"You make God sound like an opportunistic virus"

Last week I contributed to a "Finances and Faith" piece in the local paper on how parishes are reacting to the economic crisis. I think all the churches in the piece did well talking about how church finances are struggling but we continue to offer the same message of hope and liberation. However, during the interview, I did not respond well to a question along the lines of "are you encouraged by higher attendance?" These are people's lives who are being fractured, broken people coming to the doors...even if there are more of them, why should I get excited about it? It's nothing to take advantage of or be encouraged by.

Thankfully, we have the Colbert Report to back me up. Colbert nails how I've seen some churches marketing and "taking advantage" of the economic situation. I think this is a good clip on how churches need reflection on how we react to the economic crisis. Watch the clip, but here's the exchange at 4:40:

Fr. Martin: "When people feel more vulnerable, like in times of recession and poverty, their defenses are lowered so it is easier for God to break through."
S. Colbert: "You make God sound like an opportunistic virus."
Fr. Martin: "It's more that we keep God at bay. We have our defenses. When they are not there any more, it's easier for God to break in...It's not that God is any more present, it's that we are more open."

Thoughts? Is there a level of unintentional preying on uncertainties by churches close to you, like a virus? Or are we preaching the same message as before: that God is present, God is faithful, and God will walk with us through this mess?


Larry B,  February 24, 2009 at 9:26 PM  

I think CS Lewis's writings are sympathetic with Fr. Martin's comments that you excerpted here.

You seem to be leery, however of using an opportunity, such as economic distress, to introduce Christ to someone. I think the insincerity you sense and the emotion that Colbert taps though isn't tied to circumstance, it's more the individual person and their pride.

If you flip the situation, is it equally opportunistic to seek people when they aren't hurting or stressed? You could argue they would be the best people for your church as they would probably participate a lot more and demand a lot less. In this case, I think it's easier to see that the person who thinks like that is disingenuous.

Experience teaches us that in good times, there is a tendency for people to pull away from God, and in bad times, they find ways to draw themselves closer. It's not wrong to realize that and be prepared for that when it happens.

Just as a side, Colbert is a master at twisting words and plays to the worst kind of self promotion. Returning to CS Lewis, he describes Colbert's personality type spot on in one chapter of Screwtape letters (I can't think of the number off the top of my head). It happens to be the type of person Screwtape's master loves the most. I don't think I could take seriously much coming from Colbert.

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