Yesterday my wife, Polly, and I, along with our oldest daughter, attended a dance recital for two of our granddaughters at the former Defiance High School auditorium. We had a delightful time. That said, the auditorium and its steps were not ADA compliant. I found them difficult to navigate, almost falling several times.
Almost a thousand people attended the recital, put on by Defiance Dance Studio. We had to park a good distance away from the auditorium. By the time we arrived, all the nearby parking spaces were filled. We parked in the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church parking lot. There was one parking space closer to the auditorium we could have parked in, but unfortunately, it was guarded, much like the Garden of Eden, by an angel with a flaming sword, warding off all who would dare to park in this holy space.
Not one person would park in this holy space. I told Polly, “pull in.” She did, as we both heartily laughed. As I pondered our atheistic parking, I thought, “ya know, the church might have our car towed if we park in the holy of holies.” Churches can be and are quite vindictive if their “space” is adulterated by unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. So we moved, safe from God and his tow trucks.
Best I can tell, the church’s pastor, Dave Brobston, is not disabled.
My position has remained the same both today and during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry: such reserved parking places are signs of privilege; that pastors are above the people they pastor. James 2:1-9 says:
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Instead of being “the least of these,” pastors often expect preferential treatment (or, at the very least, don’t push back when their churches try to give them exalted status). I refused to let churches treat me any differently from anyone else. Instead of parking close to the church, I deliberately parked at the back end of the lot, giving preference to others. You know, as Jesus did. WWJD? Remember? A new trend in IFB churches is for pastors to have gaudy recliner-sized chairs on the platform for them to sit in. Again, perception matters. What do these chairs say to visitors? Well, Bruce, where did YOU sit when you were a pastor? Glad you asked. I typically sat on the front pew, except when preaching and leading the music. In the late 90s, I took matters one step further by preaching from the floor instead of the platform. I stopped wearing “uniforms,” hoping to show congregants I was one of them. One Sunday, my mother-in-law complained, “Bruce, if you keep doing this stuff, your people won’t think you’re special.” 🙂 Yep, that was my goal. (Bruce was always doing “stuff.”) 🙂
Perception matters, and from my seat in the atheist pew, this sign tells strangers and visitors that the pastor is special, worthy of elevated status. The fact that not one person attending the recital was willing to park in the reserved space tells me that the threat of financial punishment if you parked there was received. Left unsaid is what this sign says to people St. Paul might be trying to reach. I am in no way impugning the motives of the church and its pastor. What I am saying is perception matters; that if the goal is “reach” people with the gospel, how you present yourself matters.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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