Tuesday, September 09, 2008

To Sermon, With Or Without Love

Amber asks what one does when a Sunday church sermon takes a turn for the uncomfortable? She gets many, many comments in response.

The closest I came to walking out of church because of something a priest said was back in 2004 when, at my hometown parish, located at the local Air Force base, a priest basically directed us to vote against John Kerry because of the abortion issue and that if we did not, we were baby killers, not really Catholic, and pretty much lying, hateful people. I paraphrase, but the message was there. I looked at my mom during some of his choicer bits, and she was looking right back at me - we'd both heard the same thing and had the same impulse to leave. As our church is very, very small, and, as a product of our shock, we sat, stunned, until the end of the homily.

I've heard plenty of things with which I disagree at church. Walking out, however, seems like storming out on Thanksgiving dinner with your family: sure, your family can piss you off like no one can, but are you really going to walk out the door and never look back? No. Because your family loves you and you love your family. (By the way, this same reasoning is what gives me short patience with non-practicing Catholics or people who claim to simply be not Catholic anymore. Unless you take steps to formally separate yourself or convert to another religion, I don't see how you can be fully separated from that part of your history and culture simply by ceasing to attend services. But I've been told that's weird thinking.)

At the same time, however, those who attend regular services usually know what they are getting. At my church, there's a rotating schedule of priests with a lot of pinch-hitters from the local community because the Air Force is cuttting its budget. Here in Sacramento, my parish has two regular priests and after nearly seven years of attending, I know the general tenor of each. When I was younger, back at the base, I would sometimes attend the Protestant services with my friends, which convened in the same space as our Catholic services (they simply, I kid you not, removed the Jesus figure from the cross at the front of the room. Presto!). They would rotate between two preachers: one Baptist, one Southern Baptist. Oh, there's a difference, kids. I would know what I was getting with either one.

So, no, I don't think Obama or Palin can absolve themselves fully of all responsibility when it comes to the sorts of sermons to which they listen. But, fairly, most churches have guest speakers and you can't control what gets said from the pulpit every week. And if you're a lifelong churchgoer, it's likely that you've been going to one church your whole life. Even if you have to wait out years of sermons from someone you like less, you'll probably stick it out because it's your church.

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