Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Who Was the Hater?

This Sunday's and next Sunday's book review feature detective stories written by a retired Christian minister, about Christian characters. The author of these stories, Charles Merrill Smith, had written several "serious" nonfiction books for Christians. He was one of the leaders of the "liberalizing, ecumenical" movement in the church, way back when it was fresh.

I didn't realize, until I looked up his last and most obscure novel on a search engine, that a minister like Sheldon Emry--who was NOT the "liberalizing, ecumenical" type--had actually enjoyed Smith's book, How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious, in a snarky way, and sold it to those of his flock who had indicated an interest in buying full-length books.

Let's just say that although there are a few millionnaires in my family, my parents were not them. I grew up with very nice stuff, yes, and with a lot of privileges...and with a constant daily awareness that we were the poor relations. My parents were, like, actually trying to make a living by farming. Granola Green organic farming.

My father didn't usually bother trying to enlighten ministers who asked for money during church services, but he delivered very long lectures, at home, on the theme that Preachers Who Ask For Money Are False Teachers Whom We Should Not Support.

Meh. Ministers have to live too, and I'm not sure that, as Dad used to claim, they need to be "examples of doing without" material goods. Sometimes the fundraising is done in aid of good causes. I respect, but don't share, Dad's lifelong rule that if an offering plate is passed during a service he wasn't going to sit through that service. I've even been known to put money in the plate...though not often, because I have found that, in churches that pass the plate, often there is what the Bible calls "respect of persons."

Being landed poor, a poor relation, gave me a unique window into this dynamic of social psychology in the church. As a young churchgoing introvert I learned that I was seen as having completely different personalities depending on whether a church group perceived me as coming from a have-more family or a have-less family (not that I'd lived long enough to have developed any personality of my own yet).

Basically, I learned that, when a group of people believe that you have less money than they have, you can't do anything right. If you do happen to do something better than they do, those people are going to resent you. If you do it about equally well, or less well, they're going to despise you. As John Santrock reported in his book, popularity in middle school is fairly well tied to having rich and indulgent parents. This situation becomes less dynamic but more rigid for less wealthy adults. In churches, introverts are attacked for being "snobs" if perceived as rich, for being "withdrawn" and "sullen" and "bitter" if perceived as poor--but it's much less unpleasant to be perceived as rich.

This is a fact--as solid a fact as anything in social psychology is ever likely to be. It has no more to do with anybody's feelings, or even their beliefs, than the temperature has. However, those who feel guilty when it's mentioned tend to identify themselves by "crybullying" about how the person who mentions it is aaaangry and meeeean, and they're probably hurrrt too.

Possibly because Dad might have noticed this first...we didn't attend church often when I was growing up. Dad didn't approve of very many ministers, even if they were his cousins. For a few years he showed some respect for Herbert W. Armstrong. Then HWA died and we were a family without a church. Then Dad took some interest in Sheldon Emry's radio broadcasts, which echoed the Worldwide Church of God's debunking of Christmas rituals, and we joined the Lord's Covenant Church for a few years.

Was Pastor Emry a "white supremacist" as many claim? He overtly preached to North Americans of British descent that following the whole Bible was especially important to the Saxon and Celtic "races" because they were physical descendants, and heirs, of the promises made to the descendants of Abraham, along with the "true Hebrews" (Sephardic Jews) as distinct from "them which say they are Jews, but are not" (Ashkenazic-Russian Jews, thought to be the remnant of the extinct Euro-Asian Khazar tribe). (Dad warned us not to put much importance on this aspect of LCC doctrine because it will never be proved--even though it can't be completely disproved either.) Pastor Emry also preached that Christians should know, distrust, and be prepared to defend ourselves against enemies--including enemy nations, most especially that bad old Soviet Union, our great enemy in those days.

He did not, however, preach that any nation had been created just to fuel the Eternal Fire. The doctrine of the Lord's Covenant Church was that, if and whenever the English-speaking nations committed themselves to following the teachings of the whole Bible, then God had promised equal--though longer delayed--blessings to the other nations of the world. Meanwhile, it was possible that a few righteous "foreigners," like Ruth and the Ethiopian courtier in the Bible, might be sincere believers who could be "adopted into Israel," which is what most Christians believe non-Jewish Christians have been, in any case.

I read several of Pastor Emry's shorter books, and I will say that they show a learning process over the years. When reading his work (some of which is now available in PDF form online, at a memorial site for Pastorsheldonemry.com) you have to brace yourself. Remember at all times, first of all, that these are the words of an old man who grew up with the idea that he was supposed to speak out boldly, talk tough, and denounce evil, rather than smoothing things over or being tactful, as most Christians expect ministers to do now. Remember, also, that many of those documents were written in a climate of real fear, when Americans expected the evil Soviet Union to drop bombs on us any day. One of the book titles was Russia Will Invade America and Be Defeated. (It's not available on Amazon; it's available at the memorial site.) I knew the man well enough before he died to believe that he didn't write as a real hater--often I suspect he wrote out of fear, whistling in the dark--but he certainly did write some hateful words.

I will say, though, that as a minister Sheldon Emry both baptized and ordained people who were not English, Irish, or "pure Aryan" types; I'm not sure how the Lord's Covenant Church attracted any Black members, but it had a few. My father had true "Red" skin; although my brother and I didn't inherit that trait, out West people generally expected us to be Mexican. I have read Christian literature that claims that the Cherokee and other Native Americans were punished by God for their especially wicked ways. It did not spew out of the Lord's Covenant Church.

But a minister's acceptance of my father as a congregant involved more than just not hating his complexion. Dad was the sort of Christian who, when he did listen to a sermon, believed it was his duty not only to ask the minister to explain parts he wasn't sure about, but to call out the minister on any points where Dad thought the minister was in error. Though younger than Pastor Emry, Dad had the same "talk tough, and fight it out if necessary" approach to disagreements. Anyone whose church we attended had to be prepared for serious head-butting and horn-locking.

This was especially true if a minister ever had to mention, even in a printed newsletter that was distributed to people who'd requested it, that reprinting and tape-recording sermons cost money. The Lord's Covenant Church didn't ask for more than the cost of printouts or tapes, so far as I've found. When possible the church did distribute these items free of charge. Dad's contribution to the church was to share them liberally with friends. When it became necessary for Pastor Emry to mention that the stock of pre-paid tapes was running low and the church needed a dollar for this or that sermon, and Dad started ranting, "Just another preacher who's after money...I'm not going to share any more of his rubbish...the people I've been sharing my copies with can buy their own copies if they want to, but if they listen to me they won't," etc. etc. etc., I realized that Pastor Emry had stopped preaching his (more unusual and controversial) doctrines (to attract attention) and started practicing genuine Applied Christianity.

So apparently did Dad, because, even after Mother, my brother, and I had been baptized in a Seventh-Day Adventist church and I'd gone off to that S.D.A. college, Dad did continue to buy, save, and share Pastor Emry's literature.

Well, that sort of vigorously confrontational, yet respectful, relationship may have been possible only for men born before, I don't know, 1930 or 1940 or thereabouts. I don't think I've seen it among my own generation. But it needs to be taken into account by anyone reading the more offensive things Pastor Emry said. He didn't believe he was supposed to sound friendly or hand out warm fuzzies--or even show a snarky sense of humor in sermons, although it came out when he talked or wrote letters. He didn't preach "hellfire," but he'd learned his preaching style in that school. Sermons were for strong, bold denunciations. He expected to be challenged in equally strong terms; he would, occasionally, even back down.

Neo-Nazi? No. The type of Christian whom some sort of neo-fascist movement might have been able to exploit, if Pastor Emry's vision of World War III had come true in the way he apparently expected it to do? Possibly. I'm glad we'll never know.

Time passed. That generation passed. I lived in a city and attended mainstream churches, often more than one of them, every weekend. I learned "Placater Mode verbal abuse" as a dialect, from church people, then unlearned it. I learned that, although of course some churchgoers aren't verbal bullies looking for a fight, the vast majority of the ones who do the vast majority of the talking are. To avoid verbal abuse and hostility, I found it helpful to avoid churchgoing; as an adult I rarely visit any church.

I have always said that, if ever it comes to pass that, on the six days of the work week, I find myself working with, for, and among people who all attend the same church, I'll join that church. (I did say "church." Muslims do have that kind of loyalty; my definition of "church" does not include mosques.) It's never happened. I don't usually talk or write about church, nor do I usually talk or write about money.

As regular readers know, I was pushed over the brink, when it comes to talking about money, last winter. I was living on less than Republicans typically spend on their dogs and I was getting e-mails, hourly, from various Republicans (or maybe from Democrats trying to turn people against the Republicans?) asking for money for various Republican presidential candidates. Oh, fear it not, there were e-mails from Democrats too--but on a weekly rather than hourly basis. I started asking people for money. Anyone whose e-mails asked me for money, or who started "following" me from a web site that did, began to get an e-mail from me, worded differently according to the words they used, but telling them how much money I've (not) been earning lately and suggesting that they support my project so that I can eat regularly, and, if they do, assuring them that I'll endorse their projects as at least showing sincerity in whatever religious, political, or humanitarian ideals they've claimed.

I sincerely hope that Candidates Trump, Sanders, and Clinton have received, and will continue to receive, the kind of response I got from you, Gentle Readers.

Such that today, yesterday, and on Sunday, I didn't eat any solid food. So far the Portal Paper has brought in $7; $3 of that was for the cats.

I hear you loud and clear, Gentle Readers. You're saying, "We have no use for you, the writer known as Priscilla King. If you'd rather die than try to adopt an immoral lifestyle at this point in your life, then die. We want your stuff anyway." I hear that message coming from you, and I reflect it back to you. If you want your life or death to mean anything to me, get that $100 into my hands now. If you want to go on spending all your money on beer and cable television and unnecessary driving, then...I'm not a violent person, but the funerals of people with that kind of priorities do a great deal to improve this world.

One of these alleged e-friends, to whom I'd mentioned a religious experience, did reply, in a way.

What I said was that "in 2006 I received a very vivid mental impression--it didn't look like a "real" sight or sound like a "real" sound, but I seemed to see Jesus as a very sick patient trying to press the button to summon the nurse and not being able to move His hand, and the words passed through my mind, "The church is the body of Christ." The meaning was clear. My prayers can be answered only if real Christians start paying me for what I do."

What the alleged Christian e-friend said was a classic piece of churchy verbal abuse, actually including a phrase I'd hoped might have died from overwork around 1989: "I don't know who or what has hurt you so bad to sound so bitter and angry, but I will not allow you to take it out on me."

You asked someone who has less than you have for money, Stupid One. Own your stupidity instead of compounding your offenses with verbal abuse. All this guy needed to say was, "I don't send out money online." I don't either, and I understand; if you've not been following a writer for years you have no way of knowing whether any of your e-friends actually exists as an individual, much less as the sort of individual s/he seems to be on the Internet. Or he could have done another version of that tired old whine about not having any money to spend, personally, and being accountable to spend funds he raised according to the policy of his church, which is also normal. This glutton-for-punishment has a real emotional need to insult people.

He represents himself as the pastor of a church--not in a neighborhood where anybody I know in real life has recently been. If that's true, he probably has a lot of "depressed" parishioners who don't know why, when everything they hear coming from him sounds so bland and nice and warm and fuzzy and even chummy (he probably says things like "I love you, brother" and "I'm praying for you, sister" a lot), they leave the church building feeling so much worse than they felt when they got up in the morning.

At this guy's site there's no overt mention of "enemies," no attention to Bible prophecies about wars or economic crises or even natural disasters. Everything looks nice and smooth, as long as nobody ruffles the surface.

Well, there is no shortage of people to follow in cyberspace. One more or less will hardly be missed, or even noticed. I might have forgotten this jerk by now if, when I was looking up one of Charles Merrill Smith's titles on Bing, I hadn't come across a site where somebody complained to somebody else that How to Become a Bishop had been "endorsed by a white supremacist hater like Sheldon Emry."

The contrast blazed up in my mind. Pastor Emry, a great American eccentric preaching primarily to an earlier version of the more extreme types of "preppers" and Tea Parties, responded to angry, Blamer Mode verbal abuse--from a congregant who didn't even look White, mind you!--with the stiff courtesy and ongoing good will of his and Dad's generation. Pastor One-of-a-crowd-of-fools-and-hypocrites responded to a very plain statement of fact, made without emotion or accusations, with a spew of putrid hate.

Who's the hater? Not Emry--whom I wouldn't have asked for money, because he didn't ask people for money without a straightforward accounting of what he wanted it for and why. Mr. Goodygoody Mealymouth is the hater.

And although the real hater might deserve to be called out by name, I don't want to do that now because there are thousands of him in these United States today. I want you readers to ask yourselves whether he's one of the so-called Christians you know...and feel free to denounce the "Christian" verbal abusers you know for being him, if you think that may help anybody.

People whose religion is all about warm fuzzy feelings, not about doing what Jesus actually did, are the haters we should be most concerned about in the Christian church. People who project their own hate onto you if you call attention, even inadvertently, to the hollowness of their feel-good babble, are the ones who "crucify our Lord afresh and put Him to an open shame." People who bustle around inviting the rich (or rich-looking) people to take the best places, tucking the poor (or shabby-looking) people out of sight, and simpering at anyone in real need, "Depart in peace! May you be warmed and fed--somewhere else!" are the ones who are doing nothing for Christ. Whether they affect the full-blown Universalist creed and try to avoid mentioning Christ so as to be more inclusive of those who prefer to worship Ishtar or Diana in the church, or whether they take the Fundamentalist tack and denounce "New Age" fluff as "of the devil"...their "religion" is as false and fluffy, and as much "of the devil," as anything in the "New Age."

God hates you, Preacher Goodygoody Mealymouth. The Bible never denies that God hates things, or suggests that we shouldn't hate them. The Bible tells us that God, not willing that anyone should perish, lets evildoers (like Preacher Goodygoody Mealymouth) go on polluting this world on the chance that some of them may repent. The Bible tells us to be as merciful as God is but it does not tell us to continue to support these evildoers' evil work. In fact, if evil work (such as verbal abuse being spewed at those who have less) is going on in a church, the Bible tells us to help those evildoers toward repentance and forgiveness--by walking out of that church, shaking its dust off our feet as a witness against them, and withholding all funding or moral support from that church or those people. To that extent, in King James English (which was often more picturesque than most modern dialects of English), the Bible commands us to hate the real haters in the church...just as God hates them.

This is not, of course, to be confused with the kind of hate that spews out of terrorists, or even the terribly confused "Westboro Baptists." The Bible at least gives us the example of people who concentrate on positively preaching what they do believe, rather than wasting much time denouncing what they don't believe. Still, from time to time it is necessary to rebuke people, to help them repent. Cutting off any donations of money that you might have been making to a church is an excellent way to correct a preacher.