October 6, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The Church of secular entertainment?

Cynthia DewesSome friends of ours have a grown daughter in her 20s who lives in Michigan. This young woman has a job, a house, a car and a dog. She also has a Church, one of those huge megachurches with complexes of buildings and ministries.

The denomination of Megan’s Church is vague, with a “Something Something Christian” title that sounds like generic Protestant to me. However, the “rules” for what Church members may read or join, and whom they associate with, smack of intolerant fundamentalism. Intellectual curiosity, especially in spiritual matters, does not seem big on their agenda.

Megan’s parents are worried about the close-minded enthusiasm that Church membership has engendered in their daughter. They themselves have no religion, although they believe in God, live by admirable moral values, and are respectful of those who claim a faith as they know we do. Somehow, they were turned off in childhood by family religious experiences, so they’ve raised their children without any religion at all.

As a result, they are hesitant about criticizing Megan’s newfound religion, and maybe a bit regretful that they raised her without any faith to compare it to. After all, who are they to complain? But, they worry about the cult-like aspects of her attachment to the megachurch.

When we visited Megan, she was eager for us to see her Church, since she knows we are faithful Catholics. We felt she wanted approval for her decision to join a religious community. And, indeed, we are grateful she has found God in a fellowship of believers. It’s just that we, like her parents, feel uneasy about her choice.

The main church building contains a huge auditorium for worship, with giant video screens and sound systems to reach the thousands of members who attend every Sunday. Other buildings hold gyms, daycares, social halls, offices, and rooms for Sunday School, Bible study, club meetings and many other related organizations. It’s one busy place.

When we asked how it’s possible to relate personally to such a number of fellow worshipers, Megan said the smaller organizations within the larger one are the answer. She may or may not know the pastor and the staff, but she receives moral support from the small spiritual groups she has chosen, including a young adult Bible class and a team that travels regularly down South to provide hurricane relief.

Now, the ministries Megan serves are certainly worthy Christian efforts. She and her friends are working hard to learn more about God as well as practicing what they hear preached about God every Sunday. Nothing wrong with that.

What bothers us is that we don’t recognize as Christian the faith she seems to be serving. Rather than forgiveness, mystery and grace, this Church community seems to stress personal empowerment through obedience to their own rules, distrust of other paths to God and self-righteousness. We sense fear and despair at the root of Megan’s conversion, when joy and hope should be her birthright as a Christian.

Worshipping in a culturally popular way is certainly OK, and some would say any kind of religious attachment is better than none.

But, I’m not so sure.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †


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