Eugene Cho

a church review to humble you

A year ago this time, 31 members from the staff of The Stranger – “the alternative paper to Seattle’s alternative paper” – visited 31 churches all around the larger Seattle area and wrote reviews of the 31 churches.  Quest must be special because Dan Savage, the editor of the Stranger and infamous sex advice columnist [Savage Love], visited Quest.

Our review along with the review of other churches were brutal, hilarious, and actually insightful because sometimes, churches have no idea how stale and awkward we can be because we’ve been “inside” for so long.  

Seattle is infamously known as “the least churched city in America.”  The Northwest is supposedly the most least churched region in America.  But it isn’t godless or spiritual.  It’s a beautiful place – full of life, questions, conversations, and such.  What I love the most about living in this city and this region is that you have to earn the right to have your voice in the larger marketplace of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies. 

I thought the Stranger would return this year but no luck.  As a result of the Stranger’s review, it led to numerous intense posts and conversations that might be worth reading for those who are new to the blog in the past year.

Related Links: The Gay Conversation | Listening | Gracious as All Fu*k |  The Gay Dialogue 

Here’s the Stranger’s review of Quest:

The pastor ordered us to hug our neighbors.

“Make them a little uncomfortable,” we were instructed, “by squeezing them a little too hard—that’s okay. It’s part of the getting-to-know-you process.”

With charges of clerical sexual abuse still being leveled at churches great and small, you might think a Christian pastor would err on the side of not encouraging congregants to hug their neighbors past their comfort levels. The getting-to-know-you process? More like the getting-to-sue-you process.

I attended the early service at Quest Church—one of Seattle’s “emerging churches,” a sort of Mars Hill wannabe, if slightly more progressive—on an important day. Quest had been meeting in a warehouse space it rented from Interbay Covenant Church. Six years old, Quest was growing, attracting hundreds to Sunday services, while 65-year-old Interbay was slowly dying, attracting a couple of dozen at best. So in April, Interbay voted itself out of existence and handed all of its property—its homely sanctuary (picture the Brady Bunch’s living room pressed into service as a church), the converted warehouse, a parking lot—over to the upstart. Sunday’s 10:00 a.m. service was the first for the “merged” church, hence the getting-to-know-you hugs.

There was some insipid singing, led by an insipid worship band, and then a sermon preached by what I took to be Interbay’s soon-to-be unemployed pastor. It focused on a selection from Luke: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple.” That verse was a favorite of David Koresh and Jim Jones; isolating someone from his or her family is what cult leaders typically do. But we were encouraged not to read that verse with “a cold, unimaginative realism,” because “Jesus uses hyperbole.” Good to know.

Then Quest Church’s pastor, Eugene Cho, tore a loaf of bread in half, we took Communion, and then we prayed.

A word about the praying: When I was dragged off to church by my parents, we folded our hands together to pray and assumed a posture of humility. In today’s emerging churches, you lift both hands up toward heaven, arms out, in what looks like a sort of double-armed fascist salute. It’s a posture that screams, “Look at me, God! I’m praying! To you!” The more enthusiastic worshippers looked like toddlers reaching up for Daddy, anxious to be picked up and hugged past their comfort levels.

Oh, and Communion? I lined up and tried to take it. But I dropped my piece of wine-soaked bread on the floor. It was an accident. Or a miracle. [DAN SAVAGE]

Filed under: religion

21 Responses

  1. emjay says:

    As they say, some people just don’t get it.

    I don’t think it’s judgmental to wonder what sort of attitude a person brings with him to the worship service if his review is as mean-spirited as that. Does he come in the door so confident that Christianity is a bunch of nonsense that he’s simply incapable of seeing it as anything else?

  2. John says:

    What a fascinating review. I would give my left arm (but not my right) to be privy to such an honest, if not antagonistic, perspective on my church. You’re right, Eugene: we need to have that outsider’s view challenge our insider mindset often enough to keep us connected and honest with our community at large.

    re: emjay — the author’s assignment was to lampoon the church. Had he not done that, he would have not done his job and not earned his paycheck. I wonder, though, since he was still able to quote the Luke passage, how the word of God is working in him even now…

  3. jason says:

    I thought reviews were supposed to at LEAST ATTEMPT to be subjective? I would have been humbled if not for the agenda[whatever it may be] that lay just below the surface. Even if we all have some sort of agenda to some certain extents, as a writer this bothers me as its not so much a review as it is a person attempting a review but itching to write a slam piece. I have read better stuff in comment sections of blogs than that review, and said comment sections were highly critical of Christianity. Call me old fashioned at 31 but I like to see more class in writing, but it seems that any with a remedial grasp of English Composition, foul mouth, perverted mind, and a ultra-liberal or conservative agenda can get a writing gig and be deemed successful.

  4. “What a fascinating review. I would give my left arm (but not my right) to be privy to such an honest, if not antagonistic, perspective on my church”

    I am not sure how you define honest, but the above review seems anything but. The author could likely have constructed such a review from his own stereotypes of Christians without having ever set foot inside your church. To top it off, it wasn’t even a respectable attempt at humor. Trust me, I am no fan of the emergent church movement and have seen quite a few funny parodies of the emergent church- sadly, this wasn’t one of them. Just another example of reflexive anti-Christian animosity.

  5. Kacie says:

    I applaud you, Eugene, for being able to quote a scathing review of your own church! I think understanding the outsiders’ perspective is really healthy. I took a friend of mine to my church a few weeks ago and was surprised to realize how offensive she found my non-conservative, sort-of-emerging church. I need to understand and learn to be ok with the fact that probably the majority of our society would NOT feel comfortable in my church. If I’m not ok with that, I’ll start to cater to people who simply disagree with my entire worldview, beliefs, and presuppositions.

    On the flip side of that coin, it’s important to learn what makes people uncomfortable and analyze whether or not it is actually crucial to our faith and community. If it’s not, would are we doing our guests a disservice to continue on in those practices?

  6. Sue says:

    You guys must not read The Stranger or Dan Savage regularly?

    The fact that Dan stepped foot into Quest is amazing in itself.

  7. Tyler says:

    i dont see how this was helpful for the writer, the newspaper, or your church.

  8. eugenecho says:

    There were some folks at Quest that were VERY upset for the reasons that you mentioned. I doubt this was hardly helpful for The Stranger and its readers since on the most part, they’re widely known to hate all things religious.

    But, it’s helpful because it throws a wrench into our self-perception of whatever we think of ourselves. We had numerous visitors from the Stranger community and that was good for our church and forced conversations – particularly the conversation on homosexuality and the church. One of the posts here generated 300 comments and numerous face to face chats as well.

    Our review, in my opinion, wasn’t particularly insightful per se but others, I thought, were insightful and worth reading.

    Having said that, I think anything the Church gets obsessed with PLEASING EVERYONE is the time the Church will fall into demise. I think it’s important and good to be in friendly relationships but never to the point that we actually forget that the Gospel, in itself, can be a stumbling block to many.

  9. Matt says:

    wow. it’s been about a year since i’ve been reading your blog. =) Found your blog with all the korean hostage updates, and this was the first non-hostage posts that i remember reading.

    But yeah, I would value that type of a-bit-annoying-but-their-honest-perception of not only church but all of christianity from outsiders. While church isn’t meant to only cater to their views, I think church more often than not becomes about pleasing its congregants rather than finding ways to be welcoming to outsiders. Always that tension…

  10. lauren ebright says:

    I agree Eugene, that we should remember to be objective to ourselves as Christians. However, that review was sad and weakly held together by strands of excuse. A person that internally hostile will skew anything to prove their point. Why even mention the worship? The singing? Who cares if it’s insipid? That proves nothing! Sometimes I don’t like the song list on sundays! It certainly doesn’t disprove God. As for the passage Mr. Savage chose to high light, it seems to me an atheist (or agnostic) will take everything for face value, refusing to go any deeper, for fear it may actually challenge their way of life.

  11. Capt Ralph says:

    Hey – to put things into perspective… HAVE to read ALL 31. Yes, it is the Savage Stranger. We do not answer to him but I respect that he was there…… Very meaningful to me, in the broad scheme of things, that Quest was singled out.

  12. don says:

    I would love to listen to the sermon from Luke by Eugene that the reveiwer alluded to. The one about hating father and mother, etc.. to be a disciple of Jesus. If that text is good enough for Jim Jones and David Koresh and, oh my, Eugene Cho, I want to know more. Where can I find the sermon?

  13. lauren ebright says:

    I will read all 31. until then I’d like to know why exactly Capt Ralph, you respect Savage for being there? It doesn’t take a lot of guts to sit through something you’ve already made up your mind about.

  14. Capt Ralph says:

    I am easily mis-understood. I did not mean to respect Savage………….I respect that he was there “in the broad scheme of things” …………….. I believe he was sent. Sorry to be so difficult/obtuse????

  15. eugenecho says:

    @don: fwiw, i wasn’t preaching that sunday. and i believe the sermon isn’t available online anymore.

    generally, this is old news so i wasn’t expecting this to be a big deal. years ago, i was so obsessed with wanting to be “liked” by everyone. i’m more comfortable with the idea of being in friendly relationships with peopel but knowing that there are going to be people that are simply against Jesus and against the message of the Cross and the work of the Church.

    i think it’s pretty clear that the folks at the stranger had an agenda. and if we’re all honest, we all do. but i found it encouraging in part also because while people may not want to admit it, there are many who are looking/examining the church. some with open heart and some with non. regardless, we are being watched.

  16. lauren ebright says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with pastor eugene and with you capt ralph! thanks for clearing it up!

  17. Jennifer says:

    Lauren and Ralph…Savage doesnt write in a genre that I generally read, but even from this article, you have to admit, the guy has a way with words – and as I understand it, a pretty big following as well. He might not be my cuppa’ but I think he deserves respect as a human being and as a writer.

  18. this madness with dan savage is what got me hooked on your blog… i’m glad it happened! you were always a gracious presence in these crazy conversations

  19. Aaron says:

    I think church should be uncomfortable. I am sure there is a balance there… especially for first time visitors… but a comfortable church seems paradoxical… the message of Christ is not always comfortable!

    To take part in worship and prayer and a message of the Bible and communion probably should be uncomfortable for someone not familiar with the Church. I think it is up to the Church to welcome and embrace people in this situation, but its going to be a little wierd/akward to them… I think thats OK.

  20. James says:

    This post was referenced on the Stranger Slog today FWIW. I hope they’re kinder to you than they were last year.

  21. pk says:

    Sorry guys, but this insider (a pastor’s kid so I’m sure my thoughts will be dismissed as stereotypically jaded) has the same thoughts as Savage & his cohorts about Quest, Mars Hill … all of them.

    Other churches in that article touched their atheist reviewers simply by being unassuming, interested in learning about Christ, warmly welcoming their visitor.

    What makes people uncomfortable is OMG-LOOK-HOW-MUCH-I-HEART-JESUS worship. Being checked out by the opposite sex and shunned by the same sex. Having to enter into a conversation about their sexuality every time they decide to learn something about Jesus. Having to slog through the hip! new! terms! for bible study, small groups, look-at-us-divide-each-other-into-marrieds-and-singles-without-saying-we-are-doing-so activities.

    I’ll take my parents’ church any day where kind, elderly eyes welcome me, where people who have lived hard during their time away are hugged, loved and supported when they return, where I am seen as an auntie and not as a threat to some unrequited crush, where my non-Christian boyfriend is loved for his kindness and love for me and not hit over the head with a bible. It is actions such as these that win over hearts injured by The Church, hearts of reviewers who *were* moved in the Month of Sundays article.

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Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

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While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

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Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

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