By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist
I just talked to a friend who’s mighty close to boiling over. Since we’re the kind of friends who prefer to boil over together rather than letting off steam on the general populace, he vented, and I listened, offering helpful comments and keen insight.
Don’t broadcast this, but I don’t know anyone I’d rather hear preach. He knows what he’s doing and is uncommonly good at it. He’s also a member of a professional organization in another field (not ministry), has become well-respected in that field as well, and was recently invited to give the sermon at a prayer breakfast for their statewide convention.
Nice honor! And he was feeling honored—until a list of rules for the sermon came in the mail. Among other things, he is to refrain from using the name of Jesus and is not to quote from the New Testament. They’re looking for a “To Whom It May Concern” sort of sermon, something dedicated to “An Unknown God.”
Some folks work hard to be politically correct. You’ve never seen a religious legalist as religiously legalistic as a true purveyor of political correctness.
My preacher friend is no newcomer to public speaking in general. He’s almost housebroken, even without a list of rules. He’s not given to long altar calls even at church. I don’t think the convention folks would have to worry about their hashbrowns getting cold as he intoned, “Every head bowed, and every eye closed . . .”
I doubt he’d feel a serious need to run through the plan of salvation lest some poor soul choke on a chicken bone during the convention and it be everlastingly too late. I’ve never heard him say “Jesus” in more than two syllables, and his sweet wife does not have pink hair.
My first advice to him was to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and give the whole thing back to the Indians (make that “native Americans.” It was his first reaction, too, but that might reinforce the wrong image the rule-writers already seem to hold.
My final suggestion was that he trash the letter and do well what he was going to do well anyway. What can they do? Jail him? I doubt they’ll feel a need to once he’s done his thing.
But I had another thought. Maybe he should cover all the bases. Shoe-polish his face so as not to offend anyone of color? (On second thought, that would be truly offensive.) Go in drag so as not to offend any gals? (Oops, worse!) Burn some incense to Buddha? (That might offend a fire marshal.) Work in a good word about Mohammed or the Dalai Lama? I dunno.
He’ll steer the right course. They really don’t need to worry.
I know what I’d do. As I walked in, I’d locate the thin, nervous-looking, pinched off paragon of political correctness stationed somewhere near the door. I’d hand her a couple hundred copies of “Just As I Am,” wink at her, and say, “Okay, watch me close, and just after I say, ‘Every head bowed,’ hand these out.”
I wouldn’t use them. But I bet I’d have her very prayerful attention during the sermon.