Southern Churchianity


(photo credit)

My wife and I found a few hours of quiet last night and watched Bernie, a movie I had picked up from the public library.  Having seen great reviews from the critics and after seeing it on many “Top Ten of 2012” movie lists, I thought it would be  a safe bet.

The movie has been coined a dark comedy, and I felt like that was a good characterization.  The film has a very light feel, and the documentary style had me chuckling to myself at how well they pegged small town Southern life.  Certainly the murder and court proceedings darken the plot, but I found something much more troubling.  The words of Skip Hollandsworth, co-writer of the screenplay, put things in perspective:  “I thought this was a rare chance for a major feature film to show what ordinary Protestant church life is like, especially in a small town.”

There was a disheartening scene near the close of the film.  (spoiler alert)  Just after Bernie guns down Ms. Nugent, he participates in a dress rehearsal for the local theater.  Then it cuts to a scene where he stands before the church singing a haunting rendition of “He Touched Me”:

Shackled by a heavy burden
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me
And now I am no longer the same

The situational irony here is as “Ann as the nose on plain’s face” (name that show).  Throughout the movie, the townspeople reiterate over and over that Bernie is a “good ole boy”; if any were to go to heaven, it would be him.  This sad commentary on Southern Churchianity reiterated something I fight every day.  The church has become more about hiding our sins (like Bernie) and putting on our best mask every Sunday.

The pharisaism of first century Judaism was most offensive to Jesus not because they were trying to keep the law, but because they were unwilling to admit their sin.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

The townspeople of Carthage, TX, have such a hard time seeing the egregious nature of Bernie’s deception because they all privately practiced their own whitewashing every Sunday before church.  Churchianity was not about painful exposure to the light of the gospel, confession, and salvation.  It is about dwelling in the shadows, private remorse, and quiet damnation.

I’m pretty sure John admonishes us somewhere in one of his epistles about this kind of thing…

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

May we be a little less “touched” by Jesus, and a little more “cleansed” by Him.  And this only happens when we are willing to step into the light…all the way.

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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