What would you do if a group of punk musicians rushed to the altar area or claimed the pulpit in your church and began singing protest songs in the middle of a Sunday morning worship service?
I’ve never asked any congregation I’ve served this question. Though most congregations may recall at least one disruption over the decades, surely nothing like this comes to mind. Old timers might remember those turbulent sixties when many white congregations sinfully barred their doors to people of color. Reading the yellowed minutes from these congregations reveals they were terrified that a black person might appear on Sunday and “cause trouble.” It was — and remains — a shameful period in the history of the white church.
I suspect, however, that few congregations have up to date contingency plans for disruptive street protestors because some scenarios are so remote.
The incident I described above actually occurred, however, and I deliberately omitted a few details to set the stage for the incident which has gained international attention. The protest took place, not in the United States, but in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Russian version of our National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
During a morning worship service a group of female punk rockers with the provocative name Pussy Riot charged into the church, occupied the central part of the sanctuary reserved only for the priests, and began singing and dancing. They sang a prayer to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, asking her to remove Vladimir Putin from power and to end the cozy, snuggly relationship the Russian Orthodox Church has with Mr. Putin and his political party.
Do the details of this story change your mind or your sympathies for the protesters, who now sit in prison awaiting sentencing? Three of the women were arrested and put on speedy trial by the state. Church members testified on behalf of the prosecution that they were horrified by what they described as a satanic, blasphemous protest that desecrated their church. Found guilty, these three women, all in their 20s, face the possibility of seven years in prison.
Putting myself in the place of a pastor of a local congregation I must admit that I would be horrified if something like this happened at a church I was serving. But looking at the situation in Russia elicits different thoughts. The church — any church — is in danger of prostituting itself when it too closely aligns itself with any political party or economic or military power structure and in this case the Russian Orthodox Church may be guilty of this very thing.
When the church becomes drunk with power the temptation to abandon its first love is almost too great to resist. Prophets then emerge from the wilderness or the street, often uncomfortably and even outrageously calling the church to remember that its authenticity is born of servanthood and humility rather than of the powerful ways of the world.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.