Before Sunday, I had only heard of sermons explicitly preaching strict rules regarding sexuality and marriage. I had seen YouTube videos, and I had heard stories of people affected by these sermons; but I had never actually witnessed one myself.
That all changed on Sunday. I was invited to attend a church service in town by a reader of this blog. I originally had planned to attend three weeks ago, but an emergency made that visit impossible, and last Sunday was my next available date. Funnily, the person who invited me thought I might just be pulling her leg all along.
Nonetheless, I showed up at the evangelical church at 11 a.m. on Sunday, found my host, and sat in the pews. After the obligatory worship music (how I loathe worship music), the sermon began.
The lesson of the day was the second installment of a two-part series on marriage, and it focused primarily on Hebrews 13:4, which reads:
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Pastor Jason McConahy also invoked 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads:
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
As you can imagine, the service was really about guilt. How the topic of sex is muddled by guilt. How we all feel guilty about our past sexual sin. McConahy adamantly reminded us that sex was to be regarded as positive and beautiful, but the real message was clear: if you stray outside of the Bible’s restrictive views on sexual morality, you should feel guilty.
After the service, my host asked me what I thought. I tried to explain that I base my morality not on the words of an antiquated book but on shared values, considerations of harmed, and learned norms; and that therefore I strongly disagreed with the message preached. We discussed these ideas and more – why believing in the Big Bang Theory is not equivalent to believing in God; how I distinguish between atheism and agnosticism; the absurdity of the cosmological argument; even a debate in which I participated last year (apparently a debater on my side committed an “argument fallacy” when he equated belief in gods to belief in magic). I wasn’t surprised by her questions, and I don’t believe that she was really very interested in my answers.
What I did notice was a strong disconnect when it came to the burden of proof. I let her lead the conversation where she wanted it to go, making sure to challenge her point-by-point, but my host constantly demanded that I provide evidence for my lack of belief. No matter how many times I highlighted holes in her belief system, it was obvious that she wanted me to prove to her that her god didn’t exist – an obviously impossible task.
I used to attend church services weekly as a non-believer. The reason why I stopped was pure boredom above everything else. Most church services are remarkably similar to each other – rarely does a pastor introduce anything new. Repetitive close-mindedness is burdensome, and this service was a harsh reminder of just that.