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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Stirring the pot with truth

by John Brummett | May 12, 2022 at 3:10 a.m.

I know a little about silly and ignorant feuds, fears, suspicions, resentments and schisms in evangelical churches, having come up in the Southern rural religious fundamentalism of the 1950s and '60s.

The entire extended family was of that flavor. But we had a couple of kinfolks who broke away into what we called the "anti" sect within our extremely conservative Church of Christ. They believed we were hell-bound liberals because we tolerated reception halls with kitchen gear in church buildings.

The New Testament never mentioned iceboxes, microwaves or flatware. If the Lord had wanted us partaking of a hash-brown casserole in the church building, he'd have told us so. Or so the "anti" movement said.

On the Sunday night my dad got installed as an elder of our little congregation, a member objected formally with a letter that said the Good Book dictated that elders should be "tired" but that my dad did not seem at all "tired."

Regardless of whether my pop was tired or fresh or sometimes one and sometimes the other, usually depending on whether the kids stayed quiet enough for him to sleep into midmorning after the night shift, the King James Version on which the objection relied referred to "tried" men, not "tired" ones.

My dad was plenty "tried." His first-born was soon to run off and join the circus. I mean the newspaper.

My folks talked about people at church who "aren't happy unless they have something to be stirred up about."

It's an irony: The smaller the mind, the more suspicion and resentment tend to fill it. The more uneventful and unfilled a life, the more hostile that life tends to become toward things real and imagined occurring well beyond it.

So The New York Times published a piece the other day about the rising influence in evangelical churches of resentment-fueled rumors that were first exploited and then fueled by Trumpism. The bigger story is how the phenomenon is fast eroding our functioning democracy.

But this article focuses on how the matter is dividing some of the once-dominant evangelical megachurches, such as one in Fort Smith that was featured. It's not at all theological, but entirely cultural and political.

A sociologist is quoted as predicting the evangelical movement will break into a group politically allegiant to Donald Trump and conspiracies and another trying to stick to what it thinks the Bible says about what Jesus taught.

The article tells of a once-liked evangelical megachurch pastor in Fort Smith who thought his troubles began when he made a neutral pulpit reference contrasting God's accessibility to the remoteness of mega-celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. Members came up to him after, he said, and decried that he would dare invoke from the sacred pulpit the name of a sex-trafficker and conspiratorial pedophile like Hanks.

That is a QAnon thing by which suspicions and resentments are fed by eerie and anonymous online assertions of a vast conspiracy among Hollywood stars and Democratic politicians who use entertainment and politics as covers for their real activity: sex marketing of children.

One must make a deliberate choice to believe something as wildly paranoid as that Hollywood celebrities and liberal politicians would concoct such an elaborate cover for corruption, filth and laughing at the masses for long having been unaware.

The Fort Smith preacher told The Times he got called a Marxist for preaching against racism.

He's taken a preaching job in the Sacramento area, which is in California, which is no doubt where some of his former congregants think he ought to go.

I'm advised reliably that there is nuance in the matter of the Fort Smith church and the pastor that The Times did not bother to relate. I don't doubt that. There usually is.

But there isn't much nuance in choosing to live by stirred-up resentment and wild rumor.

The direr warning in the article was a quotation from another Arkansas minister who said this business about separating church and state is nonsense; that the church is commanded to preach against the state and its conspiratorial perversion.

The Sacramento-bound preacher laments that, while the Bible advocates the seeking of truth to set us free, truth and resentment-based rumors are becoming less distinguishable. When you've lost truth or even the honest pursuit of it, he says, you've lost everything.

The only way to protect American democracy from losing everything is for political leaders to wage war against it--to rise intolerantly above wild untruth rather than, as in one contemporary party's case, stay silent to avoid losing the essential votes it reaps from it.

People like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy will need to care more about truth and its necessity in a functioning democracy than about being congressional leaders of unholy alliances including splinter sects that just need something to stay stirred up about.

The truth-seekers among us can't afford to be tired even as we are tried.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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