Monday, August 8, 2011

What have they done with my church?

This past week I visited my elderly parents in their small town, in northeastern Pennsylvania.  This is the town where my older brother and I grew up.  It's a tough old coal mining area where God fearing people worked hard, had sincere beliefs and were not only ethnically diverse, but were ethnically segregated in many cases on Sunday.  Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a huge immigration to the USA from diverse places as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Eastern Europe from what was then Austria-Hungary.  They all built their own churches in their own traditions.  They may have worked together, mostly in the anthracite mines of the area, but on Sunday, they worshiped at their own churches.  The few ethnic groups that even remotely mixed on Sunday tended to be of the Protestant denominations, one of them being the affiliation of my youth, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A (PCUSA). 

The church I grew up in tended to be WASP-ish, but my mother and her family are German Presbyterians.  My paternal grandmother was a Scot and was more Presbyterian than John Knox (she was also about as tolerant with those who weren't).  The Irish Catholics were her sworn enemy, and barely tolerated my German mother.  My paternal grandfather was what we could call a Heinz 57, but for the most part was Scots-Irish, and not particularly religious.  He was a general building contractor in the early-mid part of the 20th century and much to my grandmother's chagrin often associated, hired, and was friends with the dreaded Methodists, Baptists, and dare I say, CATHOLICS!. (The horrors!). 

By the time I was a young child, the church I grew up in became far more inclusive of "foreigners", and those who were not traditionally Presbyterians.  We had a number of Slovak families, a pastor who came from Italy and converted from Roman Catholicism as a young seminarian, and served at our church until he retired 50 years later.  One thing remained constant however.  Presbyterian doctrine went all the way back to the founders such as John Calvin and John Knox.  The General Assembly, the governing board of the church, was steadfast in reiterating this for hundreds of years.  Although there were many modernizations, the beliefs and doctrine were steadfast.  There was a distinct difference with other Protestant sects such as Methodists and Baptists, although at least in my town, the Protestant churches got along very amicably, and in the summer, even had union services, allowing the ministers of these churches to have a few weeks vacation.  This also exposed young people to the noticeable differences between the faiths.  They had far more in common than the elders would admit, I can remember. 

The Catholics and Orthodox churches didn't have much to do with the Protestants or each other, and we all accepted that.  By the time I was born in the late 1950's, the majority of citizens in my area were Catholic.  Prior to Vatican II, the local churches regularly vilified "heretics and Jews".  The Protestant churches did not.  This made a big impact on my young mind, and I decided by the time I was 10 years ago that I was good with my faith, and as soon as I was eligible, eagerly went to communicants class at the same church I went to Sunday School since the time I was a toddler.  I was comfortable in my church, enjoyed the service and the sermons by our highly intellectual pastor (he actually spoke way over the head of many of his congregation at times, me included).  Some things did not chance.  The Presbyterian Church was faithful to its base beliefs and its doctrine. 

Things started to change in the 1980's.  The church became political, in ways that had nothing to do with scripture.  The General Assembly embraced Liberalism, albeit initially in very small ways.  The pastor who I grew up with retired, and was replaced with a brash young idealistic woman the same age as me.  She had big designs on "Hope and Change" within the church.  My small town church, that had very strong traditional conservative values, suddenly had this young "progressive", speaking of "social justice", "liberation", and expressing, loudly, solidarity with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  She was quickly put in her place by the elders of the church, my father being one of them, and she began keeping her political views to herself.

However, sadly her views were shared with the ruling body, the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and it started to show in the church services.  Still, in my sleepy town, not a whole lot changed.....initially.   Some things began to show up in the General Assembly's annual report that I found very disturbing.  They were making a very pro-Palestinian policy, and selectively divesting from Israel, which has only accelerated in recent years.  They actively support far leftist ideology, while shunning traditional conservative ideals.  I really didn't pay too much attention until I moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area over 15 years ago.  The church I attended seemed very odd to me, and the sermons were very similar to those I heard 10 years prior in my hometown church, before the smackdown.  I became very disgruntled, and started to look for a church that was more to my liking; something that maintained traditional Presbyterian beliefs. 

It didn't take long.  Apparently, at least in the South, there were a number of other Presbyterian congregations that became fed up with the liberal ruling body, and decided to form the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is an evangelical Protestant Christian denomination, the second largest Presbyterian church body in the United States after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The PCA professes a strong commitment to evangelism, missionary work, and Christian education. The church declares its goal to be "faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission."
I'm quite comfortable being part of this organization, and find comfort in belonging to a congregation that still follows traditionalist beliefs rather than liberal revisionism. 

That brings me to the question I asked in the title of this piece. 

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I visited my childhood home this past week, and accompanied my parents to the church I grew up in.  I hardly knew it.  They have replaced the King James Bible with some politically correct, non-gender, asexual, and revisionist religious text that is an insult to God's holy word.  Gone from the service is the Apostles Creed, replaced with a very touchy-feely "affirmation of faith" that affirms nothing, and acknowledges neither Hell nor the resurrection of Christ.  Gone is the singing of the Gloria Patri.  Scripture readings sound more like childhood Sunday School stories rather than the word of God.  I walked away from the service bewildered, and depressed.  I asked my 82 year old father, how he felt about the changes in his church.  Needless to say, he is not at all happy, but at his age, feels there is little he can do to change anything anymore. 

I don't think I can return to the church of my childhood.  The building might still be there, but the soul is gone.

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