Sunday, June 15, 2008
Six Flags... over Jesus
So, I thought that pairing a weekend visit to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (which features six flags that have flown over Louisville... can you name them?) with a visit to Six Flags Over Jesus. Of course, the members of Southeast Christian Church don't identify it that way, but it is widely known in Louisville that way, as well as derisively called that on liberal blogs. (Like this one.)
According to Wikipedia, SCC is the 6th largest church in the country, and the only part of that I find hard to swallow is that there could be 5 churches larger. It has a very extensive campus, complete with Worship Center and fitness center. We entered through vast parking lots, and then into the church though the Atrium, which looked like an airport terminal, or a convention center, or a casino/hotel. From there, we proceeded up a few escalators up to our balcony seats in the Worship Center. The sanctuary was enormous; more like a basketball arena than any church I've ever been to. The program we were given (which contained no program notes for the service; there was nothing to follow along with. The words to songs were given on the jumbotrons...) gave attendace and donation statistics for last week.
Worship attendance, June 2-8: 15,355.
General Offering, June 2-8: $645,177.
I couldn't wait; I pulled out my cell phone calculator right there in the sanctuary to do a little bit of division... it comes out to more than $42 per person. And when you consider that counts children, families, and people who don't give, like visitors... that's absurd. And when you further consider that it doesn't count $11,000 for "Making Room for More" and $27,000 for the building fund... wow. Just wow.
The service felt very much like a Christian rock concert; it was not formal or ritualized in any way. It was a notable change from most churches; there's no procession, no prayer book, no liturgy, no symbols or pictures. In a way, the lack of ritual or tradition is kind of refreshing; it's nothing but someone offering a moral perspective and a fairly direct access to scripture and Jesus. So I can certainly understand the appeal of the church, as well as the huge community and the vast resources available to members. (And, in a side note, the more restraints placed on a religious community, the better it seems to do. See this article in the Economist on the science and economics of religion. Maybe that explains some of the success of SCC?)
The whole service was a bit over an hour. That included a few modern Christian songs that I hesitate to call hymns, a few informal and even improvised prayers (but nothing standard, even the Our Father). There was also a baptism; they have a full swimming pool in the sanctuary for immersions. I liked the way they did it-- not flashy at all, but just with the words advocated in Matthew 28:19. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
The sermon was long, and took up most of the service time. They did a Sportscenter-themed sermon for Father's Day, so I suppose it wasn't exactly typical. A lot of the material was randomly plucked from Proverbs, with few enough references to the New Testament. Most of it was pretty generally agreeable family-type stuff, but I cannot let the opportunity pass without remarking on the advice that fathers should give encouraging words to their children. "Tell your sons that they can achieve anything. Tell your daughters that they are beautiful." And so on... the idea of gender roles, in very traditional patterns, was quite prevalent, oppressive to me at least. And from their newspaper, Chris found a session to help him "recover from homosexuality" run by the lovely people at Crossover Ministries.
As we were leaving, Chris said to me, "God, Katie! Why do you have to be such a vice?" It summed up the message of the sermon pretty well....
Six Flags over Louisville: Louisville, Lousville Metro/Jefferson County, Kentucky, Virginia, USA, UK.