Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Eight (Continued)

   Men mature into tolerance but few are converted to it.

    Did you ever have a long conversation with an Ex-anything? The closer to their conversion, the more radical the change in life style, the more the Ex-anything tends to see in absolutes.

   Men mature into tolerance but few are converted by it.

   The hardened, happy unbeliever requires a good reason/cause/push to change. Tolerance will neither push nor urge the "sinner" to "repent." If I am OK, why do I need your OK?

   So, for decades, baptist Christians put out our absolute gospel and invited men to hard choice. Mad, sad or glad is how men left our revivals, we said. Perhaps we did not notice two-thirds of those choices were unhappy and the other might just as easily be empty.

   Social, economic forces impinged on the Free Church as they would on any group so close to the People, the hoi polloi. In fact, the Free Church is such a People’s Movement, the People could not change without altering the organization irretrievably.

   The baptist Christian movement went from the lower middle class economically to a higher level economically. The work ethic of baptists, their emphasis on education, on healthy individual achievement, all colluded to make baptist Christians overachievers. Three Southern Baptists sat in the White House in the last century and another makes a strong run as we write these words (Truman, Carter, Clinton and now Huckabee).

   Our theology of individual salvation (believer’s baptism is the result) naturally pushed us into great achievement. You cannot believe God loves you enough to die for you and not be an achiever in every area your church marks as important.

   As we entered prosperity, from the sharecropper to the White House, we underwent the usual emotional/social/cultural changes a movement undergoes. It is not a coincidence the first three SBC United States Presidents were Democrats, while the most viable national candidates today are from the Republican right. We still want the same things we have always wanted; individual rights, equal opportunity for achievement, elevation on the basis of achievement rather than allocation.

   Now, however, we want a little less change because we are in the elevated spot. We have become, not overcome, and we wish others would become as we have become.

   Culturally, we have been sabotaged in the forward movement of the People by the Mortality Horizon. As it has been explained to me, the Mortality Horizon is that span of years between the time ten percent of your age group first dies and the year when the last ten percent die.

   In the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century the Mortality Horizon was pushed back more than two decades world-wide. In the Industrialized nations the Mortality Horizon went back nearly three decades.

   Sociologists say the planet is reaching the tipping point in population not because people are being born too fast but because we die too slowly. Imagine how this effects our invitation appeal. Once upon a time we all believed we could get hit by a large truck on the highway. It was a metaphor for sudden death, which we could see all around us. Now we believe we will gasp out our last breaths in a "Home" somewhere when machines and medicines cannot prolong our suffering. Social pressures now make death a "cure" for us rather than Adam’s Curse.

   So, our bittersweet evangelistic appeals and our songs of the Mansion in the Sky do not resonate so much with people who believe they will probably live too long, anyway, and who live in the comfort imagined by millionaires in past generations. Every double-wide trailer has climate control, indoor plumbing, a satellite dish.

   Evangelism is now a dirty word. It does not test well in a Christian context. The raggedy, seedy, televangelists have not alone made this truth so. Cultural, social, economic forces have made it so.

   The poor preacher; a generalist in an age of specialization. He/she must make the organization function with a minimum of funding in an open culture that must work across three generational groups and non-assimilated language groups. He/she must do this without much authority, with total integrity/authenticity/honesty/transperency and, in the bargain, must be liked as well.

   Check out the number of ministers on anti-depressants, with broken families. The numbers will stagger you and they are not even accurate. Ministers will not admit to help-needs because someone will then question their faith.

   Check out the drop-out rate among ministers. This will give you are closer picture of the stress level.

   Cultural/Economic/Social pressures impact a People’s Movement like the Free Church. Sadly, we too often ignore those social CES pressures to look for spiritual reasons why we are fading.

   For instance, the Traditionalists I have described elsewhere in this memoir need  for things to remain as much the same as possible until suddenly facing the possible death of the organization (church). The Traditionalists are true achievers. They have proven themselves winners in enormous arenas, like the Great Depression, the World War and the Cold War. They have become. Now, they simply cannot always believe we cannot have the same results they produced if we will just work harder with their methods.

   Now, they have lived for decades in a reality of affluence with a mindset of want. The Depression, the War Years, the Cold War, all conditioned Traditionalists to make sacrifices for the Common Good in order to overcome outside pressures. Good hearted becomers to a fault they will carry the young around on a silk pillow if allowed. They will transfer (and are transferring) their great material wealth to the younger generation, along with their knowledge of the underlying, overarching truths of life.

   Traditionalists, unlike Post-Moderns, are not afraid of not being taken seriously but they should entertain this fear. In point of fact, many organizations, not just the church, are perfectly happy to cater to this generational/mind-set group as long as they live and will pay the bills. In fact, their wishes are really fulfilled only in symbolic terms.

   The Moderns, my generation, need results we can measure, fear dark conspiracies against our good intentions and those of our better (more marketable leaders). We too have lived in great affluence but feared the great crash to come because of sinister influences beyond our control. We worship youth and love change but only if the youth knows its place and the change comes only in small doses.

   My generation will be taken seriously out of our rugged individualism. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We would like everyone to get along but face life as a struggle. Unfortunately, having grown up in relative affluence, we feel a certain entitlement. I have pulled myself up by my boot straps after all. Never mind if they were my father’s bootstraps.

   We are, in fact, bottom line loners, who need a good growth curve on the chart. The arrow better be pointing up.

   I was stricken by my own hardening of the hearteries when I insisted our Sunday School totals be published in our newsletter in my new pastorate. Traditionalists were saddened by the decline of their church attendance over thirty years. My Moderns wanted organization and immediate outreach to get the arrow pointed up.

   My Emergents were just disappointed we would "publish numbers."  Is that what the Kingdom is all about? Let’s go to Starbucks and talk about it.

   Napoleon and Hitler found out they could not fight war on two fronts. The Modern Pastor in the Traditonalist Church merging with the Post-Modern future wishes for a two-front collision. At least he/she could find a way to face and brace for the impact from behind.

   The Emergents/Post-Mods/Progressives/Insert New Name Tag here live on credit. In a time when material need is becoming a crucial factor world-wide again, the Insert New Name Tag generation lives with a mind-set of affluence. This generation very definitely wants all their parents and grandparents have achieved but they want it now and will impoverish themselves with crushing debt to have what their grandparents and parents took a life time to amass.

   Add water. Instant life.

   The bills come later but not much later and bring with them a crushing weight.

   The CES forces impact the Church from the Insert New Name Tag generation. Every church must have everything every other church has and do all every church does and this must happen now. In addition, the INNTG must be recognized, rewarded and respected in every way, regardless of achievements (or lack of same).

   In fact, appeals to this INNTG must be low-key, positive-coded acceptances designed to affirm/accept life-style while offering to lift the incredible burden of youth, at least from Christians. Emotional, bittersweet calls for resolution are ineffective. We can just move to the next place if confronted by reality here, or ignore the bills. Check the default rate on credit cards and home loans.

   In fact, this new generation is not afraid of death or want. They are mostly afraid no one will take them seriously.

   So, to ask them to change, to speak of death or want, simply beats a drumskin no longer attached to the drumhead.

   Men can grow to tolerance but few are converted to, in or by tolerance. Usually, the tolerant exist for a time, only to be pushed out of place by those converted by the intolerant.

   In Britain, for instance, there are now "no-go" neighborhoods in some of the major cities. Muslim folks, who do not know they have to be tolerant of other cultures, fear the encroachment of non-Muslims and will assault persons who come on their "turf." Unfortunately, the British have lost their cultural identity as Christians to the state-sponsored Church.Whereas 88% of Britons attended Church services just after WW II, fewer than 6% say they attend worship in any Christian setting today. The CES forces pressing down on Britain today has 60% of British men and 40% of British women saying they would live abroad if they could afford it, citing unhappy experiences with non-assimilated people groups as their primary reason.

   There are more problems here than you can find answers for in a box at Lifeway.

   I had to put together a program for all these groups and do it in a two day span in January. Guys, you cannot do this on the convention level without much money any more than you can do it on the local church level.

   Hard days were coming.

   Every body needed a program.

1 thought on “Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Eight (Continued)”

  1. Rick,
    Your insights are deep, thoughtful, alarming, and quite true on many fronts. I too agree that our power position in Texas and affluence has undermined our effectiveness especially with the mass of people who do not enjoy the perks most of us do.
    I remember Charles Lee Williamson noting that as congregations became for affluent and educated that they lost touch with the blue collar/working class people. Then you throw in the distinct personality traits of the different generations and it is enough to send a senior pastor looking for a “Valium”.
    You paint a pretty bleak picture of your time in the Baptist Building. I can only hope and pray that we are enduring the darkness before the dawn.
    David Lowrie

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