Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guilt Works

Charles Merrill Smith has written a number of tongue-in-cheek books having to do with parish life. One of my favorites is How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965). The following is from pages 53-56. Try your best to keep in mind that this is satire!

Strange as it seems, the greatest thing that ever came down the pike so far as the hard-pressed parish pastor is concerned, is the psychology of Sigmund Freud. Freud taught us about guilt and put his message across in a way that preachers had never been able to manage. He made guilt fashionable. Guilt is “in.”

Freud was an agnostic, of course, but then God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform, and for purposes of money raising (and let us put it in capital letters so that it will be emblazoned on your memory) NOTHING IS HALF SO EFFECTIVE AS THE EXPLOITATION OF YOUR PARISHIONERS GUILT FEELINGS!!! Perhaps it never occurred to you that the clean, sweet-smelling, well-behaved members of your congregation are really sinners. But depend on the absolute accuracy of the Doctrine of Original Sin. They are.

The Pallid Sins of Nice People

It is true that not many of them are spectacular sinners. Their transgressions tend to be petty, unimaginative, and thoroughly middle-class. But they are sinners all the same, and while they pretend that they are not, they know it.

Very few of your good people pursue sin in the form of wine, women and song. This is because such pursuit is inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive. Most of all, it reduces one’s effectiveness as a money maker. And the average middle-class white Protestant much prefers building his bank account and collecting status symbols to indulging himself in the so-called pleasures of the flesh. (Do not neglect to imply, though, that you know this kind of hanky panky goes on. Even in the most proper congregation you will snag an errant soul now and then who wonders ruefully how you got onto him.)

Now this is a fact which you need to keep in mind at all times, and especially when planning the annual budget drive or building-fund campaign or any other type of financial appeal. Scorching your people for the rough, rowdy, boisterous, bold, bawdy sins will bring very little cash into the till. This kind of talk just makes them feel smug and superior. Hardly anyone you will minister to ever even thought of sinning with abandon. Nice people don’t do these things, and happily for us, the church has progressed to the place where it serves nice people almost exclusively.

We have come a long way from the early days of the church when Christianity did not appeal very much to the nice people of the time and members had to be recruited from the rough, unlettered. and profane classes. How much easier it would have been for our dear Lord had he been able to deal with the merchant and banking levels of society instead of with fishermen and petty tax collectors and the like. But, as noted, above, denouncing the sins which nice people do not commit only makes them feel spiritually superior. And the man who is encouraged to feel spiritually superior generally ends up by revising downward the amount he had planned to give to the church.

However, nice people are quite vulnerable at the point of their prosperity. The average man really has a rather low opinion of himself, even when he covers it with bluster and bragging. He is astounded to find himself living in a forty-thousand-dollar home, driving two automobiles and belonging to the country club. He wants you to believe that all this is tangible evidence of his wit, energy and general superiority. But in his heart he knows, though he may never acknowledge it even to himself, that it is mostly luck. Also, he lives uneasily with the information that he has managed to squeeze out of society far more than his contribution to society is worth. And since his security, the structure of his personality, and everything he holds precious in life is squarely dependent on these lovely results of what he pretends is his personal superiority but what he believes to be his good fortune, he is haunted by one horrible, nightmarish fear — that somehow these things will disappear as easily as they came.

This is why so many of your people support Robert Welch or Billy James Hargis. They are wildly enthusiastic about anyone who promises to ward off those who want to take it away. In short, your average man is prosperous and he feels guilty about it. The astute pastor, then, will learn how to remind his people (there are a thousand ways of how greatly the Lord has blessed them and that these blessings are far beyond anything they deserve.

This has the advantage of being good, sound, demonstrable biblical teaching plus being a solid, practical approach to prying out of them the money you need to carry on the Lord’s work. Couple this with the subtle but frequent suggestion that “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” and that he might do just that, and you have created the ideal atmosphere for maximum results from a church finance campaign. There is, however, one exception to this rule this appeal won’t work with people of inherited wealth. They are accustomed to having money and assume it is the will of God that they should have it. However, be comforted by two thoughts: (1) You won’t have many such people in your flock and (2) nothing else works with them either.

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