The passion of Tyler Perry II (sort of)

ACF297There’s a big religion story going on in Baltimore right now and it centers on what most evangelical or even fundamentalist Protestants would call a “revival meeting.”

What does that phrase mean? Click here for the Wiki definition, which is actually pretty good. The key is that these meetings are about people, well, “getting religion,” repenting and “coming to Jesus” to “save their souls.” Think Billy Graham, especially the young Billy Graham.

It’s a very spiritual thing, in other words, and that shows up — a bit — in the lede by reporter Liz F. Kay:

Thousands of Baltimore residents gather in their own churches for prayer every Sunday. But this week, members of 17 Baptist congregations will come together under one roof to reach out to lost souls, to revive their spirits and to mend rifts between East and West Baltimore.

About 1,500 people are expected to attend the 10th annual “simultaneous revival,” which was launched last night with preaching, Scripture readings and gospel music at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in West Baltimore.

Now that’s a pretty good summary. But things immediately seem to veer off in another direction, a more political direction, which means a more journalistic direction. It seems that what this “revival” is really all about is peacemaking between some divided churches and some estranged parts of an often troubled city.

Please note and understand this: I am not saying that this theme is not important and that this is not a motivation behind these “revival meetings.” What I am wondering, however, is whether this is the only theme, the only motivation, that is acceptable in the newspaper. In other words, political reconciliation fits in the news section better than spiritual reconciliation or — heaven forbid — repentance and salvation.

We do get to hear the Rev. H. Waldon Wilson II, pastor of Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore, say: “We’re trying to reach out and save lost souls as well as trying to get people who were once part of the church to return.”

But that is soon swamped in language like this:

The Rev. Hoffman F. Brown III of Wayland Baptist Church in West Baltimore said he’s not sure of the origin of the chasm between the two halves of the city, though he’s been a pastor for 16 years. This is his church’s first year participating.

He explained that many churches express a sort of “separatist ideology.” But during the revival, rather than saying “‘I want to build my own little fiefdom here,’ this is really kingdom-oriented,” Brown said.

Each Baptist church operates autonomously, Brown said. But this revival provides an opportunity to create “a strong Christian united witness in the city,” he said.

The Rev. Stephen M. Smith of Mount Moriah, which was the host of last night’s service, concurred. “The reality is, we’re not in competition with each other,” he said. “We’re … just a bunch of churches coming together as one church, having involvement during the week from east side and west side.”

Other than that strange reference to “separatist ideology” (I do not think that word means what you think it means), this is OK. But, by this point, the music is gone from this story. The vivid words are gone and the melody is gone. It sounds like this is a community event focusing on the people more than it is a worship event focusing on the power of God.

That’s a big hole, whether you are talking about healing a soul or a city.

So why did I call this “The Passion of Tyler Perry II (sort of)”? Well, kind of like the filmmaker’s hit movies, it seems that people have trouble figuring out what is going on in this story. It seems like the team that produced this story is a bit (to quote Bill Moyers, yet again) tone deaf.

I predict there was some fire in that sanctuary, some words and music about heaven and hell. Where did they go?

Painting: Holiness Church Revivial by Romare Bearden.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    “I do not think that word means what you think it means”

    Nice Princes Bride reference.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The term “tone deaf” is perfect. Too many reporters can hear only the dissonance of politics, even when covering a religion story.

  • http://pursueholiness.blogspot.com Pastor K

    Perhaps as a local story, more background would be redundant. But as an out-of-towner, I am lost before I ever get past the lede. Are these all Baptist churches, or are multiple denominations involved? Are these all historically black churches, or a mix of racial demographics? What’s different between the east and west sides of the city – economics, race, politics?

    The pastor quoted as not knowing what caused the split after pastoring in his church for 16 years leaves me even more confused. Why quote him unless there is either a good explanation he’s somehow missed (and so its explained in the article), or the division is truly inexplicable (and therefore needing a couple more quotes or facts to substantiate the mystery).

    The old Wendy’s Hamburger commercial comes to mind: “Where’s the beef?”


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