The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

April 6, 2013

The church and society waging influence on each other

The pastor’s column in a church newsletter I receive was about the changing definition of marriage. He pointed out that no matter how the world defines marriage, God has already defined it for Christians.

In his discussion, he noted that the church used to influence the world. Now, the world influences the church.

Recently, I’ve heard talk from the pulpit about the good old glory days of the church during the 1950s when pews were full and the world seemed right. Some in the church seem to long for those days. Even television depicts the ’50s as some sort of golden era in America.

During the 1950s, the world influenced the church, and the church acquiesced to that influence through its silence.

Jim Crow was thriving in the South. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth from Chicago, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the Mississippi night by two white men, brutally beaten and dumped into the Tallahatchie River because he dared look at, whistle at, speak to — no one knows for sure — a white woman when he went into a grocery store to buy candy.

Women who kept the factories and farms running during World War II were sent back home to their subservient roles once the men came home. Few were encouraged to go to college, and those who went attended only long enough to earn their Mrs.

Women who were abused in the home were told to stick it out for the sake of the family and that talking about such things was not proper in society. Somehow, they should be ashamed that they got themselves into such a mess.

Children were seen and not heard. If they were sexually assaulted or abused, they were simply not listened to.

Through it all, the church had little to say other than to echo society’s mores.

It was OK to discriminate against black people because doing so didn’t really cramp the style of comfortable Christian whites.

The Baptist church was the first American Protestant denomination to call for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. As a result, many slaves joined Baptist churches. Somewhere along the way, black people began leaving the Baptist church and Baptists got tagged as the denomination of closed-minded, prejudiced bigots.

It was OK to let women and children suffer abuse because some pastors and parishioners believed the husband was the head of the home, no matter what. Those who disagreed kept silent.

After all, women weren’t allowed to be clergy, and children were sent out of the sanctuary to children’s church where they wouldn’t disrupt the worship service.

And so women and children began to see the church as irrelevant to their lives.

Heaven forbid that a teenage girl got pregnant in those days. She was shamed and shunned from the congregation. The focus was always on the unwed mother while the unwed father suffered no consequences other than perhaps a tongue-lashing from his mother and a back slap from his father.

Every time that happened, the church lost two — mother and baby.

For all those years that the church remained silent, the ones who couldn’t abide the silence left.

Now that the church is in trouble — mainline Protestant membership is in a decades-long nosedive — the society it served is silent, having long ago determined that church is not a necessary part of their lives.

That’s not to say that every church is useless and every member is heartless. But enough have been to convince society of it. Changing that collective mind will take a groundswell of effort and love.

The real glory days of the church were the days when Stephen gathered the other deacons and they got involved in everyday people’s lives. They cared for the motherless and the widows. They served food to the hungry. Their No. 1 priority was serving the community, not because they wanted a new member but because Jesus said that was how they showed their love for Him.

The church can still influence society if it will get in the middle of it and love people to death. No one can long resist real, sincere, unconditional love from the heart of a servant. Jesus proved that.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com

© 2013 by Nerissa Young

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