“Help! I’m Hearing Voices!”: The Schizophrenia of The Church

I remember as a kid, interested in music, gospel music at that, that it was normal that I would turn on the radio on Sunday and listen to the music.  I actually went so far as to record some songs on cassette tapes even before the idea of a CD-ROM being recordable had entered our minds, let alone Napster, Limewire or even iTunes was a forethought.  And an .mp3 file was unfathomable.  So it wasn’t uncommon to have the radio in the car tuned to a gospel station–even after church.

We commonly went to our church’s 6pm service, so that meant that after church around 7pm that either Bishop Larry Trotter and the Sweet Holy Spirit Full Gospel Baptist Church came on and then for a while it was Donald Parsons at Logos Baptist Assembly.  I don’t remember who came on before, but you know how that goes with church radio, whoever stops paying, they’ll replace you with someone else.  But, I have clear memories of catching sermons after church from these two gentlemen–but only when I went to church with my dad.  If my mom went with us, which was most Sundays, she’d simply say “I don’t want to hear another sermon.  I want to let this one settle in my mind.”

Let’s be honest, in the age of podcasts, Streaming Faith, Youtube, XM radio, DVDs, CDs, iPods, other .mp3 players, satellite radio in your car, in your office, “God” is virtually at your finger tips whenever you want!  Technically, I could wake up in the morning and catch Jamal Bryant for a morning service, midday I could catch Marcus Cosby and then catch Charles Blake and if the timing was right, I could catch a few 12 or 12:30 services in the middle of the country. Not to mention that there are religious broadcast networks such as TBN and the Word Network that broadcast some form of religious doctrine all hours of the day.

What results is hearing too many different voices.

Whatchu tambout Willis?

Okay, lemme break it down to ya like a fraction.

Me listening to my pastor on Sunday mornings may not line up with what another pastor on the Word network might have preached.  That is to say, many pastors are left having to clean up the messes that other preachers are creating by filling the heads of their listeners with opposing theologies.  Honestly, if you have a parishioner who’s trying to reconcile the theology of Eddie Long of Creflo Dollar with that of their local church it’s probably going to be very hard.

I think this is a multi-layered issue that needs to be addressed.

1) People don’t know their own constructive theology.  Because we’ve been inculcated so long with messages from our pastors, and our family, we have this aversion toward other faiths and other religions.  If we hear “Mohammed couldn’t do, Confucius couldn’t do it, Buddha couldn’t do it, but Jesus can…” long enough, we no longer have an aversion, but an arrogance about what we believe in, as if we have the magic key.  So because many blacks live in all black neighborhoods and blacks are heavily Christian, too many of us never get our faith challenged.  As a result, we’ve never had our beliefs challenged against rational thought.

And the women selling Watch Tower doesn’t really count.

What we teach in our Sunday Schools is clearly Christian education and not religious education.  I think that makes enough sense for what we call “baby Christians,” but at a certain point, I think churches need to move toward Religious education.  We recite these credos about “what we believe” but never discuss about what the individual believes.  Churches have fooled their parishioners into thinking that the midweek service is still Bible Study.  The point of Bible study is to interrupt and ask the questions you wanted to on Sunday, but couldn’t.

A faith isn’t really a faith if it’s never been challenged.  When we mute others from asking certain questions, basic questions we’ve moved from creating a faith community to a community of persons with cultish principles.  We hush children and adults a like from wrestling with basic questions such as who did Cain marry and have children with if it was just Adam, Eve and only Cain.  We’re not allowed to ask about the missing years of Jesus from ages 12 to 30; why does Paul speak about being “caught up, in a moment in a twinkling of an eye” and John says that there will those “left behind” in the tribulation times; Exodus says “thou shalt not kill” and Ecclesiastes says there’s “a time to kill.”

Like I said, basic questions.

2) Preachers and pastors don’t really know what they believe.  In this day and age with many things from pop culture that influence our consciousness, many of our preachers don’t truly know what they know.  Going out on a limb, I’m making, the jump, but this younger generation of preachers–on average–are just as unaware of their truly deep-seated beliefs.  They know they exist, but in order to be in the pulpit, a certain message is expected to be projected across to the people.

To the preachers and pastors, many of us sit around and talk amongst each other and perform a cognitive dissonance.  We may confess our deep emotions, sins or what not or even countering theological beliefs, but we become hypocrites in the pulpit by providing the same tired message.

I also say this because as a budding homiletician and an avid road trip driver, I’ll sit and listen to a string of sermons on my iPod in the car.  Feasibly, I could hear four or five sermons of a preacher back to back, and it’s interesting to see their constructive theology.  What I noticed is that among one of the preachers, who I rather enjoy, he said in one sermon that “you know the devil is after you when you gettin’ close to God” and then in a separate sermon said “you know the farther and farther you get away from God, the devil will get after you” and I wanted to raise my hand and say “sir! sir!”

Well, you know that’s not a good look.  The preacher doesn’t need to change up theological premises from week to week.  Honestly, especially with popular preachers that fly in and out of cities for various guest preaching spots, I wonder how often are they writing new sermons?  It’s like hearing a comedian using the same schtick over and over again.  Moreover, I wonder how often do us as clergy actually pay attention from week to week what we’re saying.

3) Some preachers and pastors don’t care what gets said, as long as they get paid.  That’s a sad fact.  Some of the people just recognize preaching and pastoring as a hustle.  This happens from the big time leaders of large megachurches, down to the regular sized churches that we see in our communities.  It crosses denominational lines as well.  But still, parishioners allow their consciousness to be informed by these people, who in my opinion, often present a warped gospel that is only out to enlarge their own territory at the expense of others.

That being said…

…whenever we don’t what we believe, its easy to allow the different opinions to permeate our consciousness and then we get all confused.  Look, anyone who’s been a reader of my blog entries know that for the most part I’m real far left of center.  It’s very few things I even fall middle of the road with.  And when it comes to my true core theology, I’m definitely to the left.  But, I know what I believe, so when I hear a sermon, I put it up against that which I already know and believe.  It’s a deliberative theology that constantly changes when I hear a turn of a phrase or new information.

As I said before, this plays into my ideas about progressive theology.

God is still speaking, are we still listening?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

4 thoughts on ““Help! I’m Hearing Voices!”: The Schizophrenia of The Church

  1. Great reflection! You raise some very important and complex issues here. Many preachers/ministers do feel torn between deeply embedded beliefs, being “pc” and keeping the connections with the communities of significance that reared them. The choice is often to be inauthentic. How then do we create the kinds of systems of support that enable people to be authentic, whether that means raising critical questions, or standing firmly on unpopular perspectives? Rather than asking people to tune out the multiplicity of voices, e.g., pop culture, how do we help them listen to, critically assess, and respond to those voices/views while simultaneously constructing their own (hopefully) evolving theologies in light of what they hear? And how do I do all of this, choose to be prophetic, and still eat—physical food? Some of us love a prophetic word, but we fall away when it comes to providing sustained support of those who chose the road less traveled.

  2. Love your thoughtful posts. Thank you for your questioning insight.

    Whenever we say what we believe, we should not expect to validated by those (in a congregation or along our own individual spiritual journey) who accept ‘conventional wisdom’ as ‘truth, justice, and the American way.’

    Uppity, from much earlier posts, you did not buy into the ‘speaking truth to power’ meme. But, being authentic and prophetic makes it difficult to ‘stand’ in the face of adversity against one’s self whether from the Academy or the Congregation. Think Rev. Vernon Johns’ tenure as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church prior to MLK’s.

    Being not only called to ministry but chosen as well appears to be a quite difficult road to travel without saying (and knowing) what one believes. Lead us not into temptation is a real prayer for the called.

    Keep writing, reading, and listening. Epiphanies happen. Be encouraged by doing theology that measures up in your life and the lives of others. The congregation exists after church and needs to hear a word from heaven. God is real.

    IMO, sometimes we just need to shake our tambourines, in an uppity kind of way.

  3. Great post! As a preacher’s kid, I can definitely appreciate this particular post, as I’ve had similar conversations with my dad over the years.

    The good thing about my dad was that he encouraged me to ask questions…to himself and others, so that I would be able to know exactly what I believe and be able to defend it. No matter the question, he would give his answer and provide scriptural foundation for his answer. However, the conversation didn’t end there. Afterwards, he would direct me to other writings on the same topic from different perspectives so I had many different outlooks on the issue.

    I think if more pastors adopted an “open-door” policy relating to their theology so that members can engage in discussion about the sermon that Sunday instead of the teaching beginning and ending at the pulpit, we would all be better for it.

  4. You make a lot of good points young brother. I think one of most key points is people do not study the word to show themselves approved. One thing my mother always taught me was “if a preacher can’t back up what they say scriptually, take it with a grain of salt.” Parishoners are willing to give their relationship with God over to someone else to define instead of doing the work and defining the relationship themselves. We have to know the word for ourselves, because no man or woman can get us to heaven. We have to do that on our own.

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