Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part Three

wtf

Guest post by ObstacleChick

I hope you all have enjoyed Parts one and two of the WTF series. It has been fun remembering these rituals and practices from my evangelical childhood, and I am able to experience again how ridiculous these things seem to outsiders. Evangelical Christianity really is a subculture with its own in-group practices and rituals designed to indoctrinate and control its members. Please share with us any of your stories of WTF religious practices in the comments!

Rededicating One’s life to Christ

This was a popular occurrence as pastors would preach about sin, evil, and the necessity of living one’s life for Christ in order to glean the rewards intended for the faithful. During the Altar Call some people would come forward to declare before the congregation that they were committed to putting away their sinful ways and rededicating their lives to Christ. Whatever that means. Occasionally, if the person really thought he or she was bad (and the church needed to inflate its baptism numbers), the person would be rebaptized to show their commitment.

Prayer Requests (“Unspoken”)

Christians really, really, really count on the “power of prayer.”. They will pray for anything from the mundane (Lord, please help me find my car keys as I am going to be late to work) to the catastrophic (Lord, please cure my mom of cancer). Most churches will publish in the weekly Sunday morning bulletin a list of people for whom to pray, typically people who are ill or who just lost a loved one. Often at some point in Sunday school or in the service, there will be an opportunity for people to offer up prayer requests. Those who are shy about saying what it is they are requesting prayer will often say “unspoken” which means that they want people to pray for so-and-so’s unnamed issue, but God, being omniscient, will be able to determine what that is. (I felt like there were certain people who would ask for an “unspoken” prayer request because they just wanted attention and didn’t want to have to make up something).

Door to Door Canvassing

The primary way church find new members is to birth them from within. The secondary way is through recruiting new members from the community. In places like the Bible Belt, where I grew up, almost everyone was already a member of a church, so recruiting new members really meant poaching members from other churches. Larger churches with more resources have an easier time poaching new members than smaller churches. When a church has multiple programs for children and youth, along with modern facilities, that church is more attractive to families. The church I was in scheduled door-to-door canvassing occasionally, where there was typically a pot-luck lunch served after church to entice members to stay, and afterward we would be sent out in teams to knock on doors, hand out fliers, and invite people to our fantastic True Christian church. (I hated it.)

Witnessing/Testimony

All Christian converts were encouraged to formulate and share their conversion story, which was called a “testimony.” Those of us who had been in church our entire lives had a pretty boring testimony. The testimonies that were the most impressive were from people who had been big sinners, like former alcoholics or drug addicts. These were people who were really encouraged to talk about how finding Jesus had totally saved them from lives of sin and debauchery and destruction and had brought them to a place of peace and light. Whether our testimony was grand or not, we were encouraged to share it with sinners in order to bring them to the saving grace of Jesus (and save them from eternity in hell).

Laying on of Hands

This was something done during prayer, either in a church service or in Sunday school or on a retreat. The higher-ups in the church (pastors, deacons, etc.) would lay their hands on the person being prayed over, and sometimes the entire congregation would come forward and touch the person and pray. The touching supposedly conveyed extra Jesus Power.

Foot Washing

This was a symbolic gesture to show servanthood. In the Old Days, people traveling on foot and wearing sandals (as one would do in the Middle East) would get pretty nasty, so when they arrived at their host’s home, the host would offer water and supplies so they could cleanse their feet. A really great host would wash the guest’s feet. There was a story in the Bible of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair as a sign of submission and love. Jesus supposedly washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of servant leadership. People who want to appear to be super Jesus-like will wash the feet of others, and typically it’s one in a position of leadership who will wash the feet of their underlings.

Baby Dedication

Because Baptists practice believer baptism and not in infant baptism (like the evil hell-bound Catholics) but still want to acknowledge when a child is born, Baptist churches will hold a baby dedication service. In our church, one Sunday per year all the parents of babies born within the year were asked to come forward to show off their future (revenue stream) soul for Jesus to be prayed over and shown off to the congregation. Parents were warned about eternity in hell and the importance of (indoctrinating) raising their child in the church.

Eschatology/the Rapture

The resurrected Jesus told his followers he would return to earth one day, only the Father knows when, so since 33 CE, Christians have been waiting for him to come back. Christians over the centuries have searched through Old and New Testaments to try to piece together what they think the timeline will be preceding, during, and subsequent to his return. There are disagreements about what will happen when, but it’s all scary to children/teens who are told they better be for SURE and for CERTAIN that they are saved or else they will be left behind with all the evil heathens if they aren’t ready and Jesus comes back and takes all the True Christians out of the world. Tim LaHaye’s popular “Left Behind” book series sums up one of the primary eschatological timelines known to (and devised by) True Christians®.

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7 Comments

  1. Caroline

    I have really enjoyed reading these segments. I have a few evangelical acquaintances, so I’ve heard a little of this stuff. Every religion has its crazy traditions, but the difference here is that these kinds of Protestants have to share their religious business even if it’s perceived as impolite, pushy, arrogant. They just won’t quit. We live in a quiet neighborhood and somehow we are on the radar of some Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can’t think of a good way to respond to them (since I know their zeal) and instead of quivering inside my house until they’re gone I want to find a clear, but not rude way of getting them to stay away. Also, don’t get me started on the Rapture! One of my few evangelical acquaintances never stops saying, “Come back Lord Jesus!” I just don’t get it.

    Reply
    1. Daniel

      Caroline, have you considered telling the Jehovah’s Witnesses that you’re already doomed because you received a blood transfusion when you were young?

      Reply
    2. Tom

      I love reminding them that the whole Rapture myth was concocted in the 1840’s by John Nelson Darby, a de- frocked Church of Ireland cleric.

      This is especially fun when your antagonist is one of those, “America was founded as a Christian nation” types. Ask them to document any mention of a “Rapture” prior to Darby. Then point out that their brand of Christianity didn’t even exist in 1776.. and watch the fun.

      Reply
    3. Tom

      Getting rid of the JWs is easy: tell them that you’re a disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness. They’re not allowed to talk to you, and they’ll flee.

      Reply
  2. Tom

    “Witnessing/Testimony

    “All Christian converts were encouraged to formulate and share their conversion story, which was called a “testimony.” Those of us who had been in church our entire lives had a pretty boring testimony. The testimonies that were the most impressive were from people who had been big sinners, like former alcoholics or drug addicts. These were people who were really encouraged to talk about how finding Jesus had totally saved them from lives of sin and debauchery and destruction and had brought them to a place of peace and light. Whether our testimony was grand or not, we were encouraged to share it with sinners in order to bring them to the saving grace of Jesus (and save them from eternity in hell).”

    In law school Evidence class we were taught that the testimony of any witness that wasn’t subject to the opportunity of opposing counsel to present competent and substantive cross examination should be stricken from the record.

    What I wouldn’t give to cross examine those who have “witnessed” to me, or gave their “testimony” in a church service I was attending , over the last 48 years. But I’m certain that’ll happen the day that pastors start opening the floor to questions from the congregation after the sermon on a regular basis.

    It boils down to that premise which underscores so much of that which is rancid in Evangelical/ Fundamentalist Christianity: mercenary religionists do not want anyone questioning their arbitrary claims of authority.

    Reply
  3. Ami

    I read the series with… huh. I don’t want to say enjoyment, although you wrote it well. Mostly I had flashbacks and moments of embarrassment when recalling the many times I sat through those experiences and believed it all. I always felt that I must have done something wrong somewhere, because I never, not once, felt the presence of a deity.

    I feel bad now when one of ‘my’ kids tries to witness to others or wants me to join the debate about whether there’s even a god at all.

    I always tell them that personal beliefs are called that because that’s exactly what they are, and that not everyone believes the same way. And that one’s religious beliefs don’t belong in our group.

    Sometimes it works.

    Reply
  4. maryg

    wow this brought back memories. it was all so exhausting. when I said I did not see the point in these things, I as told I must not be saved. this was used to bring me into line. however I did draw the line at foot washing. it was big in the Pentecostal movement in the 70s. it was so bizarre to me-it seemed to bring on more crying and screaming when they did this ritual. then the rolling running screaming in regular services. no wonder the locals did not want much to do w/the new preacher and fam rolling into each town to build up a Pentecostal church. thanks for your writings as I am helped to process the weirdness and how I got out.

    Reply

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