I had to finish Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith by Suzanne Strempek Shea before returning it to the Leominster Public Library, so I did. Other, less religiously informed folk will no find it more enlightening in terms of learning about the varieties of Christianity in America, but I found it more interesting to follow Shea’s continued astonishment at what I think to be the obvious. Shea is continuously surprised that for all the glitz and positivist marketing that fundamentalist mega-churches are still intolerant places for folks such as homosexuals. What was she expecting? She is continuously surprized that churches that offer a warm welcome and a cozy, warm-fuzzy feeling of a message of love and acceptance, “for everyone” don’t mean for everyone to include to gay people. What was she expecting, really? What America did she think she lived in? She did, after all admit to writing the book after finally having it up to here with the Catholic Church for its intolerance; for its views on among other things – women, homosexuality and the last straw, the way it handled the priest sex abuse crisis.
Shea does come visit places she finds redeeming, including our own King’s Chapel, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House in Philadephia, and Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco (and yes, I really had actually heard of it before, from reading Harvey Cox’s book on Pentecostalism, Fire From Heaven a few years back).
My big moment of sadness in the book was reading the account of former President Jimmy Carter teaching Sunday school in his Baptist church in Plains, GA, admitting that he does not support gay marriage. Then again what was I expecting? He was teaching Sunday school in a Baptist church. Well I guess I was expecting my favorite living president, the best ex-president we’ve ever had, the one who goes around the world promoting democracy, protecting human rights, and building houses for Habitat for Humanity, to include all people in humanity and protect their human rights. Alas, no. Made me sad.
NPR Weekend Edition Feature on the book here.
Shea’s book made me want to write a book about non-Christian places of worship in America or a book about spending a year at all the places of worship in my own local area, a year of interreligious worship in my backyard type of book. So don’t steal my ideas.