Three-and-a-half years ago I wrote an article about the pastors of a few of the bigger churches in my local area. First among them was painstakingly coiffed slime mold Larry Aikens, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Temple on the National Pike between Hagerstown and Clear Spring.
At the time I wrote:
Emmanuel Baptist, like the other churches I’m going to mention, doesn’t list anything too blatantly intolerant on its beliefs page, but if you read between the lines you find they aren’t the most ecumenical bunch.
Back then the most offensive thing I could find on the Emmanuel Baptist website was the insistence that “you must believe in Jesus for salvation,” which carries the charming implication that everyone who dies after saying a polite “thanks, but no thanks” to the whole human-sacrifice-by-proxy thing — or awesomer still, dies without ever hearing of Christianity — is going to burn in hell forever and ever and ever. It’s an oversight Larry Aikens and his staff have since corrected.
I returned to Emmanuel Baptist Temple’s website over the weekend after an acquaintance shared with me something a cousin who recently began attending services there had told her. According to this cousin — who, like most of the rest of my acquaintance’s family, is an evangelical Christian — Emmanuel Baptist requires its female choir members to keep their hair a particular length, and not be too overweight. Because who wants to sing along with a choir of pixie-haired fatasses — am I right, fellas?
Emmanuel Baptist also reportedly requires its members to submit a copy of their annual tax returns, so the church can verify that the members are tithing at least 10% of their gross income, like good Independent Baptists. That’s nakedly avaricious, and, I think, tells you everything you need to know about the sort of church Emmanuel Baptist Temple is, but it’s not particularly misogynistic, so let me not dwell on that.
On the new (or at least new to me) “We Believe” page, amidst the usual declarations about God creating the universe and man needing redemption thanks to the first two humans committing a rules infraction thousands of years before the birth of anyone presently alive, there is this pearl of Biblically backed bigotry:
[T]he Bible allows women to speak to other women (Titus 2:4) but is opposed to women preaching to men (I Timothy 2:12) and is opposed to women holding the office of Pastor or Deacon (I Timothy 3:2, 12).
Mighty big of the Bible, allowing women to speak to other women.
Try this just for fun: replace “women” and “men” with any two other categories of humanity, and see how it sounds. Any church that forbade, for instance, blacks from preaching to whites or holding leadership roles would be condemned and marginalized. Why are churches that discriminate on the basis of sex rather than race treated any differently?
Why any human being would willingly submit to this sort of treatment is beyond me. So is why any organization this blatantly discriminatory deserves to be tax exempt. But those aren’t the foremost mysteries on my mind today. What really puzzles me at the moment is why our local newspaper, the Herald-Mail, would choose to publicize the backwards, misogynistic Emmanuel Baptist Temple with a pleasant, completely uncritical feature in today’s edition.
The article, which quotes from Aikens and one of his parishioners, is accompanied on the Herald-Mail’s website by a video that includes an excerpt from Aikens’s sermon, a brief tour of the just-dedicated new sanctuary, and a lengthy clip of the choir performing. How much does advertising like this normally cost, I wonder.
Located only a few miles from Hagerstown, a city with more than its share of shabby neighborhoods, impoverished residents, and an ever-expanding homeless population, Larry Aikens and his staff at Emmanuel Baptist chose to spend an estimated $7 million of their members’ money on a new sanctuary, classrooms for a fundamentalist Christian private school, and other additions and renovations for their church — which, as I mentioned before, is exempt from local, state and federal taxes. I think of the good that $7 million could have done for this community — the homeless shelter that could have been built and staffed, or the home foreclosures that could have been prevented, or the struggling local businesses that could have been kept afloat — and I start to get angry. None of those things will happen. The good Christian people of Emmanuel Baptist decided to build themselves a nice new church instead.
Normally I’m not much for quoting scripture. Yet, I can’t help but recall that in the Beatitudes (recorded as part of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew, and the Sermon on the Plain in the Book of Luke — both texts of some importance to Christians, I am given to understand) Jesus teaches that the poor and the hungry will be blessed, along with the meek and the merciful. A church that spends millions of dollars to build itself a massive hilltop temple, in a community where the poor and the hungry are never difficult to find, is neither meek nor merciful.
Is there any such thing as Christian charity, really? What I see in the new Emmanuel Baptist Temple, with its council of bigots leading a fleeced, willfully oblivious flock, is certainly Christian, but it is not charity. And what the Herald-Mail does in publicizing it is not journalism.