Monday, June 4, 2012
Of Religious Watch Dogs and Rules
My conversation with the hair dresser (http://methodistfindinggod.blogspot.com/2012/05/of-blow-dryers-and-churches.html) made it into my sermon on Sunday.
The text was John 3:1-17, always a challenging passage to preach because it contains that most famous of Bible verses, “For God so loved the world…” I focused on Nicodemus the Pharisee, who came to visit Jesus by night and got caught up in a conversation that did not go as he intended. Nicodemus came to talk about religion; Jesus talked about Life.
Life doesn’t happen by following religious rules, being right, or judging other people’s sins. Life happens by being born.
In the sermon, I talked about Pharisees ancient and modern -- our guardians of right belief and right behavior, always intent on following certain rules in the Bible and making sure everyone else follows them, too. The Pharisees apparently followed Jesus around, trying to “call” him on the rules that he was breaking.
The hair dresser isn’t a Pharisee exactly, but rather lets her religious life be governed by other Pharisees. From my sermon:
“I had a conversation last week with a religious rule-follower. She was giving me a hair cut, and somehow we got on the subject of church. She told me that at her church, women are not allowed to wear slacks. They have to wear dresses because there’s a rule in the Bible that women are to dress modestly, and somehow dresses are more modest than slacks -- although that’s debatable, isn’t it? Depends on the dress, I’d say.
“This religious rule surprised me! What woman in her right mind would go to a church where they tell you what to wear? I figured her church was small and strange, but no, she told me there are 800 members. That means at least 400 women - probably more than that - are allowing Pharisees to dictate how they worship.
"Yes there is. There are also rules about slaves being subservient to their masters -- and those rules were used 150 years ago to justify slavery. Curiously, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he tells women that they must cover their heads when they prophesy out loud in church, and then a few chapters later, Paul says women are not allowed to speak at all in church. Which rule is the right one, I wonder -- because if you’re prophesying, even with your head covered, you are - in fact - speaking in church. Did some ancient scribe tamper with the text as he copied it? Were Paul’s rules for some particularly unruly women in the Corinthian church, or did they apply to everyone, for all time? And how would we know?”
My sermon went on to examine other scriptural “rules” we Christian Pharisees seek to impose on others. The point was: You know you’re a Pharisee when sin is always what someone else is doing.
My conversation with the hair dresser continues to bother me. I cannot fathom why intelligent people attend a church where those in power (usually men) enforce certain rules that serve to keep them in power. Why aren’t people able to perceive this, and why don’t they care? A church that selects the “women-can’t-speak-in-church” rule out of the Bible (as opposed to, say, Jesus' "rule" from Luke 14:33 that if you want to be his disciple then you must give up all your possessions), and refuses to allow women to communicate in meaningful ways is trying to control and limit the power and unpredictability of the Holy Spirit and losing at least half of the congregation’s wisdom.
The hair dresser lamented another “rule” at her church -- the pastor will not officiate at a person’s second (or subsequent) marriage. She admitted she would like to meet a nice single man in church, but if she were to actually find a suitable man to marry, she wouldn’t be able to get married in that church!
I invited her to attend Union Grove Church, which is near where she lives. However, she is likely to remain at her church because it is familiar and comfortable.
My hope is that God was a part of our conversation, and that God will work in God’s time and way through our words.