43 Looking at the Church from the outside

Some thoughts from Chris

I have been thinking a lot recently about the barriers that exist between those ‘in’ the church and those outside.  ‘Barrier’ is perhaps an understated word as from my perspective there is an enormous chasm between the two.  Nowhere is the gulf as clearly observable as between the poor in our society and the culture of the established churches.

I am one of those who has known the meaning of poverty and powerlessness and only in my late twenties was I able to escape the worst effects of being totally ignored and disregarded in the workplace.  Because of illiteracy in early adulthood, I had to endure bullying and disempowerment because of the jobs I was forced to do – building labourer, toilet cleaner, farm labourer and finally Nursing /Care  assistant.  Having finally gained literacy I went to Bible School and eventually worked in Mental Health with people with learning difficulties where I was able to use my musical skills to a degree.

Compared with the people who contribute to this blog I come from a place of poor education but I want to speak about the issue of how the church is seen and experienced  by someone with my background.

My early unhappy encounters with the church were with ‘bible-centered’ evangelical communities.  I have written elsewhere about my experiences but I want to focus here on what I would call ‘evangelical theatre’.   This includes everything that happens in church to do with entertainment, all that we mean by ‘happy-clappy’, loud rhythmic music and everything necessary to enthral congregations and keep them happy.  I have no doubt that among this ‘theatre’ there are sincere Christians but equally in this world are many who are being in different ways misled and dragged into something that ultimately lets them down.  Others on the outside of these groups, perhaps the greater number, look on at this theatre are utterly confused by what they see.

When discussing as we do, issues about the church in a fairly cerebral way, we must never forget how non-members regard what we do.  The ‘evangelical theatre’ I referred above is regarded as a kind of insanity to most of the people I know.  How can such an ‘insane’ church be a guiding force to society?  We really need to engage with the impression that the church is giving to the outsider.  The leaders of the church fail to grasp how the church as a whole comes over to the wider public.  It appears from the outside to be a form of self-indulgence, a pick’n mix entertainment where you get to choose what titillates you most.  What has that got to do with the daily struggle for life which ordinary people have to contend with every day?

The new Roman Catholic Cardinal, Vincent Nichols, has spoken out on behalf of the working poor but there are few others who are prepared to do more than offer a tin of beans to a food-bank.  Some caring people in society do see the appalling inhumanities in our system but the typical church goer feeds on the latest volume from the Christian bookshop.  Why is giving so often concentrated on the other side of the world which is far away from the need in this country,  the mud of the gutter with the smell of stale urine and human effluent?


About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

3 thoughts on “43 Looking at the Church from the outside

  1. You’re right. Fundamentalism in particular, looks insane to outsiders. And also of course Healing ministry, speaking in tongues and the like. But having said that, there’s a huge amount of theatre in Cathedrals, for example, hardly a hot bed of evangelical fundamentalism. And anyone who has listened to the words of a communion service without understanding what is going on would be right royally put off!

  2. Thanks English Athena.
    If we put together all the Theatre mess and the new Christian celebrity cult we have all the ingredients for total disaster. Can you suggest any reason why we have not had an open debate about this issue? My feeling of despair continues. And I would add that I’m a genuine seeker looking for a reality that for me, at least at present is not there. Chris Pitts

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