this group left after a couple of years. They were all afraid of exposing their kids to the public schools. Terrified. All went into home schooling due to this. We were rapidly looked on as “odd” as we were not on board with this approach to life.

          To be honest these folks would have preferred to live in an enclave of like minded and only go out when needed.

      • Speaking of “quick to judge”… Yes, I know there are plenty of valid reasons why people homeschool. I’m singling out the one invalid reason.

        Yes, I understand parents who want their kids in a safer environment. Only a lousy parent wouldn’t. But “Christian” is never meant to mean “safe,” as Narnia fans well know. Our duties as Christians are to go into the dark places and bring light, not pull the light out of the dark places and leave them darker.

        • Leslie – You keep touching on all my hot button issues today ;) I don’t want to keep disagreeing with you but, of all the reasons to send a child to public school, sending them to bring light to a dark place is, IMHO, the worst one. Bringing light to dark places is a job primarily for those with the age and wisdom to bear the burden of it. I’m not for sending my daughters on some Children’s Crusade lest they end up like those poor kids back in 1212. Let Christian teachers bring the light there. My daughters who attended public school did so only because we agreed it would be best for their growth and formation. And now that they are strong, well adjusted adults, they can make their decisions about where and how they want to bring light and engage their world.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I don’t want to keep disagreeing with you but, of all the reasons to send a child to public school, sending them to bring light to a dark place is, IMHO, the worst one.

            At worst, it’s sending them out as nothing more than living Weapons in the Culture War.

          • @TPD, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.
            Young plants get greenhouses, but our young children have to ‘get out there in the world’ straight away to learn stuff the hard way. No pain no gain. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Salt and light.

            This stuff pushes all my buttons! Homeschooling seems to be a subject where *everyone* has a strong opinion: especially people who’ve never given it more than 10 seconds thought, and who have zero experience.

            By all means, if you think that Christians should be bringing light to dark places, why don’t you go somewhere dark yourself, instead of going to your office job with your equivalently-educated-and-probably-similar-socioeconomic-background colleagues while you pack you kids off to school, where the playground can often have the same psychological landscape as a prison courtyard.

          • Jennifer says:

            I don’t think the light in the darkness reason is the worst reason AT ALL. In fact, I think it’s the BEST. Both of my girls attend public school. My reasoning isn’t that THEY are the light in the darkness. The reason is THAT I AM THE LIGHT in the darkness as I participate as a parent who contributes to the health and well-being of their public school, and in turn to all the parents who send their kids there, and the students who attend.

            Furthermore, as they attend public school and face struggles of many kinds, bullying, unkindness, dealing with whether or not to be exposed to media their peers are exposed to, as well as the opportunity to learn about the diverse religious traditions that come to the school: they are wading through it all with my husband and me while they are under our roofs–not when they are off to college or out of college and have to face it on their own later.

            As to whether homeschoolers are full of fear of the outside world or not, no, we cannot paint everyone with the same brush. Anecdotally, I have had more FB conversations with people who homeschooled for just that reason: fear or contamination from the world, than people who homeschooled for any other reason. I even had one such FB conversation yesterday. So, it’s a very fair critique of the movement, IMO.

          • I’m with Jennifer: I’m not advocating anyone abandon their kids in the darkness, or have them as immature Christians be the light all on their own. That’s an adult’s job. Get in there as a volunteer parent, as a teacher, as an administrator; get elected to the site council or school board. Get other Christians to join you.

            Fear is the worst reason to retreat.

          • I think there is truth on both sides there. Young children need a “greenhouse,” to some extent, yet even through them Christ can be light to their neighbors. We don’t become ambassadors of the kingdom only after a certain age. There is a way to balance these in both public and home schooling situations. Ultimately, the “greenhouse” should be the church, where they learn what is truly important.

          • I agree with much of what was said above by everyone. That is why, in educating our kids, we have utilized homeschooling, charter school, public school, community college, and private Christian college. Each had a place and served a good purpose in the lives of children. But this I gotta disagree with:

            “Ultimately, the ‘greenhouse’ should be the church…”

            No. The *greenhouse* is always the home. The church is much like the school (public, private, charter, etc.) it is there to assist the parent as they raise their children. But in the end, one’s church is another institution and we should NEVER turn our children’s welfare over to an institution. Parents raise and nurture children (the greenhouse), everything else is a tool to be utilized at the parent’s discretion and for the good of the child.

          • I don’t like putting the church in the same category as the school and the rest of secular society, like some sort of auxiliary supplement. To me, the home is a part of the church. Their goals for raising of children ought to be the same: Christian discipleship. They mutually reinforce one another. Your individual household is just one room in the greater household of faith.

          • Miguel – I think we are coming closer to agreeing here. I do believe that a Christian home is a part of the Church. But when I see church (small “c”) I think of The First Corner Church of Anytown which is an organization of various people and is *hopefully* an expression of the Church. The reason I disagreed with you is because that organization is not the greenhouse, although, at its best, it would form part of the greenhouse.

      • Danielle says:

        I was home schooled 6-12 grade. My husband and I have discussed home schooling our son. I have had to defend the option to people many times. So I think I have enough skin in the game to say this:

        I agree that it is not fair to see private education or home schooling as nothing more than an ill-advised attempt by parents to shelter children. One can select either of these options for perfectly good reasons, and there are advantages to these options that should be considered. I would say the same thing for public education.

        In the case of home schooling, it is particularly hard to generalize, because there are so many ways to home school. Some provide a great deal of exposure to ideas and people; some do not. My personal experience with home schooling was very positive. I doubt I would have developed the interests or confidence to pursue the life path I followed, had I not been pulled from school.

        That said, it is absolutely the case that some people elect to send their children to small private schools or to home school because they are concerned ensuring their children will not mix with unapproved people and influences. There are cases where the idea of keeping children separate and “pure” is very pronounced. For example, we used to attend a special Sunday school class formed by a home school family who felt that parents should not be out of their parents’ control and instruction, even at church (This was a trend for a while, I am not sure if it is still going on. I think maybe the Harris family helped to promote that idea, but I’d have to go back at my piles of literature in the basement to check.) A more exotic example: We were invited to join a house church being started by a family who felt even this was not quite controlled enough (also, they wanted to have rules about women and speech that are unenforcible in a church context). Examples like this are often idiosyncratic to particular families or pockets of home schoolers, but they are also not too hard to find.

        Ultimately, this is not really not a question of educational model, but of parenting. We just see if play out in the reasons people select a particular option.

      • On the other hand, perhaps that “emotionally crushing” experience will rebuild the child into a better person. I know too many people who are timid and have never faced adversary and don’t have character to show for it.

        Not that I don’t agree with you, but there is a flip side.

      • Stuart….you put it far better than I would have. Since retiring from maximum security prisons, I’ve spent the past 11 years working for a local school District as a Special Education Teaching Assistant, so I am familiar with the social climate both in Elementary schools and High Schools, at least in my part of the world/country.

        I’ve worked with teachers in public schools who, for reasons of their own, have their OWN children attending private schools, or even home schooled. I would never think of passing judgement on them, and certainly not on unsubstantiated assumptions about their motives.

        Why do the very same people who would never think about putting brand new shoots for their flower garden directly into the gardens in early spring, but have them carefully nurtured and protected in greenhouses, until they attain enough growth and hardiness to be able to withstand the weather and outdoors conditions…..then criticize others who value their children even MORE than easily replaceable plants, and thus wish to nurture and protect them, while guiding and shaping their formation, both social, personal, AND spiritual…..until they are solid enough in their faith, in their development….to survive in the harsh environment they will experience in post secondary schools, and the adult workplace?
        Beats me!
        Blessings,

    • Danielle says:

      The home school discussion turned into something resembling a circular firing squad.

      This is basically what I said already, but I would like to reiterate that the topic of hand should probably not be educational model (which is what people are defending, their choice of school) but rather on the way that parents are or are not acting as though purity is what is “inside the community” and impurity is what is “out there” and must be kept at bay.

      Let me give two examples of what I mean. Let’s say I decide to home school, which provides me with ample instruction time to pass ideas and culture onto my kids. Because home schooling is highly efficient instructionally, we gain a significant amount of free time, that we use go out in the community, where we pursue hobbies, volunteer, play sports, and so on. I use these opportunities to model for my children how one behaves respectfully and open-mindedly with other people. We practice hospitality. We try to cross boundaries we wouldn’t normally be crossing. I consider this a good way to try to get across what living the gospel may be about; in fact, I be home schooling because I have concerns that the school playground will not teach this ethic. (The schoolyard may be diverse, but anyone who has been around kids for any length of time knows the rapidity with which children break themselves into groups and treat the out-groups as pariahs.)

      Now let’s say I decide to home school, and I spend a lot of time talking about how terrible the “public school kids” are. I strictly limit family activities to environments where people are just like us (whatever we mean by that). I let the children know that some people should not be allowed to get too close, and that there are some families that are not appropriate contacts for us, because of some attribute they have. We and our church routinely use a purity language to describe our inner religious circle, and disparaging terms to refer to “the world.”

      Same educational choice; different attitudes and different modeling. One approach is accounting on some level for the power of the disgust impulse and is trying inculcate a model of openness that works against it. The other is actively integrating it into the religious worldview.

      We could just as likely create fictional examples applying to private school parents or public school parents. I’ve seen all the same discussions among these subsets.

  2. If I did not trust the words on this site, I would think that those five “real” issues in a church community were fabricated. Really. No, I mean REALLY……people who are ostensibly Christian are that repulsed by poor people, kids who haven’t had the CHANCE to know Jesus, and by a pastoral candidate who is NOT GAY but once helped people who were??? Oh, and let’s not forget those sluts who were “stupid” enough to choose life instead of a nice little abortion….who needs them around, right?

    OK, I am a self-righteous sinner who struggles with judges others who aren’t as blessed. (Hey, we all have our struggles and vices, being snarky is one of mine, freely confessed…)

    BUT I have NEVER seen the above examples in any Catholic Church I have attended. I have seen lots of OTHER issues and plenty of rotten people in all sorts of leadership positions, and I have personally left a parish over political issues (a strident activist group took over the sermons and the purse-strings, and their mission is not important to the story) but the five situations above are just so sad….and also very “white-bread snobby” American.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I’ve seen several of the described examples in Evangelical churches. With – very “white-bread snobby” American – I think you’ve nailed it. It isn’t a Theological issue or even a church issue, IMO, it is a culture issue; these churches exist in that culture.

      I have also not seen or heard this kind of commentary among the Romans.

      > and let’s not forget those sluts who were “stupid” enough to choose life

      To be fair the tiny rural nearly bankrupt Baptist church I first attended after graduating high school – they had no shortage of clucking tongues [*1] – but they managed to pull together to fund a womens shelter in the town, in a place that was a service desert. Subsequently the pastor’s own young daughter ‘got pregnant’ and the congregation was supportive of her [at least as far as I could tell]. But that church was culturally very different [*2] than the avowedly Evangelical churches I ended up in next that were quintessentially suburban and who exhibited these ugly traits – which I suspect are really manifest from the cultural desire to separate, and viewing separation-from as a component of The Successful Life.

      [*1] even remember listening to a group of woman tsck-tsck-ing amongst each other than a boy and a girl were sitting together in a car in the parking lot… so inappropriate.

      [*2] perhaps due to it being rural? The congregation was economically diverse, as a result of geographic place and history.

    • I have seen some of the same and variations.

      One that involved me had to do with “jailbirds” coming to our congregation as a result of our ministry at the county jail. Every one of those folks had issues. When I stood at the back of the auditorium during one “service” I noticed that there was a “zona pelucida” around each small group of our jail friends. In one unfortunate instance one of the jail friends had a “relapse” into violent behavior (not at church) which was shocking. Me and my cohorts in jail ministry were called on the carpet from bringing “those kind” of people into the the congregation. My response; “Do you think you’ll love forever in this life!? Or, do you actually want to follow Jesus??” One quick lesson I learned is that “good” people do not appreciate having their “faith” presented to them in such simple, stark terms.

      • Yup – I tried it with Cambodian refugee children back in the late ’80′s. No one would sit with them; yet they complained about them taking up one entire pew and not always having the best behavior. Aggggg. And then one had lice. Death knell.

        These kids lived in houses where some didn’t have heat and others didn’t have working toilets. They and their parents had experienced unimaginable horrors – I still get chills from the sound of the teens at camp (not supplemented by any church members) having nightmares and their screams.

        I was to young to see the reality of the church’s classism, xenophobia, and racism. To young to understand that I was making the church impure.

        In hindsight that was the beginning of the end for me with that type of Christianity.

        • agggg – too

        • Suzanne says:

          That makes me so sad, EV, partially because I have no problem believing it.

          I’ve not experienced this directly, but I have had conversations with church people about immigrants (many Burmese in our area) and why can’t they just learn the language and get jobs and why do they even come here if they don’t know English? I ask the speaker if he or she has ever studied a foreign language, and usually get either a negative response or the response of yes, but that was way back in high school and my teacher was bad. So, in other words, they couldn’t do it or never even tried, but they expect someone from a completely different culture who often comes from a part of the world that is in great duress to just be able to pick up the language and customs of the new country by snapping their fingers? Where is the love of Jesus in that?

      • Should read,

        “Do you think you’ll LIVE forever in this life!?

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” have NEVER seen the above examples in any Catholic Church I have attended.”

      Pattie, I’m not a Catholic, but I think you are on to something here. The Catholic Church is universal, in more ways than one. I even know of priests who are gay, and it’s fairly common knowledge. They are celibate and are excellent priests serving Jesus and the people. There are Catholics of all kinds, color, nationalities, and social strata.

      But in the evangelical world, it is different. For one thing, church growth strategy teaches stratification. Go after people exactly like you if you want to grow. This isn’t where the moral disgust comes from, but reinforces it.

      • Interesting. It could be that with us Protestants, even evangelicals, there is always another church to go to if one doesn’t work out. We can even start our own.

        With Catholics, in a small town there’s not other place to go without driving a ways, and even then it might be the same priest. The only other option is to drop out. So, those remaining may have to “put up with” people from other classes and learn to get along.

        “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
        –Robert Frost

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Pattie, I’ve seen those exact scenarios and worse. And yes, I’ve seen the same attitude in some individual Catholic families (won’t dare send their kids to public school, for example, even when the district is safe and academically superior), but only rarely. Certainly not organizationally.

      We have a large Catholic population in town, and so far I don’t see the evangelical culture bleeding into it, thank goodness.

    • As a former Catholic, but no “Rome-basher,” I can tell you that in the Deep South of the 1960s there was as much prejudice against blacks and what Southerners refer to a “white trash” as occurred in any Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, … , whichever area church. And as Hispanic it was a major influence in my revulsion to Christianity and later attraction to Evangelicalism.

      Perhaps things have changed over the past 40 years. Or perhaps only perceptions and wishful thinking has changed. For I find that to this day being a sinner plagues every denomination and tradition.

      • Calvin – yep, wishful thinking, not reality…

      • Final Anonymous says:

        Calvin, you’re onto something… where I live Catholic culture HAS changed a lot in the past few decades, more inclusive and definitely for the better. My parents, on the other hand, can tell some stories…

    • Pattie, I’m Catholic and here’s what I see in two parishes in my border state town, 50 miles from Mexico.

      In one, the parishioners are overwhelmingly Latino and working class; the church is open virtually all day every day for baptisms, several daily Masses, quinceaneras, rosaries, weddings,funerals, etc. On Sunday there are about 10 Masses, in English and Spanish and a few in both. The parish attracts lots of undocumented people. The Border Patrol knows this, so they drive onto church property merely to randomly question parishioners, hoping to catch someone in a mistake so that they can be picked up.

      This practice infuriates the pastor, God bless him. When he sees the BP, he marches out, orders them off the church property and tells them that they have no business bothering anyone who’s come there to worship. The BP leaves, but the damage is done; more and more people who should be in church and who desperately want their children educated in the faith stay away, for fear of running into the BP. Judge these folks at your peril.

      In the other parish, 20 miles away, the congregation is overwhelmingly Anglo, well-heeled, and retired. The parish is among the richest in the diocese and handsomely funds a crisis pregnancy center, but you see no struggling young women in the congregation.. “Pro life” here is defined only as anti-abortion; the parish enthusiastically supports the US military with intercessions and with a large poster of service people’s photographs (parishioner’s grandchildren) that stands just down from the altar, by the US flag.

      The parish is very active with club meetings and daily Mass and several more on Sunday, but all are strictly in English, despite an inevitably growing (yet segregated) Latino presence in the church. Recently, one Spanish Mass per month was permitted. No Latinos are on the church council or teach RCIA. The church, half as old as the one described above, recently remodeled.. The selection of Pope Francis is generally considered a disaster.

      Here, Latinos are viewed with suspicion and are assumed to be undocumented. If a few linger a little too long on church property or have the audacity to ask for some help, the parishioners themselves call the BP or the sheriff, who dutifully check their status and haul them away if necessary. The clergy look the other way.

      Having taught CCD in both parishes, my sympathies plainly lie with the first I described. I really have no other reason for writing this, except to say that Catholics also struggle with whether to let ‘sacrifice’ triumph over “mercy.’

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Snooty Anglo parish don’t know what they’re missing.

        My parish has a pretty wide spread — English, Spanish, and Vietnamese Masses alternating through the day. And the Spanish-speaking groups within the congregation (almost all ethnic Mexican in my area) hold these fundraiser breakfasts after Masses most weeks. Where an all-Anglo parish might have donuts & coffee, as a SoCal Anglo, I can’t pass up good street tacos or homemade tamales

        • HUG, if you were in the San Diego area I’d visit your church, if for no other rason than the tamales.

    • Stuart….you put it far better than I would have. Since retiring from maximum security prisons, I’ve spent the past 11 years working for a local school District as a Special Education Teaching Assistant, so I am familiar with the social climate both in Elementary schools and High Schools, at least in my part of the world/country.

      I’ve worked with teachers in public schools who, for reasons of their own, have their OWN children attending private schools, or even home schooled. I would never think of passing judgement on them, and certainly not on unsubstantiated assumptions about their motives.

      Why do the very same people who would never think about putting brand new shoots for their flower garden directly into the gardens in early spring, but have them carefully nurtured and protected in greenhouses, until they attain enough growth and hardiness to be able to withstand the weather and outdoors conditions…..then criticize others who value their children even MORE than easily replaceable plants, and thus wish to nurture and protect them, while guiding and shaping their formation, both social, personal, AND spiritual…..until they are solid enough in their faith, in their development….to survive in the harsh environment they will experience in post secondary schools, and the adult workplace?
      Beats me!
      Blessings,

    • Not seen or heard this sort of behavior amongst Catholics? Well, IF the roman catholics I’ve interacted with online for the past 15 years are any example, and IF their attitudes and behavior in ‘REAL LIFE’ is anything like their online attitudes and behavior……then perhaps your experience has been far too limited.

      Many are so Pharisaical and ‘holy’….that they question the authenticity of even their own FELLOW catholics….using slurs like ‘cafeteria catholics’….and outright claiming that those who thought different, who interpreted different, who might have issues with Rome’s proclamations….were NOT catholics at all.

      In terms of local parish charity…..I have no problem with that, although in areas where I’ve lived, it seemed they ministered primarily to their own….but that’s a human failing, common to all, I presume.

      I won’t address the 5 examples…perhaps the author has just had some very bad luck in ‘church choosing’. What I CAN say, is that I’ve attended, over some 65 years, a vast variety of ‘protestant’ (so-called) churches, from some fairly liturgical, to the most ‘outrageous’ Charismatic groups, and much in between. (Thus, I simply don’t fit well into ANYONE’S mold, including IM)

      I’ve attended a funeral service for a murdered hooker, in the very streets where she’d strutted her ‘stroll’, and the music/worship pastor from my church led the memorial service, playing his guitar and singing. There was a few people from our church, and a whole lot of the residents who lived on the streets there in attendance.

      I’ve participated in a barbeque put on by a group from our church in a low-rent housing complex, for recent immigrants from Africa. No preaching….just feeding and loving them. Both of the above examples were from a Vineyard church, which group receives more than its share of criticism from those who consider themselves more ‘orthodox’.

      I’ve attended a Baptist church near a University campus, back in the early 70′s. We had University students, hippies, boys with more hair than I’ve had in aggregate total in my entire lifetime (you’d need to see my current picture to grasp my humor), girls with bare feet and tie-died skirts…..all sitting next to ‘stuffed shirts’ in 3-piece suits, next to older upper-crust dowagers, with the crown jewels on, and fur coats. (before it became politically incorrect)……all worshiping peacefully alongside each other.

      I’ve attended an Apostolic Church of Pentecost fellowship, another wild charismatic church. We had a single mother with two autistic children…..and yes, they were often somewhat disruptive during the service, yet never did I hear anyone express that they shouldn’t be there. They welcomed those not welcome in other churches, (yes, including some of the liturgical churches favored by many here), so it sometimes was a real ‘Hodge-podge’ grouping of people, not all of them nearly as ‘refined’ as I….LOL!

      This church also hosted and funded the largest Passion Play each spring in Western Canada, inviting participation from the other local churches. I’m not sure if the Orthodox Church ever deigned to help, but most of the churches in town (seems to me it was around 40 or 50) did join in, including the local Catholic Churches, and exhibited a laudable spirit of ‘ecumenism’ as they strove together to visually present to the community just who Christ is, and what He accomplished.

      I don’t know….maybe instead of constantly pointing fingers at others (and yes, one can ALWAYS find statements and deeds we might personally find objectionable)…..we should focus more on what God wants to accomplish in US? Just sayin’!

      Like the words of the day’s post…the above merely represents a vignette of MY personal experience in a wide variety of churches over more than half a century, perhaps to inject a modicum of balance to the discussion?
      Blessings,

    • BUT I have NEVER seen the above examples in any Catholic Church I have attended. I have seen lots of OTHER issues and plenty of rotten people in all sorts of leadership positions, and I have personally left a parish over political issues (a strident activist group took over the sermons and the purse-strings, and their mission is not important to the story) but the five situations above are just so sad….and also very “white-bread snobby” American.

      Fortunate you.

      15 years ago or so a co-worker of my wife told her a story. After moving to town she went to the nearby Catholic Church to “sign up”. (Sorry I’m ignorant of the lingo here.) She was politely but somewhat firmly told she likely should go to another parish better suited for her family. She persisted and attended this church. She was NOT white and they were pointing her to a parish where they thought she would “blend” in better. Even if it was miles away.

      Yes. This is/was the old south.

  3. Robert F says:

    I haven’t seen any of these in the mainline churches that I’ve attended all my Christian life.

    • Robert F says:

      Although the unwillingness of middle-class American Christians to open up their personal lives and homes to those in need is prevalent in the mainline denominations, too, and in fact is widespread among middle-class Americans in general, Christian and non-Christian.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        The mainlines tend to sort themselves out along economic and racial lines. Not entirely, of course. It is not uncommon nowadays to find middle class blacks in mostly white mainlines. And certainly the lines are not raised so crassly as in No. 4. It is far more subtle. People tend to be most comfortable with others of similar backgrounds.

        My church is a mostly white middle class church that never left the city center. We take seriously our obligation to the poor, devoting resources to food distribution. Only one person from that class has ended up joining. In principle, of course everyone is welcome. In practice, it is socially awkward from both sides, not lending itself to chitchat over coffee in the basement. And while I’m sure there are urban poor who find Bach cantatas spiritually moving, this isn’t the norm. (Nor is it the norm for white middle class suburbanites, for that matter: we draw from a wide geographical area.) I don’t know what the solution is. I’m not even entirely sure there is a problem. There are any number of other churches in the area. A blend of socio-economic and racial and cultural backgrounds in one congregation sounds ideal in principle, but I’m not sure how it works in practice.

        • SottoVoce says:

          This! So much this.

          “So, what did you do this weekend?”

          “Oh, we went to the symphony. They played my favorite piano concerto and I just LOVED what the pianist did with the cadenza. I also tried out a new recipe for grilled shrimp with garlic aioli. How about you?”

          “I managed to catch American Idol in between running back and forth between my two jobs and trying to figure out how to make this month’s rent.”

          *awkward silence*

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Agree, homogeneity is not a vice, sometimes it just happens, for entirely reasonable reasons. Populations can self-select without intending insult.

            For example, we have a well-heeled protestant church that stuck it out through 60s70s80s in our urban core. When looking for a new church I just wandered through their parking lot one day, and I chose not to go inside, and that choice was entirely on me, and no fault of theirs. It was the fact that the typical automobile in their parking lot was worth more than my house. And I thought… am I really going to have much in common with these people? That choice was based on my perception and not on them [I'm white, this was a decision based on class], “disgust” was not involved.

    • But… what Richard said.

      I have no problem believing that these things can and do happen at mainlines.

  4. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

    Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

    In the words of the English pre-Reformation scholar Thomas Linacre, “Either this is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.”

    • “My thoughts, like thieves, have seized me, a wretched man.
      My mind has been robbed, and I have been sorely beaten.
      My soul is wounded, and I am stripped of virtues.
      I lie naked in the highway of life.
      The priest saw my pain and hopeless wounds and looked away.
      The Levite could not bear my groaning and passed me by.
      But You were pleased to come, O Christ my God,
      not from Samaria but from the flesh of Mary.
      In Your love for mankind, grant me healing,
      and pour upon me Your great mercy!” – Lenten Triodion

      If this is not Good News, I don’t know what is. There’s some pre-reformation hymnography even Steve Martin could be happy singing.

    • Many years ago at at church I use to attend, as the people rolled into their respective Sunday School classes, what appeared to be a homeless woman sat outside the primary entrance of the church asking for either food or drink. One person out of the 800 plus attending that morning stopped to ask how can I help you, and took a few moments to provide the woman with food and drink.

      One can only imagine the shock when that homeless woman walked into a Sunday School class and began to remove her wig and clothing to reveal herself as the wife of a deacon, as well as one of the more prominent families of the community. No one said a word. Many began to weep. I’d like to think that if only for a brief moment, the lesson of the parable of the good Samaritan finally made a bit of sense to a church body that was to busy taking care of itself to worry about the needs of those outside the church walls…..

      • Uh huh, sure. Good story, but I don’t believe it happened.

        I’ve heard enough tall tales to last me a lifetime. A great illustration, but I doubt it’s true.

        And I’m tired of being told things are true that aren’t.

        • Yes StuartB, I too have heard many a tale in my day. Had I not been in attendance that day, perhaps I would have doubted as well. However I was. As were many others.

          I can only assure you I have no inclination to fabricate a story nor pass along urban or internet myths. Certainly you can choose to believe or not. Either way it won’t change the fact it occurred.

        • I don’t see why that story is so unbelievable. It’s kind of become somewhat of a cliche stunt, church leaders do it all the time. A great way to shame suburbanites for being too busy. It’s up there with the pastor who gets in the pulpit and says, “Thousands of starving people in the world, and you guys don’t give a damn.” Then he sits, enjoys an awkward silence, and then gets up again and says, “…and the sad thing is that you are more concerned that I said the word ‘dam’ than you are about the thousands of starving people.”

          If your preaching isn’t already exposing sin in the parish and helping us to see how we fail to love and serve our neighbor as Christ, you’re doing it wrong. We don’t need little gimmicks to shame us for our shortcomings. We need a Savior who loves us in spite of them, “love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.”

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I’ve personally witnessed #1 & #3. I’ve also seen profound economic segregation inside a mega-church which would be like #4 except that people could just move between groups within the same church.

    But I do not know if “disgust” describes this behavior. It might more for #3 [the women's ministry] or for an encounter with homosexuals. Is racism, class-ism, suburban-ignorance really “disgust”? I don’t know that a sense of `unclean` completely describes my experience of Evangelical reactions to these people.

    “Disgust” works to describe #1 [youth ministry] which I was involved with in all the Evangelical churches I attended – parents specifically were worried about their children being contaminated/corrupted. Overall the Evangelical attitudes concerning children and education are both bigoted and operationally disastrous – this was the beginning of my desire to leave.

    But towards adults it was much more a sense of simple superiority. There was at least a verbal compassion, but a sense of not needing to be bothered with those who had clearly made inferior life choices; those people’s situations were clearly their own fault. Most of the time this sounded not so much like disgust but more like profound ignorance and astonishingly lack of self-reflection [as success is pretty clearly generational, and many many of these people were basically born into their success]. But if deep down you believe that the quality of your life is or is not a reward for your moral choices…. why wouldn’t you feel that away towards the less fortunate? I struggle to believe any adult with an IQ over 40 could seriously believe that – but the evidence was/is overwhelming.

    I haven’t seen such equivalents among the Romans. Here the association of the church to womens ministries, the homeless and the like, the demographics of the education system, are just long standing facts. Nobody seems to think much about them. I do not necessarily grant them moral superiority for this, I suspect it is largely a result of history – they’ve been here a long time, and those people have always been here. Whereas in the Evangelical church these always felt like things that were added on, things that people were not used to. Place may also play a role. Where I live Evangelical churches “go to” these people if they do anything – and this again may be an aspect of history, as those churches are younger. The Romans are where they have been for a long time and the community has grown out to engulf them [geographically], so there is less of a commuter church experience.

    In the midwest Evangelical churches feel like they are filled with people who fled, or whose parents fled, these kinds of disturbing problems and confrontations – they went to safe places [which is an understandable thing to do]; so resistance to importing those kinds of problems and conflicts back into people’s lives is going meet some resistance; it is against the cultural urge for separate.

    Is there an answer to this reaction to people? Can this be addressed in a congregation? I doubt it. Culture is a very resilient force. Going back to example #1 [youth ministry] – some of those women are like Mama Bears; nobody in their right mind would pick that fight

    • Robert F says:

      I agree, Adam. I don’t see where disgust enters into a lot of this.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        At least with issues regarding children it does manifest as a form of disgust [the comments made were often disgusting - to me].

        Perhaps this author defines Disgust as The Desire To Separate, in which case I suppose it is. And I/we are using a more visceral meaning of Disgust. Then the image of the child’s face is throwing us off course. :)

        I’m curious if the author gets into racism/class-ism/Evangelical-Tidy-Life-Syndrome as being forms of Disgust?

        • I’m curious if the author gets into racism/class-ism/Evangelical-Tidy-Life-Syndrome as being forms of Disgust?

          Probably. Are they not forms of avoidance rooted in disgust?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Wow, … then we are talking about an entire subculture [Evangelicalism] or subcultures [add in Suburbanism] where one of the chief operating principles is Disgust. That is a disturbing thought.

          • Danielle says:

            It is a disturbing thought, and unfortunately i think there’s something to it. ,

            It strikes me that you are hearing disgust invoked when people routinely engage in commentary about how “some people make bad choices” and they are “just tired of it.” They’re annoyed or bothered; there’s something visceral taking place beneath the surface.

            As you observed, disgust becomes a lot more obvious when people begin to discuss the influences they fear on children and youth. They want their children to think and behave like themselves, and to have the markers of their religious/class/ethnic tribe. They’re worried that the presence of contagion is going to get in and “corrupt” their offspring. The TV. The culture. The music. Certain people, and the way those people behave. It is, of course, necessary and important that parents are trying to pass their values and cultural patterns to their children. But that is also why, when people are doing this, it is so much easier to see disgust in operation. People are concerned with making sure that things that are taboo to them are experienced as taboos by their children, and that means keeping certain things and people away. Where is the line between “Giving my child sufficient exposure to my ideas and culture, that they adopt them” and “keeping the impurities out”? I don’t know. Perhaps they are just points on a spectrum.

            But I do know that evangelical culture, particularly when discussing youth, spends a lot of time using purity language.

      • It’s more deeply rooted in the fear you talked about yesterday, Robert, but on another level it is disgust — seeing the neighbor as unclean, and who must therefore be avoided or expelled for my own health.

        • For our own health? I would say it’s more for our own standing in the social order. If I’m seen with that person, others will treat me like they treat him. This is what motivated the parents of the man born blind who was healed in John 9.

        • Danielle says:

          I think that “classism” and other “isms” actually may be more closely related to disgust than we realize. Most people don’t get up in the morning and say to themselves, “You know who I don’t want to see in church? Poor people.”

          But we do have a disgust reflex toward things that are markers of class and tribe. To use one of the examples, let’s say a pregnant teenager comes to church because of prior contact with the local crisis pregnancy center. Nobody thinks, “We don’t want pregnant teen moms at our church.” Instead people become bothered by specific attributes or behaviors that mark the newcomber as “not our kind of people.” They will object to these markers on the basis of personal distaste or matters of moral principle related to an issue. She has tattoos! She uses profanity! She thought it was OK to have a loud argument with her sometimes-boyfriend on her cell phone right in the middle of the church parking lot! She’s just not a “nice girl.” Maybe people point these things out in a mean way, or maybe they try to do it in an overly kind, patronizing way. Either way, the objection will never be, “There is a teen mom in our church from the wrong side of town.” People will instead express present highly intellectualized objections based on principle: “I think it’s wrong to have a tattoo because….”

          Or, since people sometimes think of church as a kind “safe zone” where their culture is supposed to be passed down to their children, you might hear “I don’t like having to explain to my children why people get tattoos.”

          • Good points.

          • yep!

          • I don’t really understand your argument, because to my mind, if you take away the ‘pregnant’ bit, all the rest would still apply. (That is, I don’t buy the argument that the other objections are just excuses, because people don’t want to point the finger at the pregnancy ‘issue’. I suspect that all of the other things would also be issues, pregnant or no).

          • Danielle says:

            My particular example was about class, rather than the fact the girl is pregnant. In this case, I assumed that the congregation receptive to the idea of reaching out to young mothers, but that it still won’t know how to be comfortable with her presence because of her social demographic.

  6. I have seen several of these in my church as well. I see this not as a failure of individual Christians but as a failure of the overall church (fellowship of believers) to help prepare followers to deal with the messiness of life. #1 was the start of the exodus, however the kids proved to be resilient and God worked through them to grow the church in stronger ways. Many left but those who remained became spiritually stronger as a result. Some families came back and were welcomed with open arms. Grace and forgiveness go both ways.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > as a failure of the overall church (fellowship of believers) to help prepare
      > followers to deal with the messiness of life.

      But how does a church do that?

      • By leaders being honest about their own messy lives and Jesus’ place in walking with them through it. By providing a space where mess is a part of the reality. By creating a space where the “pretty people” aren’t the only ones singing, reading, praying. For example one of the most moving services involved a homeless guy who regularly attends church reading the Old Testament reading. He couldn’t have had more than a 4th grade reading ability, but he was serving equally with the British college professor reading the Prayers of the People. Mess exists. Perfection is a myth. Redemption of the soul may take but a moment. Redemption of the body may take lots and lots and lots of false starts and screw ups and years of loving – but that doesn’t mean that to participate we need to look, talk, or smell, a certain way before we can worship God with the body. In the South we work really hard to only let people see the sweet Southern charm and not our mess. We really need to get over that and not wearing white shoes before labor day.

  7. I also see this as just another case of that great social disease NIMBY.
    Not In My Back Yard.

  8. Patricia Stewart says:

    I have experienced similar attitudes in churches I have attended as well as in the local Christian school. The psychology of disgust is alive and thriving. I am not immune to this attitude either- none of us are. I appreciate this discussion. Knowing your enemy and the tactics and strategy used against you can be part of a defense against future assaults. Might God use this as part of His work to conform us to the image of Christ as well?

    Jesus ministered especially to the poor. He told us we would always have the poor among us . . . What do the poor really need? Jesus. First, as Savior for without Him we are spiritually destitute. Hence, the Great Commission. Secondly, the poor need Jesus in skin – we are privileged to be His hands and feet that minister to their needs. Of course their salvation is God’s work; it does not depend upon our obedience. However, when we fail to obey, we deprive ourselves of the blessing that obedience brings.

    As a man thinks in himself, so is he. Our behaviors reflect the attitude of the one who reigns in our hearts. When we refuse to see ourselves on level ground, at the foot of the cross, we will reap the consequences of this superior thinking (the psychology of disgust).We are sinners by birth and by choice . . .

    Until we grasp the solidarity of sin that we all share, we will never respond righteously to the manifestation of sin in others that obedience to Christ demands.Those who fail to see their own poverty apart from Christ are poor conduits of His grace. What riches do we sacrifice when we withhold the mercy we have been given?

    Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” I suspect that many sons and daughters of the King live as paupers in their exile here. (Me included.)

  9. #4 is unimaginable, but a nice little slander on middle-class people. Frankly the whole list makes normal middle-class Christians — some of the world’s most generous givers — look like vicious hate-mongers, but I kind of think that’s the point.

    • Well, actually the point is to give real-life examples of what we’ve been talking about theoretically. It’s not slander – it’s what really happened, and continues to happen.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Furthermore, I find #4 not at all unimaginable. Quite the contrary, it is the one I would be unsurprised to find among my own, non-circuslike mainline denomination. The only surprising part is how honest and upfront the complainers were about what they thought the problem to be. I would normally expect enough self-awareness for them to be embarrassed by the real reason, and to have it rationalized and disguised as something less blatantly egregious.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > enough self-awareness for them to be embarrassed by the real reason

          Sometimes they just *assume* you agree with them, you are in their domain after all.

          I had the funny experience of one guy harping to another guy about having to pay taxes to feed the “animals” the state keeps in the prisons. He turned to me – I’d never met him before – “right?”. I replied “My brother just got transferred to the federal detention center in Virginia”. He immediately turned and practically ran away. I’ve wasn’t miffed or anything – by then I’d been in Evangelicalism long enough to know that having family in prison was going to freak some people out, I’d heard lots of comments like that – I remember this incident because his reaction was so extreme. The guy he was haranguing too just looked at me and shrugged.

          • I wish I had the strength to take a stand on such issues as well.

            “Actually, I’m friends with several homosexuals, even married ones.”

            But even in the church, I’m a coward at times.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            StuartB, it is was not “strength”, more like exhaustion. You spend years of your life cleaning-up and covering-up certain things, that just gets tiring. And the people you care about will encounter these things about you eventually, better to cull-the-herd of people who will freak out up-front. Not so much courage as: “Ah, that freaks you out?”… Next.

    • SottoVoce says:

      Money covers over a multitude of sins . . . oh, wait.

  10. It happens all the time. Some years ago we had a woman start attending the church I was attending who worked in a night club. While she was sincere in wanting to come, her clothes and speech revealed her background. Several members wanted the pastor’s wife to take her aside and teach her how to dress and act in church before she would be allowed to attend regularly. The message was clear – you are welcome here AFTER you clean up your act and fit our standards.

    • I have encountered similar situations of immodest apparel in my own church, albeit infrequently. Even so, common sense dictates the line has to be drawn somewhere. Would we allow folks showing up at church dressed like a Victoria’s Secret model?

      • Well, the reaction in that case wouldn’t be disgust now would it?

        • Not sure if “disgust” would be the right word for reaction we’d get, but wives and mothers, at least, would be appalled, for sure. Which, BTW, ALL should be.

          • No.

            The right reaction should be to help her find appropriate clothes and then welcome her back in. Appalled is not the right word or response at all.

          • There is such a thing as going too far. Speaking of, I used an illustration which can only be taken so far. You took it farther than it was intended to be taken.

            Let us reason together… If someone shows up at church in rags, then yes, let’s buy them some clothes. If someone shows up ultra provocatively dressed, they’re obviously making an attempt to offend. Buying clothes for the poor is a good thing. Buying clothes for the ornery is an act of futility.

          • If someone shows up at church in rags, then yes, let’s buy them some clothes. If someone shows up ultra provocatively dressed, they’re obviously making an attempt to offend.

            Not always. If you visit the court system here on a traffic day you get to see an interesting mix of dress. Many who appear to be of Hispanic origins are dress in ways that seem provocative. Which seems odd when the goal is to try and get out of the traffic offense. What happens is they are told by someone to “dress up” and not understanding that their best clubbing outfit is not what was meant.

            What some cultures think of a way too provocative, others think of as just looking nice. Creates issues that can’t always be easily resolved.

          • I am Hispanic of Cuban descent, first generation immigrant; my wife is also Hispanic of Mexican descent, third generation south Texan. No woman in my family dressed or dresses provocatively; it is considered offensive. Likewise, I have many acquaintances here in New Mexico where the population is around 50% Hispanic, and whereas many do dress trashy, not all do. In fact, I would venture to say that I have not noticed a numerical difference in this respect between Hispanics and Anglos.

            And just as ignorance of the law will not get you out of a traffic ticket, ignorance of appropriate dress is no excuse for coming to church dressed like a prostitute.

          • I was relaying what I have seen in person in a particular situation. And I don’t see the same thing in church. And yes I’ve had to move where I’ve been sitting due to the way a Hispanic lady was dressed and sitting.

            But to be blunt there ARE cultural differences between various people groups. Cultural. Not racial. And these differences extend to what is considered appropriate dress for various situations.

            And yes I know there isn’t one single cultural group that encompasses all Hispanics. Just like there isn’t a single cultural group that encompasses all English speakers of European decent.

            I’ve been to weddings in the south and Pittsburgh. (Plus a few other places.) Christian weddings. Most people at either would think the people at the other were just plain weird. If not heretical. Personally I thought the wedding and reception in the movie the “Deer Hunter” was a parody until I went to my first wedding in Pittsburgh.

      • Why did you go to Victoria’s Secret? What if she showed up in jeans, heels, and a low cut blouse? Perfectly modest according to most standards, but not the Sunday morning crowd.

        This rapid escalation to lingerie or porn levels is the Christian Godwin’s Law. Bring up sex or porn and it ends all debate.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          S*E*X(TM) has a way of shutting down all the neurons above the reptile brain.

          Whether the shutdown is “YEAH YEAH YEAH” or “THOU SHALT NOT”, the brains have migrated below the belt.

        • Let me see if I can explain this… The Victoria’s Secret argument I used is known as a hyperbole; the use of an extreme example or exaggeration as a rhetorical device in order to make a point. Usually the point is made unless someone gets literal with the details.

          • Reminds me of a story I heard of some early missionaries to Hawaii. The female leader of the people being evangelized was not accustomed to wearing a shirt in public. When the missionary’s wife made for her a more modest dress to wear to church on Sunday, she showed up happily wearing it with holes cut for her boobs to stick out.

            I can understand how some preachers could find this quite distracting. Me? I don’t preach, but I don’t think I’d complain either. :D

          • Oh I understand hyperbole quite well and use it often. It’s still an inappropriate zero sum comparison.

          • Miguel, that’s funny! As my sociologist wife would say, it’s all about the culture and socialization.

            Speaking of the culture and socialization, Stuart B, you have to take those things into consideration. It’s one thing to say that an argument is “an inappropriate zero sum comparison” and quite another to prove why you believe it’s so.

      • People show up to our church dressed like VS models all the time! Believe it or not, VS models actually wear clothes when they’re not working. :P

  11. We went through some of this a few years ago when for whatever reason, our parish began to get an influx of younger folks from rough backgrounds that were sporting a lot of tattoos. Oh, the little old ladies and happily upper-middle-class vestrymen were not happy with these kids being at their church! Our rector slapped that attitude down post-haste and told them to either act like Christians or to find a new pastor. We’ve recently gotten another such influx, though these days, those young tattooed folks have little kids with them as well. I was thinking about that at our mid-week potluck last week and noticed how atypically diverse (for our denomination, anyway) we have become with respect to age and race. And it made me smile. But, yeah, that change didn’t occur without ruffling some feathers and losing some members.

  12. David Cornwell says:

    Last Thursday evening I heard a talk (part sermon) by Willie Jennings during the Slow Church gathering at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis. The first part of his talk was academic, a little deep, and required one to focus on what he was getting at. Then he transitioned to the book of Acts, chapters 10-15. He calls chapter 10 the most “scandalous” passage in the book of Acts. One must read it slowly, and again and again to let its truth take hold.

    Peter was hungry. But in his hunger, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven open, and a large sheet came down and was lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kind of four-footed animals, and reptiles, and birds. And the voice told Peter to kill and eat those things that were now in front of him on this spread out sheet.

    Peter was revolted with disgust that probably reverberated throughout his entire body and mind. He answered the Lord saying “By no means Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The Lord replied “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Three times they went through this, with Peter’s revulsion not giving way.

    Finally “the thing” was taken back up to heaven.

    This is not the end of the story. And I doubt that Peter’s disgust with the situation went away.

    Ever stop to wonder just why revolting and “unclean” people come into your space?

  13. Maybe I am just naive, or maybe I have been blessed, but I’ve been attending church for over 40 years and have NEVER seen these behaviors in action. Sure, there is the inevitable geezer who avoids a younger person kind of thing, but that happens in general society as well and has more to do with generational distrust than visceral disgust.

    My current church assembly has an outreach to the homeless, unwed moms, and even helps with yard work for an AIDS hospice close by. We are only about 300, at MOST.

    Maybe people can say where they are located so I won’t be tempted to move in their neighborhoods ;)

    • Ditto.

    • That is my experience as well, Oscar, and growing up a military kid, I have been to all kinds of denoms in all kinds of states. But I think it is important to note that there is a self-selection var at work here. One of the things I look for in a church is outreach and inreach and missional community. So, there is a good chance that my own selection bias results in my experience.

  14. These last 2 posts are difficult to read! The why question? They remind me that the closet of my flesh isn’t yet clean. I have been a part of these attitudes myself. Yet I cry (as Paul) “who will save me from this wretchedness? Jesus Christ. Excuse me as I think upon these valuable posts and responses. Patricia said it well, “As a man thinks in himself, so is he. Our behaviors reflect the attitude of the one who reigns in our hearts.”

    • Final Anonymous says:

      I’ve felt the same way, Jerry. My harping on inclusion came from the realization that I do not desire to be inclusive; I want to feel safe and comfortable and taken care of, and I want to protect my children from anything outside the good suburban Christian lifestyle. Yet I am convinced that is not the way Jesus calls me to live.

      Stepping out of that comfort zone, just a little, and worshipping with people who are different from me has been an incredible blessing in my life. And yet, I still hold back at times. Definitely a work in progress.

  15. About 25 years ago, while visiting my mother and sitting next to her in church, I heard a rather loud voice singing with joy next to me. When the service was over, I commented that he really seemed to enjoy singing. He was a little difficult to understand and I realized that he had cerebral palsy. We, my mom and aunts @uncles were going out to eat so I suggested that we invite himas they all seemed to know and like him. The unease and shock on their faces was almost laughable; one aunt explained that he was “not right, and talked funny.” These were some pillars of the church. I explained that, having experience in this field, that he experienced brain damage at birth. When we were at lunch, there he was, eating by himself, with various church folk table hopping to speak to him. My dear Mom, who felt so guilty, told me that the men’s bible class sent him to the holy land (by himself). If we can’t associate with those not like us, in the church, for crying out loud, what is our purpose in this world? Is it to just make sure that we have the “right” kind of family since the associate with the “right” people.

  16. This is Christendom in a nutshell, no? Cleansed, orderly religious societies which fear being “stained by the world” and know how to use scriptural vocabulary to avoid the reonsibilities of authentic discipleship.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > This is Christendom in a nutshell, no?

      No they are not. This happens and need to be addressed; it is not pervasive.

      >Cleansed, orderly religious societies which fear being “stained by the world”

      That describes some, but certainly not all, the churches I’ve had involvement in. The greatest offenders of this type of error were barely “religious societies” at all, but functioned more as cultural ghettos. Being more religious would have been the treatment, not the disease.

      And mega-churches are strange places and they are indeed place*s* and not A Place. In the one I was involved in you would certainly find bastions of all these describe behaviors. And corners where none were true.

      > use scriptural vocabulary to avoid the reonsibilities of authentic discipleship

      I’m still working on what “authentic discipleship” is.

      • +1

      • Huh. Interesting that this put you on the defensive. Didn’t know people still identified with the Christendom label (I’m using it as a cultural signifier, not an ecclesiastical one, FYI)

      • I still find it interesting Adam that you are willing to paint Evangelicals with a broad brush, but have issues when people do the same with the work Christian. In many outsiders eyes they are one and the same.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >I still find it interesting Adam that you are willing to paint Evangelicals with a broad brush,

          Yes, without hesitation.

          > but have issues when people do the same with the word Christian.

          A generality applied to ~2.2 *B*illion people around the entire planet? And a term that identifies diverse groups from Roman Catholics to Coptics to Orthodox to Lutheran? I see no irony in this distinction at all.

          > In many outsiders eyes they are one and the same.

          Ok, and they’re wrong. And, honestly, they know they’re wrong, unless they are not thinking about it for more than the briefest moment. .The diversity of Christianity is readily apparent to anyone interested in looking. The Evangelicals promote the error that they *are* Christianity.

          • And I could point to the breadth of Evangelical and make the same arguments.

          • Adam said, “The Evangelicals promote the error that they *are* Christianity..”
            While sometimes true….isn’t this equally true of mainline churches? What about Eastern Orthodox? Don’t they too share this exclusivistic attitude? What about the RC organization? They don’t even acknowledge that non-rc Christians are ‘churches’….but instead, merely what…’ekklesiastic organizations’ or somesuch?

            Thus, I’m at a loss for the singling out of a nebulous conglomeration of vastly differing churches categorized as ‘Evangelicals’.
            Blessings,

  17. Why do we expend so much energy and effort looking for the negative in other believers. The Bible is clear that we all come short of glory. As long as we live in this fallen world churches and ministries will be lead by men and women prone to error. I count myself in that list. I guess grace is selective. The scripture “seek and you shall find” is a principle. – If you look for the negative you will find it.

    What could have been the outcome if the list was 5 stores of those who are truly sharing the gospel in their community? Despite what some would have you believe they do exist.

    • Of course the good stories exist too and we are not averse to telling them. But if we cannot examine ourselves, the world will do the job for us, and I guarantee you, that will be much more unpleasant and harmful to our mission.

      • But are we self examining or pointing fingers? I have no doubt there is plenty of sin to go around in our ministries. I just think we could be a better witness by leading the way. I think the focus on the negative tends to feed those who hate the church. Seems like many of the comments come across as “See I told you they were all bad.”

        On another note Mike I do enjoy your blog and your openness to real discussion.

      • Are we examining ourselves since we are actually talking about other people. Seems like it is more like pointing fingers. I just think we can be more productive for the kingdom if we lead the way.

        Talking about the failures of others tends to just give more ammo to those who hate us anyway. Even many of the comments seem to come across as “I told you they were all bad”

    • I kind of think self-examination is more the point, rather than pointing out the negative in others.

    • That’s the beauty of Internet Monk: it’s one of the only few places that does NOT tell the happy go lucky gospel stories. It’s one of the most honest places on the Internet.

      Had enough of those vain glorifications. They exist, but rarely in the loud form you come across regularly.

      Celebrate the good. Expose the bad. Neither should be hidden. Both should be known.

    • Danielle says:

      The point is that this is a universal and powerful psychological impulse, one that interacts powerfully with religion. If we can discuss how it operates, we can reflect on how it it affects our own, current lives and communities. We might thereby gain self-awareness about it and some mastery over it. Also, it suggests concrete ways the gospel can be lived out, and the kind of claims it makes on us, not in the theological paper games we like to play, but in gritty facts of being in communities.

      • Your comment captures the point perfectly. It goes along with the final sentence in the quote from Beck in the post where he says we must not be “psychologically naive” when it comes to spiritual formation.

  18. I guess this kind of thing was present in the early church as well (James letter describes something like it), I see it as more of general human tendency, at least church folks feel some guilt about it. I went to a church once that had homeless people as part of their congregation (members even), it was unusual but the homeless people did not bother anyone, they acted like normal congregants.

    • I’ve also experienced church for many years alongside homeless people. It’s one of the few good things I can say about my former church, they did reach out and continue to help people. At times, we were all taken advantage of, either financially or transportation or whatever, but we were still glad to have them. It’s a fine line at times, but we walk it in grace and encouragement.

  19. BTW, isn’t that the cutest little kid at the top of the post? Does he/she belong to one of you lucky posters?

  20. dumb ox says:

    Here’s a handy tool to make morality apply to everybody else but oneself.

    http://www.bettybowers.com/biblesecrets.html

  21. Isn’t this kind of an effective way of separating the wheat from the chaff, including pastors who are chaff?

    I.e., if someone(s) start and build a church that allows and accepts these “disgust” behaviors/responses, then maybe they have built the church on the wrong foundation, and have built a “body” of Christ that actually is not known/recognized by Him as being His Body.

    • The wife and I have some good friends who happen to be black. About 20 years ago they had worked hard and saved to buy a house in a better neighborhood and move their family out of a deteriorating area. Guess who was furious with them? Their pastor who pastored a churched in their old neighborhood. He told them they were abandoning their brothers and sisters who were not doing as well as them. He basically called them traitors. But they were very worried about their children who could not even play outside.

      So this stuff cuts both ways, folks.

  22. John Graves says:

    It’s interesting reading Chaplain Mike’s excellent recap and then reading through the comments and the conscious (and unconscious) examples of the disgust reflex at work in them — look at the comments on Christian schools and homeschooling to see the disgust reflex in action against people who made their schooling choices (in some cases) out of disgust with the people in the public schools and the resulting reflexive disgust aimed back at the people who made those comments — that could become an endless loop of disgust and counter-disgust!

    I’ve certainly seen this in action in a variety of ways, and am pretty sure that I am guilty of it myself, even when recognizing in some cases how destructive it can be. It’s one of the ways in which we bond with our families and tribes and cultures: our shared disgust says we belong — and that the object of our disgust does not. As a Christian, I am (probably because I am not a very good Christian) still a part of the earthly kingdom of family and culture, while at the same time a member of the heavenly kingdom where everything that is disgusting about me and everyone else has been washed clean with Blood. But most of the time I stil behave and react as I always have, still bound pretty tightly to the earthly kingdom.

  23. Rick Ro. says:

    There appears to be a sort of irony here in some of the comments, displaying disgust with Christians who show disgust.

    A couple of thoughts…

    1) It’s difficult for me to be too critical of parents trying to protect their children, even if it appears misguided. There are things I try to protect my daughter from that other parents have no problem with.

    2) Leaders of a church are a different beast, however, and should be more willing to embrace the community around them, whatever that may look like.

    Personal experience…the church I attend has seen the community around it change from mostly Caucasian to a figurative melting pot. There are apparently 120 different languages represented in the local high school. Over the past 10 years, our church went through a downturn (primarily related to some leadership/stewardship issues). When pastor retired, we brought in an interim pastor along with a “church consulting service,” who then hit with some cold, hard data: 85% of our congregation was white, aged 45 years, Christians for 20+ years. We had become a country club that didn’t look at all like the community around us (my assessment).

    The church board, which I’d just become a member of, decided to actively seek a pastor who would be proactive in connecting with people who weren’t Caucasian. We hired a 50 year old white guy…LOL…but he had several instances of success in a community such as ours. Well, here we are 2 years later, and as an example of what God has done, our youth group (which 3 years ago consisted of 10 white kids) is now 30 strong, and only has 10 white kids!

    Throughout the past 2 years, the pastor and board (all white 40+ year olds) consistently addressed the issue of “some people aren’t going to like the change” and every time we did, we agreed, “Then they can go someplace else. We must become like our community.” We’ve lost a few people and families, but attendence has gone from less than 200 per week to almost 300 per Sunday.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I’ll add a #3…

      3) “Accepting” the homeless into a congregation is a tricky issue, too, as many of the homeless have mental health issues that most (if not all) congregants and pastors aren’t trained to handle. I manage our church’s food pantry and have had several instances of needing to take deep breaths after interaction with a homeless person and I can’t fault people in their hesitancy around the homeless.

    • Josh in FW says:

      great story, thanks for sharing

  24. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    I remember too well being a 17 year old single mother just coming into church and men in the church making loud comments about “girls who got themselves pregnant and then thought that they should be allowed to keep the baby.”

    I also remember one family leaving the church because there were too many broken families in the church. When I got the chance I said to them, “Excuse us for needing a savior…”

    If we were to have a young child now, we would not send him/her to public school. It would be Catholic school k-12. It is hard enough to raise a child without having the school actively trying to subvert the values you want to instill in your child. But, again, most Catholic schools are significantly less money than other private schools, and many parishes have a commitment that no child of parish members will be turned away because of lack of money.

  25. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    Oh my husband reminded me of one more recent. Although I maintain the person was trying to make people uncomfortable. We had a man show up for meeting for worship wearing a plan dress – like the Amish or Mennonites would wear complete with poofy sleeves. He also had a full beard like an Amish or Mennonite man would wear. I must admit I was pretty disgusted. My husband, bless him, didn’t even skip a beat and was perfectly nice to the person. My son thought it was hilarious and wanted a picture.

  26. I have an extreme disgust reaction when I see Islamic women all covered up with their men dressed “normal”. Really torqs my sensitivities.

    • That’s very intolerant and culturally insensitive of you.

      But seriously, I don’t see why Islam gets such a free pass from the politically correct police for their blatant misogyny. One more reason I find liberalism so repulsive.

      • “But seriously, I don’t see why Islam gets such a free pass from the politically correct police for their blatant misogyny. One more reason I find liberalism so repulsive.”

        Me too. Very hypocritical. I read recently where British Lawyers have the go ahead to enforce Sharia law with wills and contracts. Makes me ill. Now we are being micromanaged to death by our government. When the left talks to me about civil rights—I laugh. To have civil rights, one must have “choices” that don’t infringe on the rights of others. Our basic life choices are dwindling by the minute. But then I am Libertarian so what do I know? There are few of us out there.

        • 1. English and Welsh lawyers were given guidelines by their Law Society (IE something more akin to a union, definitely not the Government) on how to help their clients write legal documents in keeping with their religious beliefs. Legal advice, not special legal powers. The thrust of what’s available sounds like this is a group trying to remain neutral on matters of personal faith with regards to providing legal services to anyone who asks based on their beliefs.

          2. Articles on the subject can be found quoting, or at least referencing, multiple Liberal politicians and activists opposing this action, including the head of a society that combats anti-Muslim hate crime. And by oppose I mean bringing the whole issue in front of Parliament. Sounds like the ‘Evil Liberals’ aren’t happy about this either.

      • MelissathRagamuffin says:

        I don’t see the Muslim women wearing their head coverings as anymore offensive than Amish or Menno women wearing theirs.

        • Head coverings in the mosque are the least of their offenses. I have no problem with that either. In places like Britain and Japan, it is quite common for Christian women to wear hats to church.