-Rev Melissa Fain-
I'm currently building a case. If you would like to see part 1, click the link:
Zombie Jesus: God is Not Undead
7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz from Teman, “I’m angry at you and your two friends because you haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job. 8 So now, take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and prepare an entirely burned offering for yourselves. Job my servant will pray for you, and I will act favorably by not making fools of you because you didn’t speak correctly, as did my servant Job.” 9 Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah did what the Lord told them; and the Lord acted favorably toward Job.
Job 42:7-9 CEB
I have been witness on more than one occasion to the rise of a Zombie Church. It usually hits at the end of something: The end of a tenure of a well loved pastor. The moment where brokenness also signals the end of religious innocence. No matter what it is there’s this knowledge in the air. Something has died. Something can no longer be. A fear can be felt. It’s static in the air. Suffocating in its truth.
Then there’s this collective lurch. “No! It’s not over!” Something manic covers over the fear. And something old begins to sing out. “Look!” they’re internally saying, “We can still sing the songs! Look!” they plead with one another in upbeat verse, “It still sounds real!” And it does. Everyone is in on it. Everyone is singing, because to not sing is to admit the truth that something has died and can never be the same.
These churches no longer live, because there’s no life in what was. At the same time, they cannot die, because they refuse to look forward. Instead they become undead Zombie churches.
Zombie churches are churches that refuse to face death instead of heed the call of Christ. Power is misplaced in objects and people instead of God. When death of an institution is imminent the choice is to push into the institution instead of walk the path of God.
Here are some hard truths about Zombie churches:
The only path out for Zombie Churches: Start by accepting the mourning.
I believe these things have been voiced in wounded ways. Congregants have called out the institution of Church, but the Church hasn’t listened. This is because while the Church has lost its voice when talking about death, they have also lost the ability to translate the voice of mourning. This is why I’m coming in as a third party translator.
At face value, the mourning process sounds very much like heresy. Heresy is an opinion that is profoundly at odds with accepted belief. In the church, it’s an opinion that hits against everything the Church has called right. Like Psalm 137 ends with wanting the Babylonian babies to have their heads smashed against the rocks. There's nothing Godly about that act, yet there it is in the Bible. It’s there to remind us God is still present when our voices speak the heretical truth. Not that God is going to grant our prayers, but listen to the yowling prayer of acceptance. The howl of truth.
I wanna go back to a former post for a moment. I had written. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had called the Book of Mormon an “atheist love letter to religion.” Near the beginning, the two main characters go to their mission field, in Uganda. The tribe sings this upbeat song “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” to the main characters. As the song continues one finds out it is actually a song of lament. Their people are being slaughtered, their women are being raped, and AIDs is rampant. What does Hasa Diga Eebowai mean? F you, God.
It’s heresy! One of the main characters completely shuts down and refuses to participate.
But that song was the natural first step to new life! This heretical lamentation would set in motion a way for the people to find something better. Naming death, and mourning its consequence, had to happen first, and it does.
These Zombie Churches are unable to sit in the lamentation of the people they’ve bitten. Job’s friends couldn’t do it, and the Church can’t do it. It’s so offensive. It’s so outrageous. Not really because they are saying F you, God, but because they are really saying F you. It’s a statement of accountability. F the people who come to drop verses, but not help. F the people who say they support change, but then turn around and walk away. F the armchair theologians who always have an opinion but never a solution.
I mention Job because something’s going on there that I don’t think we’ve explored. How does Zombie Churches avoid hearing and accepting the mourning voice of the wounded?
The Fourth Friend
The church claims the fourth friend when the mourning begins.
What do I mean? In Job, the devil makes a bet with God that Job has it too good. If he could just tempt him a little Job would crack. God takes up the bet, and the Devil takes away everything, including his family. As Job laments his friends first try to console him, but it turns into chastising when they realize Job is truly lamenting. They don’t like Job’s truth. Then, this mysterious fourth friend shows up, Elihu. At the end of the book, when God finally talks to Job, he asks Job’s three friends to make sacrifice and seek forgiveness. No where is Elihu mentioned in the forgiveness narrative.
First, Job is an ancient Middle East morality play. It is not in the historical parts of the Hebrew Bible, but in the Wisdom Section. Therefore, it was never meant to be a history. It’s meant to raise questions, and get us to think about our relationship to God. Old questions are replaced with new questions, and God lives in those questions. I hope my new answers raise new questions for you, where you will find God.
Second, I’m of the mind, and I’m not alone, the fourth friend was written into the text by someone who couldn’t sit with Job either. God asking for sacrifices is an older text than anything Elihu. Which is actually fitting, because it speaks to how many react to Lamentation, or mourning. Churches write themselves a new part in the text, to write themselves out of condemnation. Only, Elihu remains unredeemed. When Churches write themselves out of the story of mourning, they choose not to take the sacrificial power of the mourner, and die to their old ideas and practices.
Elihu is the Zombie Church
Sometimes I ask myself if I’m clear enough, and the answer is usually no. From now on I’m trying to be bluntly clear.
In Job, God doesn’t ask for sacrifices for Elihu. Creating a new text to hide an old problem means Elihu doesn’t get forgiveness. The three friends find new life in allowing their toxic theology to die. Elihu, on the other hand, gets nothing because he listened to nothing, and accepted nothing. Now let me be extra clear. Suggesting Elihu doesn’t need forgiveness is bad theology. We all fall short of the glory of God. None of us are perfect. Elihu is the Zombie Church, pretending they are the young church they used to be, before the fear of death. Elihu is just as old as the friends, and is his own unreliable narrator.
Notice something important here. Job is blameless. His scandalous mourning is blameless. God is with Job and with everyone who accepts Job’s truth. That’s where God has drawn the line. This whole problem of dying churches and undead churches is God telling everyone, “I’m here,” and us choosing to stand where God is, or not. We drew the line because we were afraid of where God went. We don’t get to decide where God is going. We only get the opportunity to follow. But, here’s the horrible truth: It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a Zombie Church to find their way again.
What about those who were spiritually killed by the Church? Next week.