Monday, August 8, 2011

Never Miss a Marketing Opportunity

When I was a child, my family attended a church in which the minister, an American Baptist, never missed an opportunity for an altar call. In fact, his every sermon, no matter the topic, always rounded to a call for anyone who had not yet done so to physically come to the front of the church and accept Jesus as their personal saviour. This was perhaps one of the least intellectual and instructional churches I ever attended. The whole message revolved around a one-off opportunity to become a Christian. From then on, nothing really mattered. Perhaps it’s understandable, acceptable even, for a minister to make an altar call from the pulpit once a week on Sunday morning. After all, what else do you expect to hear when you attend church? Why should that be offensive in the least in a church service?

But, there are times when it is offensive. I witnessed one such occasion a few years ago. I attended the funeral of a young man who had been killed suddenly in an accident. The funeral service was in a community hall in the town where this man had lived. It was packed full of everyone in the community. I suspect everyone was there whether they knew the deceased or not. That fact was clearly not lost on the minister who conducted the service as he saw a golden opportunity to proselytize. The service proceeded as one might expect, with some stories and anecdotes about the young man’s life. This young man had grown up in a semi-religious family and had never really taken religion too seriously. He liked to party and have a good time and was not someone you would ever suspect of being a Christian if you met him. At the funeral this fact was initially unspoken and left alone, but sure enough the minister couldn’t pass up an opportunity to save a few souls. Eventually he rounded on the topic of where this young man had now taken up residence for eternity. At a funeral, with relatives including in this case the young man’s pregnant wife sitting crying in the front row, the last thing one needs to think about is the possibility that their husband, son, brother, father, was now in hell being tormented by Satan himself. The minister at this particular funeral decided to go the alternate route, and confidently proclaimed that this young man had confessed his faith to the minister not a year or two before his death. He was, even now, rejoicing with God in heaven, the minister confidently announced. Then he went on to deliver the meat and potatoes of his message, all about the deliverance from death to those who accepted Jesus. I was immediately back in my childhood church.

This is wrong on so many levels, one isn’t sure where to begin. Firstly, there is the obvious problem with the minister acting as eternal judge of the man’s soul. Who is he to judge? I thought Christians believed that God sat in judgment of the deceased. Clearly, though, this minister was astute enough to recognize the potential doubt about the eternal destiny of the deceased. He sensed that the family needed that worst part of Christianity: false hope. He also felt, presumably as a result of the very fact that this young man was not particularly religious, the need to publicly leave no doubt as to his fate. Secondly, why turn a funeral, where people are emotional, weakened by grief, and vulnerable, into an opportunity to enlarge your flock? I remember feeling genuinely sickened at the thought of this minister hoping to cash in on the fear of death so palpable at the funeral with an enlarged congregation. This goes to one of the main reasons I originally rejected Christianity’s claim of truth. Truth is self-evident. It does not need a salesman. In science, for example, teachers might educate students on facts and evidence, but they feel no need to convince and sell their truth to students. Yet in religion this sales pitch is an absolute requirement because the ridiculous ideas passed off as truth by the religious are as laughable as a late-night info-mertial unless they are properly marketed. And thirdly, though this didn’t really hit me until later when I had a chance to really think about it, if this minister was so confident that the young man, who had so clearly lived his life as he pleased without religion, was no in heaven, then why the need for others to make an even more public and sincere profession of faith. Once the bar for admittance is established, why waste energy over-shooting it? Without even realizing it, this minister had effectively said to his community: “Don’t worry about coming to church, don’t worry about living life as a Christian, don’t worry about any of that. Just swing by my office sometime and proclaim your faith, then go about your life as you please. That’s all you really need for admittance to heaven." Talk about shooting yourself in the foot with your own message.

I watched as this young friend of mine was lowered into the ground in a wooden box. Those around him sang about the glory, grace, and love of God. I drove home late at night and looked out into the darkness and realized that the only thing that remained of my friend was now out in that darkness under six fee of earth. That was it. He no longer existed beyond a broken body. It was very tragic and devastating. I have almost never felt such a profound sadness and sense of loss. But it was also very real. The young man's life was over. It was his turn. He had positively affected many lives and there was much to be thankful for. I appreciated having known him. And my own mortality became more focused and real. I recognized that all life is at once valuable and fragile.

No comments:

Post a Comment