The first thing you should know about Beaverton Foursquare church is that it has a logo. Which is funny because I thought Christianity was doing just fine there. The cross ain’t so shabby. It’s clean. Simple. Sleek. It’s easily recognizable and even comes with a juicy back story. But apparently that just wasn’t good enough for the fine people of the Beav because they went and made some improvements. I mean, high quality brand identity is usually the first thing I look for in a church.
Foursquare isn’t your grandmother’s church. It’s not Presbyterian or Catholic or Baptist or Orthodox or ancient in any way. It was actually made up by some chick named Aimee during a Pentecostal revival in California during the summer of 1922. I’m not making this shit up, I swear! I got it right off Foursquare’s National website:
To a crowd of thousands, Aimee Semple McPherson explained Ezekiel’s vision in the book of Ezekiel, chapter one. Ezekiel saw God revealed as a being with four different faces: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
To Sister McPherson, those four faces were like the four phases of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the face of the man, she saw Jesus our Savior. In the face of the lion, she saw Jesus the mighty Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and fire. In the face of the ox, she saw Jesus the Great Burden-Bearer, who took our infirmities and carried our sicknesses. In the face of the eagle, she saw Jesus the Coming King, who will return in power and victory for the church. It was a perfect, complete Gospel. It was a Gospel that faces squarely in every direction; it was the “Foursquare Gospel.”
The second thing you should know about Beaverton Foursquare is that there is NOT an app for that. Much to my disappointment, this is not the foursquare where I am mayor of Fantasy Video (which I totally am). This isn’t the foursquare where you check in at 3AM to let the world know how much you’re enjoying the deliciously tender beefy center of a whiffie pie. There is no mayor of Beaverton Foursquare. Or is there? (There totally is and he also has some interesting reading recommendations! )
The third thing you should know about Beaverton Foursquare Church is that it is enormous. Behemoth. Over 5,000 members and counting. They literally have rent-a-cops directing traffic into the parking lots. And the overflow parking lots. They have to give three services every Sunday or the flock won’t all fit into the pews at once.
This is the epitome of the Mega Church. The McChurch of Jesus Christ: a million souls saved and counting!
And they are definitely counting. I swear I could almost make out the rumble and ping of the cash registers as I entered the room. Comfy pews, track lighting, a rock-and-roll sound stage and a band that sounded like Celine Dion and Sarah McLauchlan had a love child and named it Jesus; it all made me feel like I’d just walked into a free Lilith Fair concert.
Until they passed around the fancy velvet tithe bags. Then all I could think about was that scene from Scarface where they count all the money. Push it to the limit!
It’s a good thing we didn’t bring our children because that would have been a problem. A rather large problem. A MEGA problem. Young Foursquare disciples don’t get to sit with their parents. Instead they’re herded off into their own age-appropriate Sunday school corrals. In separate buildings. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but this is a deal-breaker for me for me. I only have my kids every other week, so even the two hours I get to spend with them in church on Sunday is precious to me. Of course, that’s a much SMALLER problem them than the real issue, which is, WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY TEACHING THEM IN THERE? No way in hell am I dropping my kids off into the loving care of compassionate lunatics. ANYTHING could be happening in those outbuildings and I’d never know about it until it was too late. I mean, they could be getting touched. By the lord.
I was super disappointed that the main pastor was on sabbatical. I mean, not that substitute teacher Rick Fry didn’t BRANG it, because his performance knocked it out of the park, but I was really looking forward to shaking hands with another person who had legally taken their porn name. Reverend Randy Remington and I should totally start a club!
When the good pastor Rick Fry slid onto the stage like Tom Cruise in Risky Business (only with his pants on and carrying a bible instead of a candlestick), he asked us to start by turning to something called “revelation two, verse one.” Thank God (ha) Joel was sitting beside me because otherwise I would have had to raise my hand to ask, “What page number is that?” Because I’ve never read the bible. I’ve tried, but I could never get through the first few paragraphs of begats. So shoot me. I haven’t read Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, either.
There are how many books in the library of Congress? And this particular one caused Rick Fry to build an altar out of pillows in his closet and bring his high school friends in there to pray for their souls. That idea – of being saved at the age of 15 – gives me the heebie jeebies. If my kid did that I’d start googling around for the best deal on a straitjacket.
The longer I listened to the sermon, which made me feel a like I was being sold a timeshare in the sky, the more uncomfortable I got. Physically uncomfortable. It felt rather similar to how squirmy and itchy I get whenever my kids bring home a notice from school saying one of their classmates has lice. Because according to Rick Fry’s interpretation of the word, God is waiting for me to wake up in the morning. So he can follow me. And LOOOOOVE me. He’s watching everything I do and hoping, just HOPING, I will love him back.
So God is a stalker.
But wait! THERE’S MORE! He went on to share a story about a creepy pre-teen girl with a maniacally Hi-Lited Bible and how she led a prayer for the healing of a boy’s broken leg during a junior high school meeting. The next day, the kid (who was not a born-again) (yet) returned to the church with a story about how that girl’s prayer made his leg feel like it had been filled with liquid honey. He was healed! Hurray!
Let me repeat: I’m not making this stuff up. I swear.
Why does God perform such miracles, you ask? Because “he takes pleasure in TOUCHING YOU. He LIKES YOU.”
(I’m not even REMOTELY paraphrasing here. This is the gospel right from Rick Fry’s mouth.)
So not only is God a stalker, but now he’s a sex offender too.
Absolutely NO PART of me wants to be touched or watched or loved by some make-believe pervert in the sky. And I think we all know I have a relatively high tolerance for perversion. Rick Fry should just adopt “Every breath you take” as his theme song. I bet they could find a way to make it sound like Christian rock too.
One thing I’ve tried to avoid thus far on our little religious journey is the “How stupid do you have to be to believe this shit?” line of thinking. I want to be careful where I tread on this particular path because faith and intelligence are separate forces of nature. And it can go both ways. I know a christian or three who will read this and think, “How stupid do you have to be NOT to believe?”
But Foursquare seems to be praying upon the mediocre. Church for the American consumer. You’re buying an experience that FEELS like spirituality because it’s prettily packaged and perfectly delivered, not because it’s real. It reminds me of the last meal I ate at Olive Garden. You might not find any real FOOD in that all-you-can-eat soup, salad and bread sticks deal, but it still fills you up. Foursquare feels similarly overpriced.
I’m not sure there’s a better way for me to say this, but I feel a genuine sadness for the people who attend this church. They are being bamboozled. But here’s the thing – I honestly and truly believe that they all BELIEVE it, the enigmatic Rick Fry included. It’s a collective bamboozlement. As an outsider looking in, I watched a short line of parishioners approach the pastor after the service to ask for specific prayers. They would throw their arms around each other, butt their heads together in a circle and pray.
When I saw this, I turned to Joel and told him my stomach liked the sight of those prayer huddles even less than it liked the Ultimate Breakfast sandwich we’d gotten at Jack in the Box that morning. Cornering the pastor to ask him questions afterward did nothing to alleviate my discomfort. He literally IS a radical for Jesus. The more he talked about how much He! Loves! God!, the worse I felt. That man scares me.
I’ve had two days to figure out what it is about the foursquare church that bothered me so much. I’m not doing this to mock Christianity just for the shits and giggles. I want to GET it. I want to understand it. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m still on the beginning of that path. The blind enthusiasm at Beaverton Foursquare made my stomach flinch. Yes, BLIND. I chose that word carefully. There is no possible way to have faith other than BLINDLY, is there? Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one actually SEES God. That’s the definition of faith – believing in something you can’t see. But for someone who lacks that faith, it’s very difficult – painful even – to sit in a room with a thousand people who all stand up and wave their hands for an idea that is no more real to me than a snuffleufagus.
It’s CREEPY is what it is. And terrifying.
When you’re talking about a church movement as well-funded and contagious as Foursquare, it’s also DANGEROUS.