SUNDAY MORNING, Norman Rockwell, May 16, 1959 cover of The Saturday Evening Post
A 2008 survey by LifeWay Research found that 72% of American adults who do not attend church say the church is full of hypocrites. The same study found that 79% of those unchurched Americans think the church is more concerned about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.
My mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn’t go. He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, “I know what the church wants. Church doesn’t care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, and another pledge. Right? Isn’t that the name of the game? Another name, another pledge.” That’s what he always said.
Sometimes we’d have a revival. The pastor would bring the evangelist to our home to visit my father. The pastor would say to the evangelist, “There’s one now, sic him... get him, get him;” and my father would say the same thing to him. Every time, my mother would be in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, “The church doesn’t care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge.” I guess I heard it a thousand times.
One time he didn’t say it. He was in the veteran’s hospital, and he was down to 73 pounds. They had taken out his throat, and he said, “It’s too late.” They put in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak and couldn’t eat.
I looked around the room. There were potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church.
He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story. He wrote: “In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”
I said, “What is your story, Daddy?”
And he wrote, “I was wrong.”
–Fred B. Craddock, in Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard E Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, p. 14.
It was too late for the church to be interested in that man’s name or pledge, but they were still interested in him; and so he was finally able to realize that they really did care.
I Peter 3:15-16 — In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Matthew 5:16 — (Jesus said), “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Colossians 3:17 — Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I Timothy 1:13 — Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
O Lord, give us mild, peaceable, meek, and humble spirits, so that, remembering our own sins, we may bear with the sins of others; that we may think lowly of ourselves, and thus not be angry when others also think lowly of us; that we may be patient towards all people, gentle and gracious; as God is so to us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Thomas Wilson (1663-1755), Anglican Bishop