We know the stereotype, do we not? Eyes like marbles, jaw clinched tight as a bear trap; icy baritone voice; accusatory finger slashing the air. Yea, brothers and sisters, hear the word of the Lord, Who condemns . . .
For some wacko reason, popular culture (you know what I mean—talk shows, movies, plain old bar and workplace chit-chat) portrays the ministers of God as prigs and bluenoses forever trying to snuff out honest desire while making others, idealistic young people in particular, as unhappy and guilt-ridden as they themselves. Nobody would say such dreary folk don’t ply their trade in this church and that one. A more truthful, as well as useful, thing to say is that the stereotype has things backward and inside out, most of all when the topic is America’s Mainline churches.
Condemnation, the wrath of God, patterns of personal holiness—for mainliners, meaning Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and the like, such stuff has the penetrating odor of mothballs and cedar chests. Sweet tolerance and gentle affirmation are the hallmarks of today’s mainliners.
If modern stereotypes overstate and distort the old pedagogical style of the churches, there indeed existed standards that churchmen thought worthy of holding up for emulation. A few of these standards might be considered, let us say, less essential than others. My late...