A friend handed me a grocery bag full of accusations, suspicion and indignation last week. Having purchased a home that long had been empty he discovered a dresser filled with old church bulletins and religious tracts. Cramming the musty, gritty and yellowed stash of brittle paper into a bag he offered these 50-year-old artifacts to me, certain that a man with a religious background might find them interesting.
My inventory revealed a theological mishmash: hand-copied prayers and hymns, articles written by bishops, church bulletins and devotional material representing various groups, denomination and theologies.
Much of material represented a battle cry against godless apostasy: conservatives versus liberals and Protestants versus Catholics, the World Council of Churches being infiltrated by communist Russian Orthodox priests, the National Council of Churches trying to take over America, whether the ecumenical movement is Satanic as prophesied in the book of Revelation and whether or not the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was translated by communists or whether the Catholics were trying to sneak taxpayers’ money to pay for their own schools and why Christians shouldn’t march with godless clergy and laity protesting segregation and Jim Crow, etc.
These papers depicted an era when some quarters of our nation felt by overwhelmed by godlessness, thus producing argumentative tracts entitled “Proofs for God.” The contents depicted a faith on its heels, defensive, suspicious, quick to label heresy.
It made for a discouraging hour to examine that pile of anger and divisiveness. Others, of course, would examine the same dusty pile and salute a previous generation for their vigilance against communists and wolves in sheep’s clothing, false prophets who preached a false gospel.
There are no victors in such a fight, however; it is one part of the church fighting against another part of the church, something that’s taken place from the first centuries, often in quite bloody form: Christian against Christian. Faith in Jesus makes some believers downright aggressive from time to time and though the actors and issues have changed the battle lines remain the same even today. I found myself growing wearier the further into the pile I dug.
Are there no sacred things worth defending? Of course there are. I have no interest in encouraging or participating in a watered down faith. But to sort through so much moldering animosity was rather depressing. The assaults made in many of those stained brochures, viewed from the perspective of half a century, seemed alarmist and off-base.
My examination finally concluded I was glad that I could toss these yellowed papers written by red-hot believers into the recycling bin where perhaps they could be transformed into some form of value. As I write these words believers somewhere are churning out more documents to buttress their side of a theological argument and should somebody clip and save this column for some obscure reason, it, too, will eventually become yellowed and irrelevant
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.