Visitor Cards

January 13, 2009

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You step into a fundamentalist church and are immediately accosted by a greeter with a visitor’s card. Nothing says “Welcome!” to a visitor like a card asking your for Name, birth date, address, phone number, e-mail address, children’s names, and blood type. Ok, that’s stretching it a bit. Since when do fundies contact people by e-mail?

“Just drop this in the offering plate!” says the usher happily, leaving you to forage around for one of those little pencils that are stuck in the back of the pew. For a moment you consider leaving a fake address and phone number but isn’t it extra wrong to lie on a church questionnaire? With a sigh, you scratch the answer in.

And what’s this? At the top is a large garish sticker that reads “GUEST” in orange letters. The small print helpfully instructs “peel and affix to clothing.” Excellent! As if you didn’t already stand out like a sore thumb.

After the third hymn the same usher trips down the aisle with the offering plate. He knows you’ve got a visitors card and his lifted eyebrows tell you that burying it in your hymnbook is not an option. So into the offering plate the card goes. You idly wonder how much trouble it would be to sell your house and move three counties away…

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Hand Raising

December 31, 2008

handsFundamentalists are not completely opposed to outward displays of worship but make no mistake that when a fundamentalist raises his hands in a service it is quite a different thing from when a charismatic tounges-speaking NIV-carrying Pentacostal does it.

The first major element of the fundamentalist hand raise is the duration. Hands must be shot up and put down within a five-count at the longest. Hands that linger aloft too long may be attached to a person who listens to CCM music.

The second element is the force. A hand must not drift upwards in an airy manner but rather be thrust up from the shoulder in a type of  forward-facing  ‘karate chop’ motion. Let not your hand give an uncertain gesture. And whatever you do, keep your wrist firm. Limp wrists are the devil’s tools.

The third important part of hand-raising is the accompanying yell. Bellowing “Preach it!” or “Shake that bush!” to go along with this motion removes all doubt that the hand-raiser is not waving or emoting but rather saluting in a stern and serious fashion.

These differences are as vital as they are subtle. Yet the distinctions can make all the difference between being a fundamentalist and being a happy-clappy, mumbo-jumbo, praise and worship compromiser.


Watch Night Services

December 28, 2008

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The new year is upon us and that means fundamentalist churches are gearing up for the annual ‘watch night’ service extravaganza. Out with the old…in with the equally old.

Watch Night services have served a multitude of purposes over the years. They have given fundamentalists an excuse not to go New Years parties with likker and rock-and-roll. Preacher boys get a chance to preach in front of folks who are so tired they don’t care whether the preaching is even intelligible. But most importantly, it’s historically the one night a year when the old reel-to-reel projector is pulled out of storage and MOVIES are played in the church.

Let not your heart be troubled, these are not evil Hellywood movies. They are granted special dispensation because they come from sacred places like Bob Jones.

How fundamentalists hearts have thrilled to films like Red Runs the River and Thief in the Night. No reveler in Times Square has ever come close to this kind of excitement on the eve of the New Year.


Missionary Slide Shows

December 22, 2008

africansHaving visiting missionaries in the audience is an exciting time at fundamentalist churches. They set up displays with neat pictures and artifacts from their mission field. They tell thrilling stories of exotic peoples and cultures in far away lands like Botswana, Tanzania, or New Jersey. But most importantly, missionaries show slide shows.

The slide show inevitably starts with National Geographesque scenes of the “picturesque beauty of the country” and some vital statistics.

“19% of children under five in this country are red-headed and left-handed. The plains region shown here receives 473 inches of rain yearly. The national dish is fried earthworms.”

Next come the stories of the missionary’s work

“In this picture we see the church building where we’ve been meeting for the past three years. Sorry…that man’s not really standing on his head, I must have put that slide in upside down. This man was our first convert — his name means ‘hater of fat white people’.”

At the end comes the ‘ministry plea’ portion with and endless stream of faces of people old and young. (Mission field seems somewhat short on middle-aged ugly people.) For those missionaries are able to afford multimedia presentations (a.k.a. a tape recorder) a song like “People Need the Lord” or “Thank You” will wail out to underscore the need on this particular field.

One may wonder if putting the church members’ neighbors on a screen with a soundtrack would make them seem more needy of the gospel. But one doesn’t wonder for too long. It’s time for the love offering…


Prophecy Conferences

December 20, 2008

the-endIs your church sluggish and listless? Having trouble packing folks into the pews? Need something to really fire up the congregation? A prophecy conference is just the thing to bring folks in to your church and set them ablaze! The end of the world is here again.

Yes, sir, nothing will stir the fires of people’s heart like hearing about the tribulations, the anti-Christ, and the Great Whore of Babylon. Folks will flock in to hear latest ways in which the book of Revelation applies to the headlines. After all, there’s big trouble in the Middle East right now…and that’s never happened before.

And just look at how technology is fulfilling the prophecies. Forget all that stuff about 666 being hidden in social security numbers, bar codes, and debit cards. Make sure that your church knows that the mark of the beast is those new computer chips they implant to track animals. This kind of instruction is time well spent. Spending a whole night expounding theories the mark of the Beast is just the kind of edification that the body Christ needs.

Revelation is just the ticket to get those pews packed. After all, you’ll notice that there was never a series of gripping fiction books or movies based on Romans or Galatians. It’s the end of the world as we know it…


Old-Fashioned Altars

December 13, 2008

benchAlmost all fundamentalist services end with a plea to walk the aisle down to an “old-fashioned altar.” This is usually acompanied by standing with “your heads bowed and your eyes closed. Nobody looking around.” while singing approximately 347 verses of an invitation hymn such as Just as I Am or Jesus is Calling.

In reality, the “old-fashioned altar” is a misnomer since the practice of come-down-front invitations is not that old nor is the front of the church strictly an altar since the only blood that is shed there happens during church business meetings.

Fundamentalists have Methodist camp meetings and the work of evangelist Charles Finney in the 1800’s to thank for the modern day come-down-front invitation. What is not clear is if Finney also fathered the technique of saying “If nobody comes on this next verse then we’ll close the service” (inevitably followed by one more person traipsing down the aisle to the collective groans of everyone who has a roast slowly turning to leather in their oven back at home.)

How did they get people saved before “Just As I Am” was written in 1849? It’s almost impossible to imagine.


Medical Prayer Requests

December 7, 2008

caduceusScene from a fundamentalist church near you during any given prayer meeting…

As the notes of the second hymn die away, the pastor asks “Do we have any prayer requests this evening?”

Up pops the hand of Sister Pearl in the second row.

“Since my sister couldn’t get a cardiopulmonary bypass they had to perform an off-pump MIDCAB. The surgeon performed an alternative incision — I believe it was a a left anterior thoracotomy. So her left internal mammary artery was dissected from the left chest wall and stabilizer device was placed on her heart to provide support of the left anterior descending artery as the heart continues to beat. Then the left internal mammary artery was sutured to the left anterior descending artery to bypass the blockage”

“Miss Pearl’s sister” murmurs the pastors making a note on his list. “Who else?”

“Please pray for me.” pipes up brother Tom on the front row. “I have a visit with my proctologist tomorrow and he’s probably going to be prescribing me more of that stimulant laxative he gave me two weeks ago. That stuff sure does a number on me. Hopefully this straightens out my bowel movements because they have have been just terribly irregular of late.”

“Remember Tom” intones the pastor scratching another note while avoiding eye contact with Tom. “Anyone else?”

“I believe that my neighbor has a social disease” pipes up Sister Sue-Ellen sitting in the middle halfway back. “It wouldn’t surprise me the way she carries on…”

“Sue-Ellen’s neighbor” the pastor hastily interjects. “Ok, let’s go ahead and pray…”

The only certain things are death, taxes, and an amazingly detailed litany of medical prayer requests on Wednesday night.