Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
Matthew 23:38 (KJV)
Sometime in the future…
It sat off the side of the road, in a field of growth. You could easily miss it, even on a sunny day like it was today. I found an untouched section on driveway that led into an abandoned parking lot. I was able to park my vehicle in that section. I turned off my vehicle, grabbed my camera, and stepped out into the midday autumn sun.
I walked up a weedy drive, thanking God that I had on jeans and hiking boots on case of bugs. I can see the building clearer as I neared it.
It was an abandoned church-a “worship center” it was called. If I told you the name, you’d recognize it. I could pick up the faint scent of decay thanks to the breeze that was blowing. I could see part of the facade gone from neglect, allowing me a glimpse inside.
Sunlight streamed into the interior from a hole in the roof. The floor before me was strewn with garbage, leaves and branches. Graffiti was scrawled on the walls. I started to snap pictures. I then produced a flashlight and shone it before me. A small flock of birds flew out into the day at the sound of my footfalls.
I could see wrecked pieces of Christian iconography that probably greeted visitors in days past. The photos for me were a goldmine for my research work. You see, I am a professor of religious studies back in the city; my field of study was Late Christianity. “Late Christianity” was a subject that dealt with the Christian Church from the 1980s up until our time.
You can see Bibles and hymn books scattered about as I entered the sanctuary-a large circular room that probably held a few hundred. Onto one side was the pulpit with chancel behind it. I could also see a semi-circular balcony above. Part of the roof fell with what appeared to be a couple of large video monitors. I shone my light about although I had plenty of daylight coming in. I then proceeded to the pulpit.
The pulpit was intact, and to my surprise, had some power. It was one of those late-model pulpits with a built in computer which allowed the speaker to access their message and other information in real time. I hung my camera around my neck and tinkered with the controls.
This pulpit’s computer still had sermons archived in its hard drive. From what I could see by the titles, this pastor was typical of Late Christianity. Sermons denouncing Gays/Lesbians, sermons criticizing social programs, sermons that spoke of what a woman’s “place” should be (according to the Bible); sermons denying climate change, the list was endless. I could also see that this pastor had access to offering tallies on real time (probably to goad more dough from the members). It was a gold mine of info I wish I could download into my personal smart-pad.
“Interesting, isn’t it?” A woman’s voice asked.
My head shot up to find a dark-skinned woman with long braided graying hair looking right at me. She was tall and slender, yet had a nice shape. She wore one of those knit hooded tops you see in Mexico with jeans and hiking boots. Jewelry adorned her rather plain appearance. Despite her nice appearance, I almost jumped out of my skin!
“Geez Sister!” I exclaimed, “Where did you come from?”
“Been here for a bit,” She replied matter of fact, “I wondered when you’d come by.”
I was puzzled by her statement. I stepped down to meet my visitor. Despite her sudden appearance, I didn’t feel any bad vibes about her. In fact, she emanated some deep vibes.
“You’ve been here?” I asked.
My friend nodded her head, “For a bit, like I said. I used to be here when this place was jumping, however….” She trailed off and looked about.
To be mannerly, I introduced myself. The woman said to call her “Sophia.” Sophia then offered to take me on a tour. Sophia spoke as we walked.
“This was one of the last big churches in the area. By the close of the last century, Christianity in this nation was very big. I saw how it tried to control even the very government that was created not to be controlled by the Church.
“However, Christianity started getting too big for its britches. It became an organization instead of the organism that it was intended to be-as Jesus spoke of.”
“I know,” I remarked, “I remembered its long history in trying to shape American politics in the old days; even tried to shape politics overseas.”
We walked into a side hall where offices sat. You can see the furniture and equipment was looted. Sophia led me into the church’s business office.
“This was where a lot of business took place,” Sophia told me, “Unfortunately it wasn’t the Divine type.”
All about there were pages of computer printouts showing contributions made to various organizations we used to call, “Right Wing” or “Conservative.” I recognize some of the names which were highly controversial in their day. I remember my parents protesting some of those groups back in the day. I told this to Sophia.
Sophia nodded her head, “These were not Christian organizations, save in name,” She said, “I never knew why they involved themselves with such groups. Not just here, but in a lot of churches in this country. I saw how many of them traded prophecy for politics, love for intolerance, and compassion for criticism. Now judgement’s come upon these people.”
I could relate to Sophia. My subject matter I taught included the fall of American Christianity. How by the first quarter of the 21st Century, the Church in America became an anachronism. How the Church’s stance against sexuality, gender equality, science, and social welfare caused it to alienate many-young and old. I grew up seeing many of my friends becoming Atheist, or at best Agnostic. My parents-albeit Christian-never darkened the doors of a church since they felt the Church was phony. Even in my community-the urban community-educated non-Whites left a stagnant church in the cold as Atheism rose in said community. Even the Jews and Muslims saw a drop in their ranks, which was a shock to many. Sophia continued her talk.
“When the Church drifted away from the Divine and started to embrace the seduction of worldly power, its days were numbered. When Christians attacked-instead of engaged-differing beliefs, it became like a rabid dog that eventually got put down.” She turned to me as we left the office, “You knew how this church fell?”
I remembered. A young girl was raped in the community and nearly left for dead. The pastor said it was the girl’s fault (even though it wasn’t) and shamed her publicly. The girl’s single father who raised her, tried to sue the church but couldn’t due to the members in local government. Dad (and recovered daughter) took to social media and connected with a lot of influential people which put an embarrassing spotlight on the church. Also during the elections, it was discovered that the church was rigging the elections in favor for its members that were running. Well this time, non-members were elected and began a massive crackdown on the church.
Then it was discovered that the pastor and one of his (male) ministers were having young people on “retreats” that wound up sexual in nature. The pastor and minister were arrested-without bail-and were tried. Both men were convicted and put behind bars. To make things worse, the families of the young victims turned and sued the church-draining it of its onetime large bank accounts. Embarrassed members left and the place fell into disrepair. To add insult to injury, a bunch of locals held a Black Mass in the sanctuary! To this day, the pastor and minister were still behind bars.
As we passed classrooms designed for children, I could see images of the European Jesus many predominately White churches had.
“You see they created a Jesus that many could not relate to,” Sophia remarked, “Even the ‘colorized’ Jesus in non-White churches didn’t help. The church turned the man who taught about love and mercy into a bully that showed no mercy. They reinforced the myth that one race was ‘holier’ than others,” Sophia shook her head sadly, “Then these churches wondered why no one wanted to go to them.”
Sophia talked about how in the later days, the American Church attacked everything it could: Gays and Lesbians; women; the poor and marginalized; people of different faiths; science; etc. How the Christian Church espoused hateful values, calling them “family values.” How God tried to talk to them by sending Christians that were Christlike in their approach. Sadly, those Christlike ones were turned away.
Then Sophia said that God had enough and took His/Her hand off of the Church. Overnight, every nightmare the Church could think of happened. From the least, dwindling memberships; to the worst, scandals and bankruptcies. It was an overnight event that not only impacted American churches, it also impacted churches all across the globe. Even the Vatican felt the impact as its revenues shrank and membership dwindled. Missions across the globe starved as donor churches went belly up. Young members-the “future” of the church-left the fold to follow their own path. And despite all the praying, cajoling, and bargaining, God did not budge.
“Then, one day, this…” Sophia added with a sweeping gesture, “Overnight, everything died.” She shook her head, “How different things could have been. How the Church could have stood up for the marginalized, the poor, the environment, the ‘other.’ How the Church could have been the first in line for change, instead of the last-only after pressure form the outside. Now it’s gone, and Christianity is its collateral damage…” Sophia sighed.
I thought I saw a tear come down Sophia’s cheek. I reached over and brushed it off.
“Pardon me,” Sophia said with a faint smile, “It’s a tragedy that still hurts me…”
Eventually we returned to the outside. I took plenty of pictures for my upcoming classes, plus I was getting hungry for lunch. I offered Sophia a ride into town; she declined.
Then Sophia reached out and placed a friendly hand on my shoulder. I could feel an electric sensation from her touch.
“You go on,” Sophia said, “We’ll talk later.”
Sophia stepped back and suddenly turned into a ball of white-gold light. I was immediately transfixed by what I saw. Then I gasped when I realized…
“Oh my God…” I gasped.
“Yes it is…” I could hear Sophia’s chuckling voice. The ball soon faded and left me alone. For some reason, I didn’t feel sad. Instead, I felt energized! I turned for my vehicle…
…And to the future…
This story is just a cautionary tale for us in the Church. If we don’t get our act together, God may decide to “pull the plug” on us and let us die. Thanks for reading despite its length.