Monday, August 22, 2016

On a Charismatic Church Service

I was in Portland on Saturday night. I was about to go to a movie, but I passed a beautiful, ornate theater advertising an evening of worship. I thought it was black gospel and I love black gospel. So I paid, went in and discovered a theater packed with 20- and 30-somethings in pseudo hipster gear. I was in for an evening of Christian contemporary music and charismatic preaching.

No one was bashing the queers or baby killers. There wasn't even a vague suggestion of praying for those sinners who weren't within those walls. There were prayers given out for those who were starting businesses in the audience. And in the middle of the service, there was a massive prayer for miracles, to heal those in the audience with dyslexia and scoliosis. We laid hands on each other to cure our neighbors of suicidal thoughts and depression. A very loving old man who was standing next to me laid a hard hand on my shoulder and, actually, it kind of worked. I did feel a little happier. There was something nice about being in an enormous, gorgeous theater, surrounded by people who wished each other well, even if I was bombarded by three hours of terrible, terrible music. I listen to the Staple Singers or Russian Orthodox chants and I want to convert. I don't know how this music inspires anyone.

Of course, the ethics were terrible, and I couldn't get behind this theology. It was depressing to see a room filled with people who wished each other well, who had an amazing capacity for generosity, be taught all the wrong lessons. Instead of praying for success in your business, shouldn't you be praying that your success or failure will come to you honestly, one way or another, and that you will remember to take care of others who are less fortunate, to not look down on those who look up to you. This wasn't the worst version of the prosperity gospel, but it was bad. And where are god's priorities, by the way? I mean, I know people with dyslexia. I've had students with dyslexia. It's a problem. It needs to be treated. It's not fun to have dyslexia. But should god really be spending all that time on your dyslexia, considering you live in a city with excellent educational resources to handle that problem, when he could be helping a starving child in North Korea?

What a terrible waste of communal fellow feeling.

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