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Robb Ryerse: Worse than a horror movie, one religion isn't American

One religion isn’t American by Robb Ryerse | November 20, 2021 at 1:01 a.m.

I do not like horror movies at all. I don't enjoy gratuitous blood and guts. And I think the world is scary enough as it is without me sitting myself down in front of a suspenseful television show. I basically avoid anything in entertainment even close to the horror genre.

This is why I surprised myself the day I hit "play" on episode one of Netflix's limited series "Midnight Mass." I knew the show had the potential to be hair raising, but I had also heard that it was a fascinating parable of religion in modern America. That prospect overwhelmed my apprehension, and I ended up binging the series -- twice.

"Midnight Mass" is about a young man returning to his hometown after he is released from prison for a DUI. His hometown happens to be on a small island with about a hundred residents and one church. That church has a new, young priest show up around the same time to fill in for their longtime pastor who is recovering from an illness after a trip to the Holy Land. After a series of inexplicable (miraculous, even) events take place, the whole island gets engulfed in the happenings at the church.

Without providing any spoilers, I haven't been able to shake the thoughts stirred by "Midnight Mass." I called it a parable because I interpret it as a cautionary tale about what can happen when sincere and well-meaning people of faith turn their religious experiences into a tool for coercion and manipulation.

Sadly, I fear the church in America is following the horrific path mapped out by "Midnight Mass."

Last week, a prominent political leader, while standing on the platform in a church's sanctuary, expressed his belief that for America to be "one nation under God," it needs to have one religion. To the cheers of the attendees, he seemed to be suggesting that the only viable religious expression in our country ought to be his understanding of religious faith.

To me, this is the plot of a horror story.

Our country was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Neither the state nor the majority can dictate to others how to live out their beliefs -- or lack thereof -- in God. The American experiment is predicated on the assumptions of pluralism and tolerance. But these days it is not uncommon to hear from both religious and political leaders that to be a good Christian, you have to be patriotic in a certain way, or to be a good American, you have to be a Christian.

The reality is far different.

In fact, Jesus, in both his teaching and example, showed us that his followers must not be known for coercion and judgment of others, but rather, are to be known for their love. Love means striving in both our private and public lives for understanding and justice. There is no other way to follow Jesus.

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Robb Ryerse is the pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville. He is the author of "Running for Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good." Email him at rryerse@gmail.com.

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