Their tackiness and hypocrisy are disturbing
By Debra Cole
I care about my city’s environment. However, my deep concern doesn’t mean that I’m an arm-pit hair growing, Echinacea taking, Buddhist studying, yoga stretching, Whole Foods shopping, clove cigarette smoking, ponytail sporting, esoteric doctoral thesis writing, unemployed boyfriend attracting, wheat grass soy mix drinking, tofu stuffing, non-toilet flushing, ineffective organic deodorant wearing kind of woman. Well, I take that back. I have studied Buddhism and I shop at Whole Foods on occasion. And I can be strong-armed into writing a check to help stray cats — especially if I’m solicited during the vulnerable times of the month. The point is, Atlanta has ugly urban sprawl and suffocating smoggy air. The city needs to preserve more green space. One great way to start is by tearing down all those damned mega churches.
Not only are these structures architecturally offensive, mega churches take up on average between 50 to 100 acres of land, and in some cases up to 500 acres. That’s a hellluva of lot of space that could be set aside for mini Central Parks for cities with mega churches sprouting up like the weeds within a petunia patch.
Furthermore, America is littered with abandoned lots that were once home to K-mart stores. So why can’t these folks become good stewards of the earth and turn old strip malls into worship centers? Must they clear more land? The strip mall idea meets their needs. They would have plenty of parking, and an abandoned Sears store can’t be any more tacky than these churches. So they would still be able to check off “progressive” on the mega church PR checklist, because in the mega church handbook glossary, “forward thinking,” means to assemble in ugly buildings.
Mega Churches would gain respect in the community for leading the cause of recycling which would overshadow their science-hating tendencies. And the teen pregnancy rate would drop because cities would no longer have unoccupied parking lots for them to drink Jack Daniels and break virginity pledges. Lord knows our young people need more support to cope with a sex obsessed society, overt sexual images 24/7, non-communicative parents, and politicians who believe education is about hiding information, not sharing.
Just imagine how the conversion of preacher properties to forested sanctuaries would beautify our communities. Air quality would improve and the walking trails could possibly curtail the fat-ass syndrome plaguing so many Americans. The parks would be opportunities to engage in other spiritual activities that are currently unpopular like pondering, wondering, meditating, discussing, listening, imagining, and cloud staring. In addition to lust, mega church converts could explore other deadly sins like gluttony and pride. What a change of pace that would be from lattes in the lobby, power points, and formal training shrugging mediocre Jesus rockers with a three chord maximum knowledge base of music. I’m sure the change would be a shock to the system; kind of like the sore muscles a person gets the first time back at the gym after a 5-year hiatus. In time everyone would adjust.
Yes it sounds blasphemous and some of you Christians are offended and won’t read the rest of this article. That’s ok; it’s neither the first nor the last time my words offend somebody. After all, it’s not a tall order to offend some Christians, specifically evangelicals, who are never any fun at the company Christmas party. I know because as a freethinking Christ follower and southerner, they have surrounded me since my days in pre-K Vacation Bible School
So why pick on mega churches? Aren’t malls, McDonald’s, Walmart, Home Depot and nail shops to blame? Well yes they play they play the bass line in this sad American song. Truthfully, I hate the whole mess-bad urban planning, excessive car dependency, greed, developers with no taste, and public apathy. Seriously, our nation needs to come together on the sprawl issue. We must ask ourselves in a bipartisan manner, do we really need a nail shop every 10 feet? Are the feet of American women that hideous? But the mega church is different. They aren’t Walmart. Walmart’s motives are very clear. They want profits and nothing else.
On the contrary, mega churches claim to be about what’s good and right. They want to bring people to the “truth.” But the bigness and unsightliness of their buildings to me shout arrogance. It’s sad but the suburban landscape shows how religion is tightly bound to our materialistic competitive culture. And my thoughts are reinforced with the fact that many mega church pastors have degrees in business. In fact, roughly one-third have no theology schooling. I prefer my minister to be educated and knowledgeable of all religions. Just like I want my lawyer to have a law degree and a dog bite that won’t let go until the job is done. Just like I want my doctor to have social skills along with medical credentials. And just like I want my teacher to have academic achievements and enough gumption to tell the idiots on the school board, “Your policies aren’t good for children, so bite me.”
Despite how it seems, I’m not a European Studies snob who thinks every synagogue, mosque, temple, church, cave, closet, or chapel needs to look like Notre Dame, although that’s not a bad-beginning point to get the ball rolling in design brainstorming sessions. But if I were God, I’d be mighty ticked off to have to look at these monstrosities. Seriously people, if you’ve got money to spend on the latest video equipment for pastoral home invasions — I mean televangelism — you could at least hire a decent architect and make the place feel like a spiritual haven. If I were God, I would send my personal assistants to mega church wonderland on Sunday mornings while I went to a house of worship with better ambiance. You know, a place that makes you want to reflect and seek meaning with honesty and humility. And for an over the top prettied up experience, I’d go to a church that doesn’t scorn homosexuals because if gay men are involved, I know the place will look fabulous.
I’m by no means suggesting that a woman in the Gobi Desert suffering from hemorrhoids after riding a raggedy ass camel because her husband lost the good camel in a card game doesn’t deserve God’s attention. The unavailability of stained glass windows does not affect her pleas for the lord to intervene and stop the homicidal fantasies she’s having about her husband. That’s another matter entirely. God always takes these calls whatever the surroundings. I’m referring to the prayers offered with all the pageantry that every religion has, not just Christians.
Tackiness aside, the activities for the congregation are what disturb me. In fact mega church has VIP seating in my auditorium of harbored suspicions. For one, there’s usually a very charismatic and inspirational man giving commands to a huge crowd. And he says, “Everybody stand and say X. Everyone repeat X after me. Everyone look at chapter X, and say the passage with me, and digest only my interpretation. Everyone raise your hands and pledge to do X.” This kind of scene sends chills up my spine because leaders get a real charge from crowds. The excitement can lead to corruption and the occasional Kool-Aid party. I will confess that my reservations about the everyone follow and say yackety smackety routine is in part due to my rebellious nature. It’s no surprise to anyone I didn’t join a sorority in college because I’m not going to wear hair bows, a group T-shirt, and sing some stupid song.
However, when I add it all up, the charming speakers, conservative theology, extreme right political affiliations, anti-intellectualism, and a “debate” style, which consists of character assaults and avoidance of answering tough questions, which they call media harassment. And then I think of my personal experiences with evangelicals: the mean spiritedness, the inability to grasp the concept of walking in another person’s shoes, and relentless pressure to conform to their worldview which is an us against them philosophy. I put it all together and I think of Nazis.
I know the statement is melodramatic, and you’re saying to yourself in the vernacular of an African-American sister, “oh no she didn’t.” I’m not accusing any mega church leader of being a Nazi. Many of them I’m certain are well-meaning compassionate people. However, even with good intentions, which were absent from Nazi Germany, disastrous results can happen when organizations get too big and too powerful, and logic is dismissed in the membership drives. And when the movement teams up with politicians looking for emotional people to exploit. That is when things get really dangerous.
Evangelicals should obviously have a voice in politics like any group in this country. They should be able to express their views just like I can say anything no matter how offensive it is, especially on the comedy stage. But people with extreme religious views or dogma of any ideology, especially the ones who use bullying tactics for power, even if it’s something as insignificant as a small town mayor pressuring a librarian to take “inappropriate” books off the shelf of a public library, are a threat to democracy and freedom. They should not hold public office in the United States where church and state are neighbors, not roommates, and upholding the constitution trumps religion. The far right evangelicals should stay out of politics and focus on other issues like hiring a decent decorator for the new church. If they would look in Miami, Atlanta, New York, or San Francisco, I’m sure they’d find one with reasonable rates.
Debra Cole is a self-professed ‘lefty’ who calls it like she sees it. She was a public school teacher in Georgia for 9 years. Currently, she performs regularly in Atlanta area comedy clubs. She’s known for her sophisticated and smart humor that’s delivered with a seemingly sweet and yet surprising sarcastic Southern Georgia twang. E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.