A Difference in Patriotism?

A Difference in Patriotism?

Marion D. Aldridge


Don’t confuse a difference in politics with a difference in patriotism.

The angriest I remember being at a church member in my twenty-five years of serving as a pastor was when a man came to the pastor’s study to complain about something he didn’t like. I had not even been aware of the oversight he brought to my attention. The church secretary had left any mention of the Memorial Day holiday out of the congregational calendar.

I apologized, which was easy, because a mistake had been made. Inadvertent. Unintentional, by either the secretary or me. Memorial Day was a church holiday. The church office had been closed. Furthermore, we had paid appropriate attention to the occasion in worship on Sunday.

But he was not satisfied. After listening to him express his dissatisfaction for a few minutes, I realized something deeper was going on. He and I disagreed on many political issues. I’m sure we often cancelled each other’s vote on Election Day. That was okay with me, because that’s the way America works. Maybe it wasn’t okay with him.

“Are you questioning my patriotism?” I asked. He was silent.

“Don’t you ever question my patriotism,” I said. Anger is not my customary emotion, but I was livid. “I love America. I do everything I can to be a good citizen and encourage others. I vote. I serve as a poll manager. I serve on juries when I’m called. I preach on Christian citizenship often. I fly the American flag on my front porch. Don’t you dare question my patriotism.”

Reaching over to my filing cabinet, I pulled out my folder on “Christian Citizenship” to demonstrate my point. “This is the thickest folder in my files. I will be glad to go through it with you piece by piece. You’ll find nothing here except evidence of my love for our country and my desire to live in it as a Christian ought to, and to make our nation better every year.” I was hot.

To his credit, he backed down, and acknowledged an honest mistake had occurred.

There are a lot of ways to be American. It is not your way or the highway. I don’t plan to go anywhere. We are Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian, black, brown, white and many other colors, male and female, Northerners, Southerners and Westerners, gay and straight, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Orthodox, Muslim, and Jew, Clemson fans and South Carolina fans, and there is room for all in this great nation. There is room for people who agree with me and for people who disagree.

“One nation under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That’s not just a pledge. It’s my commitment and my prayer.


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Football, Holiday, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Theology and Politics

Theology and Politics

Marion D. Aldridge

We are living in a time when politicians are trying to be theologians, and theologians are attempting to be politicians. It’s not working out very well.

Over the years, I’ve resisted the temptation to post my political inclinations on Facebook or my blogs. I’ve been a happy American, blessed beyond reason under both Democratic and Republican Presidents.

My specific concern this week is when people speak, as if they knew what they are talking about, in areas where they don’t know what they are talking about. For instance, the Bible.

I know little to nothing about economic theory or geological formations. Neither is a field in which I have expertise. So, I offer no opinions.

The Bible is a Big Book. It says a lot of things. If you study the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and take a course in systematic theology, and another in ethics, you will discover quite a long and complicated history about how people of faith should live in the secular world. Here are a few of my summary thoughts about matters of faith, as they relate to the law:

1) Jesus was clear when he said to let Caesar have what belongs to Caesar, and let God be in charge of the God-stuff.

2) Paul was a follower of Jesus, willing to go to jail for disobeying laws. In fact, when he named his top three motivators, the law did not make the list. He said the Big Three are Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of those is love.

3) The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and Paul all point us to higher ground: “What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The law is not to be our moral compass. Legalism is a methodology for defending, instead of fixing, a broken compass.

These are principles even a politician can use as an ethical guide.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Quotations, South Carolina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Half-Buried Body: Southern Baptists in the News

A Half-Buried Body: Southern Baptists in the News

Marion D. Aldridge

Southern Baptists are making headlines again in secular newspapers, as they did thirty years ago. It’s as if hunters in the woods stumbled upon a shallow grave and discovered a half-buried corpse most people had forgotten about.

Many of us who grew up as Southern Baptists are like children of a kidnapped mother who went missing long ago. We grieved then. Now, decades later, we get a phone call and are told, “They found her body.”

All the old emotional and spiritual wounds feel as fresh as when she was abducted. We thought those memories, injuries, and abrasions had healed, but apparently not. We grieve again.

During the 1970s and 80s, Southern Baptists pulled themselves out of the mainstream of Protestant Christian life. Southern Baptists were theologically conservative, but not inflexible. There was relative autonomy at the church and the individual level. The umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was not restrictive enough for the legalists who staged a successful coup. They wanted everyone who did not fit their narrow doctrinal whims removed from any leadership role. They got their wish.

The details of the abduction are available in old newspapers. The consequences were real and destructive, beginning a downward spiral. Church buildings in the Deep South that once seated a thousand on Sunday mornings now hold fifty—on a good weekend!

Men and women, laity and clergy, left the Southern Baptist Convention by the hundreds of thousands. They became Methodists and Presbyterians. Tragically, some left church altogether.

The harsh fundamentalist doctrines of the new SBC regarding the limited role of women in church and society have discouraged millions of young women from having any interest in the Christian faith and church life.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was formed as a safety net for former Southern Baptist churches and individuals, providing a home where the traditional Baptist principle of religious liberty is still valued. CBF is now my spiritual home.

Suddenly, with the emergence of the “Me, too” movement, with women finding their voices and expressing their experiences, insights, and opinions, Southern Baptists are in the news again. Scandals, ranging from embarrassing to malicious, have put Baptists on the front page and the evening news. The corpse was exposed. The most prominent recent New York Times headline concerns the firing of a Southern Baptist seminary president. For decades, he was simply doing what powerful men do when their moral compass fails. He believes a battered woman’s role is no different than that of all women. She must be submissive and subordinate. His advice: “Go home, be quiet, and support your husband.”

It was predictable that an organization built by creed and conviction on male dominance and the silencing of women would run into problems. When powerful men are not accountable to anyone, women and children will be bullied. Consider the abuses within the Roman Catholic hierarchy, followed by cover up after cover up. Why would anyone be surprised if this pattern repeated itself in the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention that I knew was kidnapped, killed, and lost forever. We grieved then and grieve now when extraordinary misbehavior surfaces again… and again… and again. I mourn for the women who have been demeaned, demoralized, disenfranchised, and demonized, even when they are the victims of assault.

These shameful acts slaughter the souls and spirits of girls and women. They are being brought to light. I’m grateful, nowadays, to be involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a faith community that emphasizes justice, grace, and love.

In the Christian faith a primary hope is that, after death, there comes a resurrection.

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The Arrogance of Everyday Evangelical Anti-Semitism

The Arrogance of Everyday Evangelical Anti-Semitism

Marion D. Aldridge

The most obvious examples of intolerance in contemporary America are the obnoxious bigotry of the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Jews and Fags” fame) and the hate-filled prejudice of other white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. Fear, paranoia, and clannishness are the usual culprits, resulting in a worldview of Us versus Them.

Such hostility has been largely outside my ecclesiastical sphere, except when I see it on television. Though I’ve been to thousands of Christian meetings over my seventy years, I’m grateful I have no memory of hearing overt anti-Jewish political propaganda at any of them. I read about obsessed fanatics and the events in which they’re involved only when they emerge from the dark corners of humanity, committing some newsworthy atrocity against their neighbors.

Anxious, angry individuals, not part of any organized movement, also qualify as xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Hidden from public view, these shriveled spirits go unnoticed until they write anonymous letters to say something like, “Your type doesn’t belong in our club.”

Unfortunately, however, there is a subtler path that results in anti-Semitism, one not based on fear or paranoia, but on theological arrogance. It is created from the cavalier assumption that all Jews (as well as all Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims) who have not converted to Christianity are going to spend an eternity tortured by their Creator in a horrifying hell.

This is fundamental to the theology of many evangelical Christians. They thoughtlessly accept this belief as temporarily harmless dogma concerning a far away future. This doctrine, however, is a social malignancy, a casual contempt for our neighbors who do not share our faith. It is not a benign belief when a segment of the population contends that God condemns all Jews or Muslims, casting them into eternal torment because they are not “saved.”

Many of those same individuals will read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or Elie Wiesel’s Night, and be appalled that such events actually happened. They may visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and genuinely be moved by the displays there, finding it beyond comprehension that six million Jews were slaughtered during the reign of Nazi Germany.

Then they return, time and time again, to a hostile, hellish, and humanity-diminishing theology.

A survivor from a Nazi death camp may have visited their classroom when they were studying World War II. They were sickened by what they heard. Maybe they listened to the horror stories and saw the videos from the liberators of the concentration camps. They would quickly disavow any relationship of their Christian faith to such cruelties.

Yet they slip back into the habit of accepting, never challenging, the cruel, deadly doctrines concerning the perpetual punishment of Jews they were taught as children.

Some well-traveled Christians have visited the sites where the terrible events of the Holocaust occurred—Buchenwald, Auschwitz, or Dachau. There are no words to describe what they saw there. They returned home and mentioned the experience to their friends when they attended church the next Sunday. They might have even felt uneasy when the preacher insisted that everyone who is not a born again Christian is going to hell.

But their brutal theology never wavered. They had been taught, and so they believed, that Jews were not destined for heaven. They may remember that over half their scripture consists of the Hebrew Bible—from Genesis through Malachi. They may feel slightly uncomfortable when they realize there would be no Christianity unless there had first been Judaism. It might dawn on them that not only are Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Miriam Hebrews, but so also are Mary, Paul, and Jesus.

Nevertheless, they compartmentalize their lives—Jews (Them) over there and Christians (Us) over here.

Some Christians build sophisticated theological arguments around acknowledging Jews were God’s first “chosen” people. But, according to their worldview, Christians are now God’s favorites. The bottom line is that those who are not selected for inclusion as full partners into God’s Kingdom are secondary, not valued, worth less.

That sounds like the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism.

Making decisions about the eternal destiny of other people is above my pay grade.

What can I do?

“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8 NRSV)

(First published in the Holocaust Remembered supplement to The State Newspaper, April 6, 2018.)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Broken People

Broken People

Marion D. Aldridge

The idea that God loves broken people (drunks, sexual misfits, and those who fail to respect authority) was not part of my religious heritage. Instead, there was a focus on God’s scorn and punishment for those who fail. We gave lip service to God’s unconditional love, but being consigned to an eternity in a painful hell eventually began to sound conditional to me.

 At different points in my life I’ve heard that church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. I’ve been blessed by many congregations that understand their role as an infirmary for those who have been injured and wounded by life.

I’ve also seen too much of the polar-opposite where people are taught that God prefers the righteous, the pure, and the holy.

Recently, I read a book (This I Believe) of brief daily devotional thoughts written by laity, edited by Edward R. Murrow. It’s not a Christian volume in any way. The contributors, none of whom were theologians and few of whom were writers, were asked in the 1950s to pen a brief essay on whatever was central in their lives. Their answers fascinated—everything from music to hard work to freedom to baseball. I appreciated their variety. Lou Crandall’s essay, however, made me giggle, not that it was intended to be humorous. An engineering, architecture, and construction genius, Crandall wrote he liked the characters in the Bible for being “the closest examples of human perfection.” He added, “They were unselfish, steadfast in their faith, and unstinting in their help to others.”

I don’t know which Bible he was reading, but little of that is in the Bible I use. The complicated, often selfish, seldom steadfast, always surprising, human personalities in the Old and New Testaments include trickster Jacob, Rahab the harlot, impatient Moses, adulterer and murderer David, frightened Jonah, and impulsive Peter—and these were the good guys.

Years ago, I picked up a biography of a renowned Baptist leader, George W. Truett, a pastor during the first half of the twentieth century. As I read the first few pages, I realized the author had engaged in hero worship. Truett, in the writer’s eyes, was one of the greatest men who’d ever lived, beyond comparison or criticism. I put the book down and never read another page. Anybody flying that high above the rest of us could teach me little. When I read the stories of George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Anne Lamott, their humanity and their flaws are magnificently obvious.

Personal growth, I notice, happens most often where life is challenging and raw, when something is broken and needs to be repaired.

I never fully trust men or women who seem to have gone from victory to victory. I’ve heard advice that comes from some superhero pastors, tycoons, and authors, and it’s clear some of them know nothing about the world in which I live. They are Gold Medal Champions in life, whereas most of us are just happy to finish the race without embarrassing ourselves.

Once, when I was a young seminarian and the pastor of a small congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, my wife and I had a terrible argument while driving to church. Our words to one another were hurtful. When we arrived, we got out of the car, steam practically rising out of our ears. We went our separate ways, she to a Sunday school class, and I to the pastor’s study.

“What a hypocrite I am!” I thought as I tried to prepare myself to lead worship and preach. “What do you have to say to these people? You’re as bad as anybody else. You’re a fraud. Who do you think you are to stand behind a pulpit and preach God’s word?”

For good or ill, I preached. I couldn’t look at my wife. It was a short sermon, and the congregation was probably glad.

As time passed, I re-evaluated that Sunday, especially since there were others like it! Eventually, I decided an argument with my wife didn’t disqualify me from preaching. Being human qualified me! Being wounded, scared, and scarred—those are the credentials needed to be a good pastor.

It took me another five or six years as a minister to understand this basic truth. I’d gone to seminary intending to memorize answers to biblical or theological questions, to be indoctrinated, I suppose. The truth was I’d already been indoctrinated by twenty-five years in Sunday school.

What I began to discover as I matured was my humanity. The seed was planted for a better and different education than I had anticipated.

(This blog was originally published by Bearings Online of the Collegeville Institute. MDA)

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

My Answer: Marion’s Billy Graham Story

My Answer: Marion’s Billy Graham Story

Warning: This narrative ends with a whimper instead of a bang, and maybe we can all be grateful for that.

After my week in Plains, Georgia, enjoying the company of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter for a week, someone commented that the experience must have been THE highlight of my life. Well, no… Much as I loved the entire series of events in South Georgia, I would remind readers that Sally and I had a really nice wedding in 1972 in Columbia, SC. Highlight!

I was present for the birth of my two marvelous daughters in 1974 and 1983. Highlights! Fuzzy and I were in the Orange Bowl when Clemson won the National Football Championship in 1982. Highlight! I’ve been stuck in the sand in the Sahara Desert. I’ve sailed in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia in Turkey. I’ve been to the Holy Land and walked where Jesus walked (more or less). Highlights!

My Billy Graham story is a highlight. In April 1987, The State Newspaper asked me to review, critique, and comment on Billy Graham’s sermons during his Columbia meetings at Williams-Brice Stadium. The idea of critiquing Billy Graham was a bit daunting. I wrote one preview editorial, one on-deadline article each night, summarizing the content of his sermon, and one follow-up commentary after Graham and his associates had departed. It was a plum assignment.

Like every other well-bred Baptist, I was a Billy Graham fan. I had attended his crusade/revival in upstate South Carolina when I was a student at Clemson in 1966. Our seminary had a Billy Graham room in the library. I liked that he insisted his meetings be integrated. He was an advocate of peacemaking in an era of nuclear proliferation. There was a lot to like about Billy Graham. All of us young preacher-boys wished we could preach as well as he did, and draw crowds as he did.

At the same time, I was aware that his ministry had the great benefit of introducing the Good News of the Christian faith, and welcoming converts into the faith. Then, he left town. Local pastors had to do the hard work of attempting to corral these new believers into churches and to make disciples of them. I could be impressed by Graham’s awesome ministry and, at the same time, aware that his calling was not the same as mine.

After the first few days of the event, one afternoon my presence was requested rather suddenly and mysteriously. Someone from the Graham team (that’s what his staff was called), walked me from the newspaper offices next door to Williams-Brice into the innards of the stadium and ushered me into a room with some snacks and…

Billy Graham. Just the two of us.

He introduced himself, complimented my reporting, and the two of us conversed for fifteen or twenty minutes. He said it was hard to find someone who was a good writer who understood the evangelical milieu, who wasn’t mystified by the language of Zion, whose heart was good, and who was not as cynical as the national secular reporters who ordinarily wrote about him. Of course, I was flattered, and thanked him. I wasn’t prepared to interview him. I was, after all, a Baptist preacher and pastor, not a journalist. So we chatted over cheese and crackers.

After a while, he said he’d like for me to consider ghostwriting his “My Answer” newspaper column. Wow. I had enough ethics and sense about me to say that for the next week or so, I was committed to fulfilling my obligation to The State Newspaper. After that, if he was still interested, we could have a conversation. Of course, I was dumbstruck, but I didn’t want a mid-event commitment to the Graham team and their public relations agenda to tempt me to write only complimentary comments about the sermons and the revival/crusade services. He understood. We enjoyed more conversation and eventually, our time together was over. He was as nice a man as you think he was, genuine, generous, thoughtful, kind. My twenty minutes alone with Billy Graham.

I’ve mentioned this time with Billy Graham to only a few people, including the editor of The State Newspaper. Sally knew about it, of course, as well as a few close friends.

Nothing ever came of the “My Answer” offer. After a month, I wrote him a letter at his Montreat address, asking if he still had an interest in working with me. I received a pleasant and positive personal reply from him, typically gracious, and the answer was, in short, yes. Someone on his staff would contact me. His public relations firm out of New York did get in touch with me, eventually, and I think it’s fair to say I got the runaround. Who knows what happened? Did they do a background check on me and discover that I drink wine and smoke cigars? Did they learn I was more moderate theologically than Graham?

Thus, this episode ends with a whimper.

For which, ultimately, I’m grateful. I suspect my answers to the questions he was asked through the years would have been very different than Mr. Graham’s.

That’s my Billy Graham story.

Marion D. Aldridge

February 22, 2018

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, South Carolina, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

My Offer to Home College My Grandson

My Offer to Home College My Grandson

(Warning: Satire, not to be taken literally)

Marion D. Aldridge

My grandson, a junior in high school, recently began the formidable task of looking at colleges. He’s smart and makes good grades, and he’s also an all-area football kicker. Academics and Athletics: the Big Two in South Carolina—so he has a fine resume.

The elephant in the room is a price tag that can be as high as $60,000 per year. Sticker shock! Yikes! A quarter of a million dollars for four years.

So I made the offer to Home College my grandson. Why not? He would enjoy the ultimate small school. I’d sit him at my kitchen table every day for two percent of the fee. What a deal! I think I’ll recruit him. Bargain tuition of $1199.98 per year.

Here are excerpts of the curriculum I envision.

Physical Fitness: For starters, my grandson can sweep, mop, and vacuum inside the house, and plant a garden outside, weeding it weekly. This will also provide lessons in nutrition, especially if he prepares the meals.

Responsibility: After his morning chores, he can wake me from my morning nap for lunch.

Literature. My one promise is he will never be asked to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. He would, of course, read Chaucer, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Maya Angelou. After those, I’m flexible.

Science. We’d take field trips to the Galapagos Islands, the Chattooga River, and NASA. He could hire out to intern at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and I could go along and chaperone. We could take in a Cubs or White Sox game and study velocity of pitches, the arc and distance of home runs.

History. The Revolutionary War happened in South Carolina. That’s simple enough. Trips to Camden, Cowpens, and Ninety Six. We could try to find and excavate one of Francis Marion’s camps among the Tupelo trees on Snow Island.

Ethics: I’d stick with the Golden Rule. (Bonus information: The Seven Deadly Sins do not specifically mention blueberry muffins.)

Math. He could tutor his grandmother since he is already way beyond her ability to tutor him. He went beyond my skills years ago, too. His aunt could teach him statistics. Baseball games at Fenway Park would be the place for geometric and statistical calculations.

Music: With a playlist of songs from the 1960s, the Beatles, Ray Charles, the Mamas and the Papas, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Buddy Holly, Etta James, and James Brown, his music education would be complete. Class dismissed.

Theology. I figure we could go to a cemetery and sit a spell. Walk around some. He could think about life and death. How many college kids take advantage of this opportunity?

Law. We could visit courtrooms for a few days. He would begin to wonder if these people were crazy or just mean. The criminals, not the lawyers.

Politics: I taught him everything I know about government before he was twelve. Government should benefit the governed, not the governors. That’s a hard lesson for politicians to learn.

Psychology: I will teach my grandson all the psychobabble I know, because I think most of it’s true. Life is a journey. One event or one decision will not make or break you. This too shall pass. One day at a time. Keep on keeping on. Hang in there. Every day is classwork, not the final exam. Mind your own business. The goal is progress, not perfection.

That’s my offer.

By the way, the kitchen table seats four. Do the math: four times $1199.98 equals $4,799.92. That’s enough to buy us all ice cream at the ball game. My treat.

Categories: Baseball, Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Humor, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta–A Book Review

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

Before, during, and after a recent trip to Mississippi for a writers’ retreat, I read lots of Mississippi authors, from William Faulkner to Eudora Welty to John Grisham. But the gem I discovered was Dispatches from Pluto, winner of the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, and a New York Times bestseller. Richard Grant, an Englishman, is the author.

Grant is a travel writer who took a deep dive into Mississippi, bought a house there, married there, and made a life there. You can’t get much more immersed in a culture.

Locals often can’t see the forest for the trees. What we think is noteworthy is not interesting at all to outsiders. The everyday scenery that bores us is remarkable to a stranger. The language we know deep in our bones is charming to a newcomer. Grant moves into the world of the Deep South and tells our stores better than we can. He notices the strange bonds between the races that dominate our world and, without judgment, helps us understand ourselves better.

He writes of the poverty in the Mississippi Delta (not so different from the South Carolina low country): “Poor children hear thirty million fewer words than rich children in the first four years of their life.”

Grant observes what I’ve known for decades: “People vote against their own best interests, because they’re culturally so conservative.” Grant, to his credit, is unwilling to use the term “racist” too quickly. He quotes one woman, “Compartmentalize, compartmentalize, and then compartmentalize some more. If someone tells you that the Muslims are plotting to destroy America, or Obama is the Antichrist, you just seal that away in its own separate compartment, and carry on till you find their good side. There’s no sense in arguing with them.” Grant discovered that’s a necessary survival tactic in small communities of a few hundred or a few thousand people, where relationships with all members of the community are required. Nobody has the luxury of gated communities or ghettoes. All relationships are symbiotic and necessary.

He discusses not only the economics and politics of the Delta, but also the religion, the music, prisons, sports and education. He is as perplexed as everyone else that, during the Jim Crowe years, “Whites wouldn’t drink from the same water fountain as colored, but they were happy for their babies to have a black wet nurse.”

Grant has entered our world. He wrote he was “drowning in the deep end of the Deep South.” He did as fine a job of explaining us as anyone I’ve read.

Categories: Book Review, Race, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

January Depression

Thirty years ago, I began to notice the predictable pattern of my own depression every January. Over the years, I’ve kept a journal periodically. All I needed to do was look back at previous Januarys to see, sure enough, the same behavioral blueprint. It wasn’t hard to figure out.

  • The excitement of Christmas was over.
  • The days were shorter.
  • There was illness in the air.
  • We stayed indoors more.
  • The obituary list in the newspaper was longer.

January depression is no secret.

Situational sadness is not the same as clinical despondency or hopelessness, but, still, I learned to take the symptoms seriously.

My first clue was the television series Northern Exposure, which aired an episode on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).



It’s not the same as cabin fever, but limited access to the outdoors also plays a part in the problem. When I spent the last two winters in New England, I was surprised at how much more of the season these hardy souls spend outdoors than Southerners do: ice skating, snow skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. I was amazed.

For me, a big chunk of the January blues was good ol’ fashioned post-Christmas (think “post-partum”) melancholy. All the excitement, the church in overdrive, holiday parties, gift giving and receiving, travel, Christmas tree decorating and dismantling, came to a screeching halt.

January is also a time of reality checking. Why else do we make resolutions? We’ve eaten too much, spent too much, and formed bad habits that need to be broken. Yuk. The fantasy of living as if there are no consequences comes to a demoralizing end. We’re going to have to make some changes. No wonder we are dispirited.

No magic list here of Ten Ways to Get Out of Your January Funk. There are probably a thousand websites to tell you that.

The great insight for me was simply to name the demon. I wasn’t just randomly depressed for no good reason. There were a dozen causes for the January doldrums, and I needed to pay attention.


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Competitive Childbearing as a Church Growth Strategy

Competitive Childbearing as a Church Growth Strategy

Marion D. Aldridge

(Note: I thought this was funny when I wrote it five years ago, but I never had it published. So, here it is, finally, as true as ever…)

The mantra of most American churches is “Grow, Grow, Grow.” This refrain springs from the wells of Wal-Mart, capitalism, and the American Way, not from the Bible.   The Jews of the Old Testament did not have a “growth strategy.” The words and life of Jesus repelled as many people as they attracted.

But, since enlargement is at the heart of American evangelicalism, I make a modest suggestion to ensure success.


I recommend competitive childbearing as a means of helping numerically declining congregations and denominations return to the robust and vigorous expansion of their former days—before birth control.

We all know families in which the adult siblings race to have the first grandchild, or the first grandson, or the brightest or most athletic children, or more kids than their brothers and sisters. The contest may never be acknowledged overtly, but it happens in millions of families all over the world.

Competitive childbearing plays itself out in a thousand ways: Who gets Grandpa’s name first? Who looks like Grandma? Who will inherit Mama’s china? Who will receive Dad’s blessing? Who gets the family fortune?

Middle class and upper middle class families are simply not having a sufficient quantity of babies to keep our churches as populated and growing as they were through the 1960s.

I propose that churches not already using this natural sibling competitiveness as a strategy for swelling attendance and income are missing a grand opportunity. How can a congregation realistically expect to increase numerically if the following pattern is followed?

  • Four grandparents produce…
  • Two children who only manage to procreate…
  • One grandchild.

That is the definition of a downward demographic trend.

It is an ugly fact for increasingly wealthy denominations that the higher up the educational and social ladder parishioners go, the fewer newborns they produce. As Pentecostals become Baptists, as Baptists become Presbyterians, and as Presbyterians become Episcopalians, their capacity for and interest in breeding a new generation diminishes.

Any church paying attention to numbers (traditionally, budgets, butts and buildings are the important issues) should consider competitive childbearing as a growth strategy. Imagine these numbers:

  • Four grandparents (two sets) have…
  • Twelve children (six per couple), each of which in turn has their own half-dozen babies, totaling…
  • Seventy-two offspring.

That’s serious church growth.

Ask for advice from the Protestants and Roman Catholics of previous centuries when large families were the norm. More recently, since Roman Catholics outlawed birth control, their numbers continued to expand while Protestants, embracing all manner of contraception, watched their numbers shrink. The growth of the church in South America and Africa is less about dynamic preaching than about shunning birth control. Nor is the principle of competitive childbearing limited to the Christian religion. Muslims and Hindus have also practiced this strategy with success. Children having children is always a good thing for increasing religious population.

In the Baptist church of my childhood, we gave awards on Mother’s Day for the oldest mother, the youngest mother (sometimes age 15 or 16) and the mother with the most children. Forget Christmas and Easter! If your congregation will focus on Mother’s Day with the right rewards, competitive childbearing will happen naturally.

Ask for advice from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). They can’t build fast enough to house all their offspring/constituents. Their men are allowed to marry multiple wives. That helps the toddler totals even more. Maybe Plural Marriage is a Biblical idea that Protestants should consider. Let a 65-year old man marry 6 wives, ages 65, 55, 45, 35, 25 and 15, and I guarantee there will be a steady supply of fresh infants.

The answer to almost every church growth problem is “Just Have Babies.” By the way, you certainly don’t want non-productive, non-procreating homosexuals in a church committed to a strategy of competitive childbearing.

The wonderful thing about this approach to church growth is that it allows American Christians to continue to worship their three Great Gods:

  • Competition—We love to have winners and losers in our culture, especially if we are the winners. Forget this win-win stuff. We all want to be Winners. Losers are just losers.
  • Materialism—We love Stuff. We love the Money that buys Stuff.   I know that Jesus said some weird things about hoarding and greed, but Jesus was not an economist. So be careful about giving his opinions too much weight.
  • Size—Oh, how we worship Bigness. Big Houses. Big Box Stores. Big Churches. Big Cars. Big Stadiums. Big Guns. The Bigger the Better. There is no place in a True America for modesty in size. More than half of the pop-up ads on the computer are selling products to increase Size. Surely, if we understood him correctly, Jesus was more interested in growing the numbers of the local Synagogue than healing the sick, or feeding the hungry, or making peace, or any of that other humbug stuff. Right?

If competitive childbearing is the perfect solution for the problems of our church culture, then have lots of kids. By the way, I don’t know any pastor-search committee or any group of deacons that wants to grow their church with old people. Another mantra in our culture that will be resolved by a steady supply of children is “Youth, Youth, Youth.”

It will baffle me if congregations don’t leap to this policy of competitive childbearing to increase their size.

This would be an especially effective approach if we could retroactively get Jesus to be married.

If only Jesus had practiced what we preach…

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Humor | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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