The Great Courses

The Strange Sermon of Pastor Dewey Smith Jr.

Seth
Jul 24, 2015 at 9:24 AM
2 years ago
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This VIDEO CLIP of a recent church service was shared with me, and I found it interesting.  It featured Pastor Dewey Smith Jr. of Georgia's "The House of Hope."

pastor dewey smith

In my religious past, I shot videos for, literally, hundreds of churches, and one could easily see similarities, trends, tendencies and traditions from venue to venue, denomination to denomination, region to region, culture to culture.

Many churches (and this is certainly true with black churches) have a huge performance aspect. Lots of nodding, standing, clapping, music stings. Several pastors preached with a working organist. (One guy actually had an assistant follow him around the stage with a handkerchief, the minion's only job being to dab the sweat from the pastor's forehead.) Lots of shouting from the audience members, many pew-sitters giving almost constant verbal feedback: "Come on! Preach! Amen. Tell it! Yes! Yes, Lord! Just...yes!"

The pastors and congregation fed off of each other in a symbiotic, almost electric fashion, the emotional aspect of "church" easily overwhelming those sitting in the rows, the choir loft, the adjacent lobby, and certainly behind the pulpit itself.

There was scripture, yes. There was a message, yes. But the primary "spirit" in the room was sheer verve. Vigor. Drama. Performance. Every sway of the preacher's body, every gesture, every dramatic pause, every punch of a syllable, every increase/decrease in volume serving to ramp up an emotional roller coaster, no doubt each attendee leaving that day feeling he/she had been shaken to their hearts by the Holy Ghost.

When I saw this clip, I was again reminded of the church as theater...a cauldron of conditioned response, whipping up the Sunday ingredients like an eccentric chef might whip up a tasty entree. The pastor might have given a recipe for potato salad from the stage, and the congregation would have responded with a hearty, tear-soaked "AMEN!"

pastor smith

NOW. What makes this clip interesting is the pastor's content. Yeah, he walks and talks like a preacher, but in his sermon, he sounds suspiciously like someone who thinks much of the Bible is complete crap.

I don't subscribe to the pastor's strange implication that church choirs are the automatic landing zone for gays (the arts...woo), but I did find it fascinating - even refreshing - to see a Sunday preacher address non-heterosexuality in the context of other, ignored Old Testament commands.  He charged that "You can't evangelize and antagonize" those you are trying to reach.

Yeah, he fell back into the Jesus' love diatribe, ignoring some of Christ's darker shades, and he kept waving the very Book he was telling people to (at least partially) ignore, but he did toss out some pretty controversial things in this short 5-minute clip.

Is this yet another church stretching to remain relevant in an age which increasingly rejects old dogma? Is it good people trying to reconcile their own innate desire to love people in the house of a jealous, bigoted and divine thug? Is it merely another play on "Hate the sin. Love the sinner"? Something else?

I don't really know what this is.  But it's interesting.

-Seth Andrews

 

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