When I was a lad back in the early 1960s, my father left his work as a Southern Baptist pastor in inner-city Dallas and took a position in North Texas, near the base of the Panhandle, that was often referred to as an "associational missionary." It helps to know that Southern Baptists have regional "associations," as opposed to conferences, presbyteries or dioceses.
One of the primary duties of this associational leader, in addition to serving as a pastor or consultant to the region's pastors, was to direct efforts in what has long been called "church planting." The goal was to figure out logical places to "plant" effective new churches and then help people do precisely that. Click here for a rather mainstream take on this topic, from a middle-of-the-road Protestant flock up in Canada.
There was nothing sneaky or threatening about this work, at least not in Texas a half century ago.
It seems that times have changed, at least in some blue zip codes. Either that, or some journalists simply have zero familiarity with how church leaders think and talk? Yeah, that could be what we are dealing with here.
But maybe not! As several people have noted in emails to me -- including a former GetReligionista known as a wit -- the following Alternet piece may not, as it appears, be a stunningly tone-deaf look at a perfectly normal church topic.
No, this Boston Review "education" beat piece might be satire. Maybe? We want GetReligion readers to help us decide!
Yes, I am asking: Might this piece be just a touch TOO BIZARRE to be taken seriously? Might there be someone there who was writing a piece so hostile to ordinary Christian believers and workers that it wasn't really hostile at all?
I mean, if a conservative Christian publication put this out everyone would KNOW that the editors were satirizing how way too many mainstream journalists see evangelicals and other traditional church leaders. Let's start with the headline:
How Evangelists Are Using 'Church Planting' to Retake Secular Boston
The approach uses public schools and other publicly funded spaces to facilitate a religious revival.
Right there, you see the first hints at satire -- starting with the use of the word "evangelists" rather than "evangelicals." And then there is the "public schools" strategy reference, while the piece does not contain a single use of the term "equal access," as in the equal access concepts made popular by the Clinton-Gore White House during a happier era in church-state law.
So here is the top of the piece:
The business of evangelism is old, but its methods are constantly changing. In recent years, evangelism in America has undergone a little-noticed but profound change in its organization, tactics, and culture. There is no better illustration of the new way of doing business than the appearance of evangelical activists in Boston, of all places.
Boston isn’t a likely candidate for missionary activity, but evangelicals have long dreamed of capturing the birthplace of the American Revolution. Only in the past few years have they found an efficient means to launch their long hoped-for revival.
They call it “church planting.” Missionary preachers create and house new congregations, often in inexpensive or state-subsidized locales. Sometimes the church planters establish their own worship services at existing yet underused church buildings. Other times, they rent out or borrow space in community centers, movie theaters, hotels, and other facilities. One relatively new tool of the church planting strategy is the public school system. In public schools across the country, the new evangelists have discovered facilities that can be made available to churches at relatively low or no cost -- except, presumably, to local taxpayers. In some places, including New York City, the churches have not paid any rent at all.
Righto. And this a brand new thing, a dangerous new strategy in blue zip codes alone.
Hilarious. And this business of using equal access to public buildings is BRAND NEW too, which is why the Clinton-Gore era church-state specialists were already making sure people had a plan for dealing with these already old and familiar questions back when?
Read it all. Is this satire or what?