I’ve been working on a treatment for a movie for a while. Originally set in Wales, I’ve since ‘relocated’ it to Tennessee. It’s called The Country Preacher, and is about a man who travels the countryside, visiting different small towns and their churches, preaching the Good Book. He doesn’t, however, travel light, bringing with him all the baggage that comes with bourbon, bullets and womanizing. Whilst his heart is in the right place, he is a bit of a scoundrel at the same time, constantly causing conflict and chaos in the towns that he visits – and yes, it is set in the present time.
In my research for this, last year I was ordained as a pastor myself. I can legally marry people, I can open a church, my own church, and it cost me a dollar, one single dollar. Yet, religion is a huge business here in America. Where I live we have two gas stations that are also convenience stores and that’s it, apart from no less than at least ten churches in the small five mile radius, in the heart of Tennessee. Indeed, there are more churches in Tennessee, per head, than any other state I believe. There are massive churches, there are small churches, like the one nearest, a lovely church run by a a nice man, a pastor, and his wife. They have a congregation of about thirty people.
On any given Sunday morning, television here is overtaken by programmes from churches, promoting their church, usually paying to air their program; churches that encourage members of their congregation to donate a percentage of their hard earned wages to the church each week or month. At the same time, the Pastor of some of these churches are living a life of luxury, living in mansions, with private helicopters, brand new, beautiful cars and limousines.
Many of the pastors of small churches are very sincere but the larger churches are run as a business, offering services and advice that have no place in a church – Jesus called temples ‘a den of thieves’ and this has not changed it seems.
It is common here that people in prison ‘find’ Jesus, I wrote a song about this on the album Country Tales and Hobo Trails. It helps with their parole applications. One very prominent local pastor of a big, very popular church, is a convicted murderer. He killed a woman and went to prison, but was released early. He appears as one of the least likely God worthy men I’ve ever seen, there is nothing holy about him at all. A local paper here in Nashville has been exposing him for a long time and yet some people refuse to see the truth, that he is abusing their need and want to believe.
It’s not just in America though. When I had the theatre in England on Sundays it had been used by a local ‘church’ for their services. It was run by an American couple, who lived in a gorgeous, huge beach house in the area, yet the congregation were mainly very poor people. It was known locally as the ‘Church of the Last Resort’, as most had tried other churches and had failed to find what they were looking for – perhaps they never will,
I don’t intend to open a church of course, but if I did, meetings would be in a field or a barn, and there would be no collection or ‘blessings’; of any kind, other than perhaps food and drink for the meeting. You don’t need to attend a church to be a good Christian or a good believer in any faith, it is what is in your heart and your mind that solely matters, and how you live your life, and treat others.
You cannot sin because you think you’ll be forgiven at church next Sunday. It doesn’t work that way.
I once worked at a Christian radio station in California, presenting a show of songs with messages, not necessarily by Christian artists, (U2 broke America through servicing Christian radio stations first, as have a number of other artists). People at the station were very sincere in their beliefs. I hate to see that belief being taken advantage of by anyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be in the name of Jesus.