(Guest Blogger – my wife)
One of the little peculiarities of our old church was the practice of “reserved seating” for special people.
(Wow. Now that I see the truth written out in black and white, I almost can’t believe that we turned a blind eye for so many years!)
But seriously…our former church saved the “best seats in the house,” those in the first couple of rows, for the so-called “pillars” of the church. Coming from our Evangelical—more democratic—background as we did, this idea initially gave us a bit of a pause. Wasn’t it odd that certain people were viewed as more important than others?
But quickly, as we immersed ourselves in our new church, we soothed ourselves with the “party line” explanation about special seats for “special” people. After all, the story went, Pastor needed his most trusted individuals right up in front. Supposedly, our church attracted a lot of “crazies” who might, at any moment, decide to disrupt the service and run up to the stage and accost Pastor. It helped Pastor retain his concentration to have the same reliable bunch up close, where he could see them. Supposedly.
However, after several years of ever-deepening involvement in this congregation, the truth was something a bit different. The supposed threat of assault by the “crazies”? Well, in all the years we were members there, we only saw this happen ONCE, and that when a very famous, nationally known evangelist happened to be preaching. An obviously unstable lady charged up on the stage while the offering was being collected, to speak to this famous person. But such an incident NEVER happened to our own pastor!
And while we learned that yes, the “special people” were folks who had been around for a long time, most of them—the ones who were not actual staff members—also happened to be wealthy, happened to have status and clout in society. They also were nice-looking and stylish.
[I need to interject here that the pastor’s wife (our “First Lady,” as she was constantly referred to) had a very obvious soft spot for pretty people. Especially slim, appropriately dressed people. NOBODY within the First Lady’s inner circle was NOT well-put-together. On the other hand, the First Lady had a noticeable, disconcerting way of flicking a head-to-toe, sweeping glance of complete scorn and disdain across those of us who had the unfortunate bad luck to be chubby, or sloppy, or inappropriately attired.]
After awhile, it became glaringly apparent that if you wanted to have some status in our church, you first of all needed to look the part. If you REALLY wanted status, you also needed to have some impressive designer clothes, or social status in the community, or both.
So, while it may have been true that these front-row folks were the “trusted, long-time members,” they also met the First Lady’s stringent standards of style. The front-row females even knew how to sit appropriately, in the same manner that the First Lady herself, from her perch on her throne-like chair on the stage, did: knees together, ankles decorously crossed and at a 45-degree angle to knees.
At the height of our blind allegiance and completely engulfing love for this church, I was actually proud of these front-row people. I liked how they all knew how to dress for church. I liked that they paid attention to style as well as modesty. I even told myself that the First Lady’s standards, in this age of the casual, deliberately sloppy approach to worship, were a much-needed, refreshing change.
I’m ashamed to say that I’d so absorbed this mindset that I saw absolutely nothing wrong when the ushers would shoo out and re-seat visitors who had unknowingly dared to usurp the rights of the front-row folks.
But then something happened, something that initially seemed trivial but turned out to be the first catalyst that led me to question everything about the place.
A lady who I’ll call Kitty Moreno began to sit in the front row.
While Kitty did meet the initial criterion for front-row people—she and her husband had been part of the church for years—there was NO WAY, by ANY stretch of the imagination, that you could say 50-year-old Kitty met the “appropriate dress” criterion. It’s almost impossible to politely describe Kitty’s appearance without veering into PG-13 terms. Not only had Kitty had her chest surgically altered to resemble that of the most extreme porn star (think Dolly Parton on steroids), but she added insult to injury by wearing skin-tight slacks and what I honestly believe were spandex swimsuit tops—AND NOTHING ELSE—to Sunday morning services.
Kitty also had bizarre two-toned hair, done in shades of stark white and burgundy, and several tattoos prominently displayed on the body parts not covered by her swimsuit top.
The first time Kitty sauntered down the aisle and positioned herself in the very front row, I just held my breath. I mean, only a couple of weeks before, I’d seen one of those incidents I’d mentioned, where the ushers had quickly removed unsuspecting newcomers from that same spot. Certainly Kitty, in all her bizarre and off-color glory, did not meet the First Lady’s stringent standards!
By the time the service began a few minutes later, I’d already had to exhale. Because, nothing happened. Not a thing. Rather than watching Kitty get re-seated, I watched her embrace members of Pastor’s extended family. I watched her get a twinkling smile when the First Lady made her entrance upon the stage.
Week after week, I was dumbfounded that nobody had corrected Kitty. I mean, her manner of dress remained absolutely the same. Even when the weather grew colder, she still subjected everybody to the overexposure of her crime-against-nature “assets.” As a matter of fact, during some of the more lively, up-tempo praise and worship songs, she’d even “shimmy” like a pole dancer, arms outstretched in front of her as she enthusiastically jiggled her chest to the beat of the music.
Given how, as I mentioned, the First Lady had never shied away from flicking her judgmental, fashion-conscious glances at everyone else, I simply could not believe that Kitty’s utterly inappropriate dress and behavior had escaped the First Lady’s notice. There was NO WAY that the First Lady could think that Kitty was a good enough example to sit in the front row. Utterly no way.
So, that begged the question, why was Kitty allowed the privilege of a reserved front row seat? Why, at the very least, had no one gently mentioned to Kitty that she might want to put on a shirt? A very big, loose shirt?
I was to get an answer in short order.
Through a series of events, I found out that Kitty was an “important” lady in our city’s high society. She was active in several “important” charities. She was one of those women whose picture turned up in the newspaper’s social pages. She hobnobbed with other, even more “important,” people. She was also—obviously—very wealthy.
So I learned a quick, crude lesson about the priorities of our “First Lady”.
With the years of Bible training that I’d had, looking back now, I can’t believe that it took such an obvious injustice to jolt me out of my Charismaniac stupor.
After all, I’d known exactly what Jesus thought of Christians who show favoritism to the (perceived) rich and influential.
James 2:1-9 says,
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
Yes, I knew enough of Scripture to know that our church had systems and traditions in place that were directly opposed to God’s standards for Christians. I may have turned a blind eye to them for several years, but now, in the light of reality, I’ve repented.
I will never again be part of a congregation that actively favors the rich. It’s wrong. It stinks. It’s SIN.