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My court evangelical throws in the towel

From COVID-19 to Uvalde, pastoring a megachurch just became too much for my imaginary friend.

Flowers are piled around crosses with the names of the victims killed in last week's school shooting as people visit a memorial at Robb Elementary School to pay their respects, Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(RNS) — Longtime readers of this column may recall my imaginary friend Court Evangelical, the pastor with whom I reported several conversations during the Trump administration. On Memorial Day, my phone rang. It was him.

MS: It’s been years, Rev! How have you been?

CE: Not so well, actually. This has been a bad time for me.

MS: I’m sorry to hear it. What can I do for you?

CE: I’m just calling to let you know that I’ve quit. I thought you might be interested.

MS: Quit what?

CE: My job. My pastorate. I’m throwing in the towel.

MS: Really? How come?

CE: It started with COVID. At first, of course, we went virtual. That was OK, since in a big sanctuary like ours most attendees are used to seeing the proceedings on a screen. But then the lawsuits started up around the country insisting on in-person worship in the name of religious freedom. So we had to come back.

MS: Were you upset?

CE: Yeah. We got to where our team would talk about “Superspreader Sundays.” Not publicly of course. For the folks in the pews it became a point of pride to risk life and health to show up. Some of them who wore a mask everywhere else wouldn’t wear one in church because they didn’t want to seem like they were on the “other side.” Then came the election.

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MS: I suppose the congregation was all in for Trump.

CE: Of course they were. Of course I was, too. I was, as you know, Reverend Go-To-The-White-House. So there was a lot of disappointment with the result. I held a special meeting for people to express their feelings. Someone got up and asked me to lead a prayer for “the president’s restoration.” Things kind of got out of hand after that.

MS: How so?

CE: Let’s say it became a major church activity to “stop the steal.”

MS: But it wasn’t as if there was anything stolen in your state.

CE: True. But there was a committee to get folks to write emails and go to places like Arizona and Georgia to “help out.” I haven’t seen such volunteerism since we sent buses down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. 

MS: What about Jan. 6?

CE: Yep, a busload of us went to Washington. And some of them went into the Capitol. And some of them have been charged with crimes. And there’s a group in the church that’s raising money to pay their legal bills.

MS: I get it. But “stop the steal” has been going on for a while. What was the, uh, straw that broke the camel’s back?

CE: There’ve been a few. After Russia invaded Ukraine, some of my folks, Tucker Carlson fans for sure, came to me and asked why America was supporting “that Jew” Zelenskyy rather than Putin, who stands up for Christian values. When I asked them if they didn’t think independent countries had a right not to be invaded, they said, well, they figured if the Democrats were going to be all in for Ukraine, they should be on Team Russia.

MS: OK. What else.

CE: Well, Uvalde. Look, I’m a big supporter of the Second Amendment. I’ve gone hunting ever since I was a kid. Yadda yadda. 

MS: Do you own an AR?

CE: No, I don’t. But that’s not the point. The point is that gun rights have become more important in my church than the cross. “How come you never preach on Matthew 10:34?” they ask me. You know, where Jesus says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” No “blessed are the peacemakers” for them. No “turn the other cheek.”

MS: Gun control, not so much.

CE: Are you kidding? What really gets to me, though, is all this pious talk about how the problem is that there’s not enough mental health care — and not just from the politicians who vote against funding it. There are the ordinary folks who wouldn’t visit a mental health professional if you paid them. I should know. I can’t count the times I’ve failed to get a parishioner into treatment. 

MS: So you’re saying that the kid, the shooter, was sick, not evil?

CE: Look, I’m a Calvinist. What does the “T” in the TULIP acronym stand for? Total Depravity. Evil is everywhere. It’s human nature. But that doesn’t mean you just let it be, policy-wise. 

MS: Last I checked, policies to control evil were pretty extensive in Calvin’s Geneva, not to mention John Winthrop’s Boston. And dare I mention all these new anti-abortion laws?

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CE: You want to know what’s evil? How the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention reacted when these women came and told them personal stories about being raped by their pastors. They literally turned their backs on them. And you know what, these were supposedly good Christian men. You want to know what broke this camel’s back? Uvalde and the SBN report. I sent in my letter of resignation yesterday.

MS: Mazel tov, as we say. Do you know what you’ll do next?

CE: Nope. I’ll be praying on that.

MS: Well, take your time. I’d say you’ve got a whole lot to recover from.

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