No More Heroes

Entry by: shadasmash

23rd June 2017
John the Hero

If you have read the New Testament you know the stories of several important Johns…John the Baptist, John the Apostle and John of Patmos to name a few. Two thousand years later a story of another John has emerged in the Christian narrative. It is the story of John the Hero, an ordinary man doing God's work. Ironically it is also the story that ultimately caused me to question my Christian faith and eventually leave the church.

When I met John the Hero he was middle aged, pudgy and unattractive. His large, aviator framed glasses slid down a face that was too small for his large, rotund body. The smallish face was lubricated in a greasy sweat induced by the inferno of Atlanta, Georgia. Luckily his strong hairline and cropped brown locks rescued him from abject ugliness. Without them he would paved plunged fully into the abyss of nameless, faceless men cursed with fatness, baldness and homely looks.

But what John lacked in looks he more than made up for with his ego. He practically strode through life like he was a Greek god. He reminded anyone who would listen that he was once a jarhead; a United States Marine, a soldier forged like steel into an elite weapon. Marines are young, full of bravado and known for their muscular physiques. According to the legend, not only had John once been a jarhead, he had everyone believing he was only one diet away from reclaiming his boyish figure. But he was too busy doing God’s work to worry about his appearance. He was a pastor, a modern day hero, commissioned by the Almighty and always available to go where called. He had no time to count calories or go to the gym...his mission was too important.

John was a kingdom builder and used words like a mason uses bricks. He carefully crafted his messages to be accessible to the masses. He primarily used the language of the common man, occasionally punctuating it with a few elite words to let you know he was definitively learned. He loved alliteration and boisterously billowed in a bourgeois barrage of bullshit, captivating many adoring followers. He had an uncanny ability to weave his words into an irresistible narrative where he was always the hero.

According to John he had spent the 1980s fighting for the rights of unborn children in the greater Atlanta metropolis through his pro-life rhetoric. But by the mid-1990s God had expanded his vision. He and his flock graciously adopted the people of Bosnia Herzegovina and planned to plant evangelical churches and save souls in the war ravaged region.

In preparation for such a momentous task John fasted and prayed for forty days. As the weight fell off of his frame his understated blazers no longer groaned as they contained his massive torso. Instead they were able to relax and John, flush with a new confidence and a narrowed waistline expanded his empire. He crafted a clear and concise message and served up an endless buffet of impassioned pleas through a clever marketing campaign. When his fast ended he continued these pleas, each enhanced by a heavy heart and heavy breathing. Not the heavy breath of a pervert, but breath laden with urgency and purpose. A breath that incidentally always smelled of fried chicken. Apparently shortly after the fast ended his legendary appetite had returned and once again his blazers groaned in agony.

His pleas did not fall on deaf ears. Pledges were made, money poured in and missionaries (some who stayed for weeks and others who stayed for years) were soon boarding flights to the Baltics. Now, this is where the story takes an unexpected twist. Even though John was a heroic man of God, his leadership style was like that of a gluttonous university lad. Although he preached of leading an orderly life, he certainly did not model such virtues.

When reports from the mission field began to trickle in, usually in the form of massively distributed email messages, they were long and detailed. But instead of narrating the sacrificial, sacred life associated with missionary work the narratives were much more superficial. There was much talk of how the pimple-faced teenagers in our congregation now stood out like gods in this foreign land. The girls, in their Brittney Spears fashions, were instantly worshipped and each one left Sarajevo with multiple marriage proposals but sadly, no souls saved. The reports read more like the highlights of a summer camp than a serious religious crusade. However, there were occasional mentions of a few locals who had committed their lives to Jesus and we prayed like hell that these new converts would kindle a fire in the hearts of the Bosnian people. I should also point out that because none of our missionaries were fluent in the local language these new converts were instantly put into a position of great leverage. Some abused this situation, while others devoutly followed and worked under the guidance of the naïve Americans.

John’s flock of missionaries were created in his image, each with a similar narrative of doing God's work while always making themselves out to be the hero. They came back from the mission field with many extravagant stories and always just a few meager souls saved. The stories all ended with more impassioned pleas for monetary support. After all, this work was essential. It was also incredibly convenient because by devoting our resources to the Bosnians still trapped in their homeland we were off the hook to help the thousands of Bosnians who had resettled in greater Atlanta and were at our doorstep. There was no need to get mired in the thankless job of helping chain-smoking, smelly refugees find their way in America. Granted, the homeland Bosnians also chain smoked and did not always smell fresh, but in the foreign context, it was totally appropriate…but in American, not so much. Besides we had a much higher calling to reach those still in the motherland according to John, our fearless leader and chief hero in residence.

Years passed and the fervor for Bosnia still ran hot with the spindly veins of our church. But behind closed doors a new story was emerging from the mission field. This story was too confidential to be shared in mass emails and was discussed only among the church leadership. By the time the story found its way to the congregation it had been highly sanitized and was full of Christian euphemisms. At the center of the story was a series of “moral failures” among the missionaries. In our Christian circles a “moral failure” is code that good Christian people are inappropriately fucking each other. Usually the term is reserved for when a strong Christian man is having an extramarital affair. But it in this case it was clear that the moral failure was not limited to men and had spread to some of the unmarried people too.

Now John always boasted of how when sin was found in a church, it should be brought to light instead of sweeping it under the rug. Even in the early 2000s, members of our church occasionally confessed their sins publically. And since we were not Catholic, we did not confess our sins to a priest. Instead we confessed them to the entire congregation from the pulpit with hundreds of eyes watching each word fall from a trembling mouth as hands nervously gestured. To be clear, we did not confess every sin from the pulpit, only the big sins and the all of the fucking that occurred in the Balkans certainly fell into this category.

So on a sweltering July day in 2002 several missionaries, one by one, found their way to the pulpit. Each one confessed that they were involved in big, sultry, nasty, communal moral failure. Sullen faced, many shed tears and regretted their poor decisions. They were much more concerned about how they had disappointed the Almighty than how they had disappointed the people in their nascent Bosnian church. After all, if sex scandals can shake the pillars of the great American megachurches, how much more can they dismantle and possibly snuff out a small, emerging church. There was little regret about being a poor example for new Christians or wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars donated on their behalf. Instead, through choked tears they made sincere pledges to restore their marriages and friendships. Once relationships were restored they could then go back to their God ordained mission. In their many words they made almost no plans for asking forgiveness to the vulnerable Bosnian Christians who they had failed miserably.

After they confessed their sins and received special counsel many went back to the mission field. The entire situation left me speechless. I always questioned the makeshift mission and this sequence of events confirmed my suspicions. I grew even more suspicious when I observed John’s classic response to this debacle. As a fearless leader I expected to take responsibility on some level for what had transpired. After all, since 1995 he had traveled to Bosnia several times a year and supposedly kept a close tabs on everything. But instead of offering up an impassioned plea for forgiveness for his lack of leadership he offered up a mouth held agape and a puzzled facial expression. He spoke of how he had absolutely no idea that this was happening under his watch and credited the perpetrators for their craftiness in keeping things under wraps for so long. He magnified their sins referring to them as “something I have never seen before or ever heard of,” making it clear that he still swam in morally clean waters. And he carefully created a new set of alliterative clichés to encourage the missionaries and the whole congregation to ‘halt harmful hormones’ in their tracks. Most of the congregants quickly devoured his new rhetoric. Their senses were so blurred by this point that they could not see or smell the buffet of steaming bullshit for what it was. Instead they saw wise words from a wise man, a godly, modern day hero.

Secretly I wondering who was fucking who, because those details were never divulged and my inquiring mind wanted to know. But I never knew exactly what happened. I can only remember how it impacted one of my single girlfriends who was caught in the scandal. She was one of the few people involved who actually had a conscience that extended beyond the church walls and into the lives of her fellow man. On an emotional level she seemed to be hit the hardest and it took a long time before she could even look people in the eye. In her renewed vow to live a sexually pure life she also vowed that the passionate feelings in her life would be reserved solely for God. For her, even seemingly innocent passions could grow out of control and lead her astray. She declared that she would willingly lead a bland existence for the sake of her faith. Her words hit me like a note out of tune. How could God require a young vibrant woman to lead such a dull, passionless life?

Fifteen years later I see that her implicit tone deafness made my ears perk up and for the first time I began to question the church and its leader. Small questions led to bigger ones and eventually I left the church and disconnected myself from John and his misguided flock. Over the years I went through my own spiritual awakening in which I became the hero of my own life. I now realize that anyone can tell a story and cast themselves as the hero. But a true hero never has to parade around in a special suit, explicitly revealing their identity. If you are ever lucky enough to meet a true hero, it will be more than apparent who they are and no words or costumes will be needed.