You almost feel sorry for Pastor Worley. At the moment I published NC pastor: “Let’s put all the queers and lesbians behind electric fences and let them die,” the video of Worley preaching that all gay people should be sequestered behind electrical fences and left to die had been viewed 308 times. As of this writing it’s been viewed 546,368 times. And that’s made pastor Worley the most reviled pastor in America today.
The motto of pastor Morley’s church is, “The Home of old time Religion.” (It’s also apparently the Home of random Capitalization—but never mind.)
For a lot of people that phrase indicates something awesomely admirable. It evinces a set of values and a way of life that is perfectly honorable. When I think of people who, a generation or so ago, were imbued with what we now call “old time religion,” I think of people—Grapes of Wrath-type people—whom anyone would be proud to be. I think of people who were hard-working, clear-headed, family-loving, giving, respectful of others, humble before the God they spent their lives endeavoring to emulate. *
My 90-year-old friend Sam grew up in a Baptist farming family in Oklahoma. To this day Sam does more hard work before the day’s sun goes down than I do before a month has gone by. He’s been married seventy years. He’s read his Bible for one half-hour every night of his life. When Sam bows his head before a meal, he doesn’t do the rote toss-off. He closes his eyes tight; he spends time at it. He means those prayers.
Sam means everything he does; he never dials it in. Yet at the same time he’s gently detached from everything he does. Because he knows that it’s all just grist for the great turning mill of God.
America was built on the values still alive in good Christian men and women like Sam and his wife Sharon. Such people have always been the backbone of our country. And that’s no mere cliche. That’s how we have lived. That’s who we have been. Such people and their lives are the very roots of our inspirational American tree.
And we’re certainly aware of the compelling spiritual value of that old-time religion. We feel it even in the words—well, maybe not in the actual psychotic words—of pastor Charles L. Worley. We feel the allure of Worley’s surety; our hearts quicken at the clarity of his conviction, the passion of his heart. Yes, Worley is a monster. But, like Frankenstein, he’s a monster made almost entirely of things we know to have once been naturally healthy and good.
So what happened? How did so much of Christianity, which used to be such a decent and honorable thing, degenerate into a national joke that’s anything but funny?
Well, to speak to our current time, gay people happened. For all of Sam’s generation and before, the question of the civil rights of LGBT people virtually never came up. But today countless numbers of people are boldly proclaiming that they’re here, they’re queer, and that even hardcore, old-timey, right-wing reactionary Christians had better get used to it.
And such Christians can easily do that. The bridge from “God didn’t make Adam and Steve!” to “God bless the union of Adam and Steve!” is exactly this short.
So why aren’t even the most conservative Christians lining up to cross that bridge?
Because they’re afraid that while doing so the vicious troll Heresy will pop up from his hoary abode beneath the bridge, and with his long claws and terrible fangs attack them.
They’re afraid they’ll lose what’s most precious to them, which is their relationship with God.
They’re afraid that discarding what they think of as so fundamental to the Bible’s integrity will mean the whole book falling apart in their hands. And they’re afraid they’ll then have nothing with which to defend themselves against all the world’s devilish trolls.
Their fears about this are entirely unfounded. Every day thousands of Christians are rethinking the “clobber passages” (so-called because they have been traditionally used by Christians to “clobber” gay people), changing their minds about homosexuality, and finding that their faith in God—and their sense of God’s faith in them—is not only not compromised, it’s greatly enhanced.
And in crossing that bridge they found, to their happy surprise, no troll at all.
There’s nothing wrong with Christianity. There’s something wrong with many Christians, of course. But that’s only because Christians are people and people are imperfect. But all of us can, and most of us do, evolve.
The pastor Worley as we have him in his now-infamous video displays a great many troll-like characteristics. But the man can change. He does, after all, believe in the irresistible power of the transformative love of Jesus Christ. In what we can dare to hope is his hour of need, let us pray that the pastor fully opens himself up to that power. I’m praying that he does.
And guess what? So is Sam.
Brothers and sisters, can I hear an amen!?
* I am of course also aware of all the reasons for which “old-time religion” conjures up nothing good at all—three such reasons being, for instance, K, K, and K.