No. I Won’t Give Churchgoers Cookies For Doing the Minimally Decent Thing.

A friend pointed me toward this story by telling me a Methodist church got a new pastor, who promptly ran the gay choir director out, and guess how many in the congregation left the church over it? I knew what she was fishing for. She wanted me to feel the warm fuzzies that a bunch of religious folk had protested the treatment of one of their own.


“Eighty percent!” she said, as if the number would change my mind.

Nope. Not impressed.

The conversation stalled shortly after as I refused to debate further whether or not one should encourage such basic human decency by praising it, lest the people involved give up trying to be good due to lack of kudos. I don’t like to have these conversations over chat to begin with, and when it’s chat at my job and I’m trying to work, I like it even less. It takes more time than I have to hammer the point home that I’m not going to give them cookies for doing the minimally decent thing.

Image is an irritated dark gray cat, with the caption "No cookie for you."
Kitty courtesy Isabel Bloedwater via Flickr.

So let me unsling my Smack-o-Matic™ now:

I’m not going to give them unstinting praise for doing what tens of thousands of other Christians have done when they had a quibble with their church, and splitting, thus leading to the wide variety of Christian denominations who plague our world today. I’ve seen 80% of a church schism over whether or not they should go doorknocking after church on Sunday afternoons. I’m supposed to be impressed when 80% walk over basic human rights? Puh-leeze.

Plenty of other people will be happy to give them bakeries full of cookies. It’s my job as a nasty Gnu Atheist™ to point out that this is sheer and utter bullshit. Not say, “Oh, congratulations! You’re finally beginning to realize your religion is full of horrid shit that treats good people like pariahs for no defensible reason. I’m so proud of you, pookie!” Fuck that noise.

No, here’s my response to them:

You lot did the minimally decent thing. You stood by a man who was wronged, and that is good. But what I want to know is this: why did you leave your church in the hands of the bigot who forced him out? Eighty percent of you could have ensured that asshole didn’t have a job. You could have found a more enlightened minister, and then rehired your choir director, and taught the bigots a lasting lesson. That would have been praiseworthy. Think of that the next time you encounter this situation – which you will, because nothing’s changed.

Please note this tidbit from the above referenced article:

United Methodist Church law allows LGBT people to attend church services but says “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve.”

And what did you do? You didn’t protest that law. You didn’t demand it be changed. No, you quibbled over the spirit and letter of it. Of course it’s fine to discriminate against gays when it comes to the ministry – God forbid we should have one of those homosexuals behind the pulpit – but we can totes have one as choir director! you said by your actions. I’m supposed to be happy you rage-quit over your choir director being forced out for being gay, and one of the people trying to defend him (by getting all legalistic about the language forbidding homosexuals from serving) being relieved of duty, but I’m supposed to overlook the fact you left discrimination perfectly intact in church law?


You don’t get a bloody cookie. I will give you a pat on the head and send you back to work figuring out what it means to be a just, decent, moral human being who cares about equality and works to ensure equality happens. I’m very sorry your religion makes it so difficult to see why discrimination is wrong, period, full stop. I’m sorry your church is stuck in the past and hasn’t gotten hip to the fact we shouldn’t fuck people over for fucking people with similar genitals. I’m glad you’ve achieved the awareness necessary to understand that a gay choir director is a-okay in the church. But you can do better.

And I don’t think you’re a bunch of tiny toddlers who need plenty of positive reinforcement lest they give up. You’re all adults who are supposedly mature enough to understand that even if you don’t get a cookie, you should still strive to treat your fellow human beings better. And children understand why they’re not getting an A+ for C- work. They know they’re not going to get an A for Effort when they’ve put forth the minimum effort necessary. I think you’re mature enough to get it. And I think you’re decent enough to keep trying to do the decent thing even without people handing you cookies for every tiny increment of progress towards equality you make.

I think I actually think more of you than my pantheist friend. I certainly expect more, and expect, based on your behavior to date, that you’re eminently capable of meeting my expectations.

So get to it. Take the church back from that 20% of bigoted assholes. Run the pastor out on a rail and install one who not only appreciates gay choir directors, but who wouldn’t mind seeing someone who’s LGBTQ (not to mention W) step up to the pulpit when he retires. Get your church’s laws changed. Make a real and lasting difference.

Then I’ll give you a cookie.

And I’ll have an even tastier one waiting for the day you realize all this god stuff’s a bunch of b.s.

No. I Won’t Give Churchgoers Cookies For Doing the Minimally Decent Thing.
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7 thoughts on “No. I Won’t Give Churchgoers Cookies For Doing the Minimally Decent Thing.

  1. 3

    indeed. as soon as I read that supposedly 80% left, I also asked your question “why did you leave your church in the hands of the bigot who forced him out?”

    what nutless wonders that run away and not confront the bigot. I went through a vicious split in my church when I was around 15 or so. one side was sure that their god spoke to a church member and the other side was sure it didn’t. great twits on both sides and it still affects the community these 30 years on.

  2. 4

    Wait?! So potentially going forth and forming their own denomination isn’t making a real and lasting difference??? I’m teasing a bit because I think we would agree that is the easier route to take. It is, as you say, the C- work. But I’m not sure I would grade changing the church laws as being much better. What other laws does the church have that are out-dated that also need to be changed? So…a B-…maybe? And, also as you say, the god stuff is B.S. So I wouldn’t give them an A (ironically) until they figure that out.

  3. 5

    To be fair to the congregation though, how are pastors in that particular church appointed? I realize Methodists don’t have the same level of top-down structure that a Catholic diocese does — in which case the people in the church get no say in the matter — but it is far from clear to me how much say they had.

    No, they don’t deserve cookies for being minimally decent but if they had little input into who gets to be minister (or were limited by the church hierarchy as to who they can have viz. candidates) that puts a bit of a different spin on it.

    And if there’s a link that says how the local minister is chosen in that church, by all means. The linked article didn’t seem to mention it or have one.

  4. 6

    The Methodist council, or whatever they call it, Synod, appoints Ministers. But it takes less than 80% of a congregation to raise a ruckus and have one removed. My husband was raised Methodist, and he tells the story of how a new minister started getting all fire and brimstone, and the radical feminist little old ladies who were part of the church bullied the church bus driver into taking them over to Seattle to talk to the regional authority, who removed that minister immediately.

    So vocal protest in the Methodist church DOES result in the removal of clergy.

    My husband has a bunch of hilarious stories about the little old ladies from his church, some of whom had marched and thrown bricks with the Wobblies. He became an atheist in his teens and drifted away, but he has fond memories of those women.

  5. 7

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you. I live in the south and attend a Methodist church – I don’t claim to know much about this stuff but I do know some things; also I realize that in Indiana they may do things differently. Where I live, the Bishop appoints the Ministers in the Methodist Church and it is for a 3 year term. If the congregation likes their minister after that tenure then they may request him for another 3 years. After that they usually get a new one, its rare for a minister to last more than 6 years at a church. Each year the pastoral relations committee has to decide to renew the ministers contract or not. They basically set the terms of the minsters salary, housing allowance and things like that- they have to be an active member of the church to be on this committee. That review usually is done in January along with the budget which is submitted at this time too. Ministers usually change posts in July. Its rare for a minister to be changed during the year.
    Part of the problem I see here -is people don’t realize that you just can’t go and fire a minister just like that. When a Minister is assigned to a congregation they are responsible for providing for his salary, and his housing (or housing allowance) and other benefits. If you kick him out right away you would be forced to evict him and his family from their home (manse). Most congregations are not that ruthless. Unlike the choir director that just lost his job – he wouldn’t have been force out of his home at the same time because his home isn’t tied into his job performance.
    They did fight back the best way they knew how and that was by leaving the church. An 80% loss of members would drastically affect the revenue generated for that church. That would put that church in dire straights and I’m pretty sure the ministers salary would have been adjusted accordingly.

    One of the things that I noticed in that article was it said “Steele said that he pushed the new interim minister, David Mantor, to re-hire Fraley.” That indicates to me that the minister that did the firing was gone and that they had gotten a new one in the mean time. They never did say what the minister name was that did the firing of Fraley. Steele was trying to get the new one to hire him back. On the other hand if Mantor was the one that did the original firing of Fraley, then the congregation had taken steps to replace him since he is now considered a ‘interim’ minister. An interim minister is one who fills in until a permanent minister can be found. All things indicate he wont be there long.

    I do feel the congregation should praise for all that they’ve done so far. Now they have to work on changing the Methodist rules for their conference to be more open to gays. Unfortunately that is a long and tedious process that is hard to do and will take time.

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