Week 47: "How does one "gently" discourage negative political talk in church before or after the service?"

Response 1: Pamela Cook

My answer to this question is pretty simple, but it’s the approach I’ve found to be the most effective in situations like this: Pray.

Let’s look at the question. It is unselfish—it implies a genuine desire to provide a nurturing atmosphere for everyone who enters the church. It starts from an assumption that everyone’s experience of church deserves to be protected and defended against negative influences. And it is compassionate, acknowledging a need to be gentle with one’s fellow churchgoers. From this, we can conclude that this individual is poised for prayer—and success.

In her pamphlet No and Yes, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “We should endeavor to be long-suffering, faithful, and charitable with all. To this small effort let us add one more privilege — namely, silence whenever it can substitute censure” (p. 8).

In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy defined “church” as a mental space, not a physical one (p. 583). A sanctuary is commonly defined as a sacred place or refuge—descriptive of a mental environment, as well as a physical area of a building. It makes sense that we would defend the church sanctuary mentally.

So, every day—not just Sunday and Wednesday, but daily—pray for your church. First, establish your own correct view of church, affirming that you see only the innocence and receptivity of all who attend. Declare firmly that the mental church atmosphere is pure, not susceptible to negative influence. Identify the sanctuary as a refuge for all who desire to know God, a place that cannot be contaminated or infiltrated by offensive suggestions of any kind.

Rejoice that this church is safe—“there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie” (Rev. 21:27). Finally, love your fellow man by practicing the Golden Rule as best you can. You will discover that silent prayer works! You will have contributed to a higher sense of church and won a point in your own spiritual progress, as well.

Response 2: Todd Herzer

Let’s face it: We live in an age of distractions. So, perhaps more than ever before, people need opportunities to retreat regularly from the constant barrage of distractions, and our church services are designed for just that.

A key point in the definition of Church is that its purpose is to rouse our “dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas” (Science and Health, p. 583). A church service where spiritual ideas are apprehended is best achieved when the entire congregation has an opportunity to retreat from all distractions pressing for our attention.

Mary Baker Eddy described Christian Science as the “ ‘still small voice’ of Truth uttering itself” (Science and Health, p. 323). She wrote, “We are either turning away from this utterance, or we are listening to it and going up higher” (p. 323). So we have a choice to make as we sit in church: to listen for the “still small voice,” or to turn our attention towards the pressing matters of the day.

My preparation for the service often includes the phrase, “nothing inharmonious can enter being for Life is God” (Science and Health, p. 228). I found that this powerful spiritual fact counters the tendency of mortal sense to distract or be distracted—especially in church.

If a church is dealing with political discussions before and after the service, those who are alert to this distraction can deal with it head on as a form of aggressive mental suggestion (Mrs. Eddy’s term for a type of mental self sabotage) working to distract those who are unwittingly turning away from that “still small voice”.

It might be great opportunity to consider why Mrs. Eddy provided for a specified time for music before and after the service (see Article XIX, Sec 1 in the Church Manual). This is a great discussion topic for a church meeting because members might be encouraged to consider how to utilize the period before and after the service to retreat from daily distractions and to let the rousing power of church be first and foremost in thought.

Finally, like the rising tide that lifts all ships, uplifting your individual thought will also have a positive effect for you and your congregation.

  1. Quite frankly, I am a bit disappointed in "This Week's Question". I do not see this issue as a problem in the CS churches I have attended, and I find it surprising that there may be churches where this is a problem.

    I think that with so many CS branch churches in such bad straits (diminishing attendance, churches closing, buildings being sold, etc.) that there would have been more pressing concerns.

    As an example of the above, I just heard that First Church Wilmette, IL (a "posh" northern suburb of Chicago) has been sold to a growing Jewish synagogue. The newspaper article cited declining attendance as the reason for the sale. A CS church has stood on this site in Wilmette since 1905. The current building was built in 1957. It will be decided in October whether this branch will merge with another branch in the area or continue in a smaller space. Very depressing!

  2. There's been many times where I've gone to a church service, and felt the tremendous inspiration and power behind the Lesson-Sermon read and all the other elements of the service, only to have the service end and before the postlude even ends have people start to discuss all the nitty-gritty business situations that need attention, world affairs, politics, whatever, and frankly, it kind of deflates you after a service. I'm grateful for these responses which so get to the heart of the matter-- the myriad ways that mortal mind tries to draw our thought away from the holiness, the healing, and the harmony that is so natural to Church, and the fundamental basis of our church services. Thank you, Pamela and Todd.

    Brad, maybe that doesn't seem like a big problem to you, and I'm grateful for you if you haven't had this experience. But in my mind, anything that takes away from feeling the inspiration and holiness, and experiencing the healing power behind a church service is a question worthy of thinking about.

  3. James -- Thanks for your comment.

    No, I can't say that I've ever been bothered by having to jump into a conversation about "nitty-gritty" topics after the church service. However, since I am a music lover, I do like to hear at least the postlude uninterrupted (especially if you are at the Mother Church with its fabulous pipe organ and excellent organist!!). I really don't ever recall being led into a political discussion after church, or if I ever was, it didn't particularly bother me.

    This is why most main-stream churches have "coffee hours" after the Sunday service, just so that people can discuss the "nitty-gritty" topics in a comfortable and natural setting. I know that some CS branches do have informal get-togethers after the Sunday service (not necessarily with coffee, although that wouldn't bother me at all).

    I know that for years it was considered taboo for CS churches to have such gatherings in their church buildings, but recently (thankfully) this attitude has been greatly relaxed. The CS Society in San Juan Capistrano, CA, at the bottom of their Sunday service bulletin, invites the attendees for refreshments out on the patio after the Sunday service. Although I can't name specifically other CS branches which do this, I am confident that there are others. Even The Mother Church, for a period of time, a few years ago, invited the attendees after the Sunday service over to the Sunday School building for an informal social hour with
    refreshments. No one has ever explained to me why this practice was discontinued. Probably because of negative reactions from the Manual "purists"!! HAH !!

  4. While I very much share Brad's frustration, I think this question is relevant because it relates to the bigger question "What is causing people to stop going to CS church services?" Maybe personal squabbling is one of the reasons. If that's true, even for a few churches, it's right to address the topic.

    With that said, my BIGGER concern is "Why aren't sick people seeking out Christian Science to begin with? And if they do, and are healed, why don't they stick around and support the church that healed them?"

    There was a time when those healed in CS couldnt do enough for the church...why did they stop?

  5. We are Christian Scientists and by that definition are we recognized. Scientific argument is not the source of 'frustration'(pharmacy has a drug for that condition) however it is the 'means'(no prescription necessary Brad, good presentation of argument,by the way) by which the science of our faith finds a receptive thought, whatever the subject, and where ever we gather, as scientists we continue our discourses, by comparison, moral attitude and exclamation of religious principle by 'parable and argument' we disentangle Truth from the nothingness of errors purported to divide us, one from another. I am delighted to listen at ChristianScience.com,at church, home or abroad to find and to read the presentations that claim a receptive heart, so continue, continue, continue the great conversations similar to the one used by a dear friend discribed in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures on page 658..."I used to think I never should receive relief or health... I was in this state of mind and body when Christian Science found me. A dear friend, seeing my suffering, presented the truth to me, and though at first I did not believe that there could be healing for me, the Christian Scientists' God seemed to be the one I had been looking for all my life." Our words (in parable and argument) will find the receptive thought and heal many situations; religious, political or the mundane, characterized by the practical, transitory, and ordinary situations of the 'world so loved'.

  6. When anyone tries to draw me into political or any disturbing discussions and debate, I simply and honestly say"You know, I'm still praying about all of that." Or I might ask" How are you praying about that?"

    Works every time.

  7. I really appreciated this question and answer. I love a good political discussion, BUT not at church. Whenever we are approaching elections ( whether local or national), some folks seem to want to discuss it no matter where they are, including right before or after a church service!

    I really year for church services to be a sanctuary both in the middle and at the end or begnnning of the week ( depending upon how you view it). I get embroiled in so many discussion throughout the week on a variety of matters that I yearn for that atmosphere of Soul, free of distractions, so that I can truly imbibe the Spirit.

    The suggestions on prayer and silence give me new insight as to how I might better support the purity of our church services. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for the great ideas!

  9. One way I have found that we can quiet worldly activity before and after our services is to make a self promise not to engage others in our business concerns just before or after a service. It is tempting, I know, to grab so- and-so and discuss the church flowers or latest by-laws revision, but there is a better time for that. Instead, sit quietly in the auditorium or foyer with the hymnal or a copy of Science and Health and read before the service. People respect the quiet time you need, and will follow suit or keep their voices and activities down while others are preparing for the service. After the service, sit quietly and listen to the postlude. The organist/pianist has prepared it for your listening, and we can use that time to contemplate the service we have just heard. I have done both of these things, and now we have many praying or reading before the service, and all are sitting quietly and listening to the postlude instead of jumping up and chattering with their friends. It starts with one. Brad, there are many vital topics to discuss, some maybe more so than others, but protecting the Sunday service mental environment is critical to our offering of the lesson upon which, says Mrs. Eddy, the prosperity of Christian Science largely depends. Man:31:8 I am so grateful for your desire to see Christian Science prosper as evidenced by your many contributions to this site.

  10. Although I don't mind discussing politics, I do see an appropriateness to keep a debate outside of church, and keep the focus of thought in support of the congregation as required by the Church Manual. After church - and probably outside of the meeting space - there is ample space to bring Christian scientific thought to any subject we face in our daily lives. I haven't engaged in a political discussion with others in church before or after a service, but I appreciate the reminder to leave such potentially contentious topics outside the door, and focus on supporting the service and the congregation during this time. There will be plenty of time later to work to heal the contentious topics that are in our face too much of the rest of the week.

    I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't discuss every day life issues with other church attendees, just not as we prepare for the service, as well as we help affirm and defend the effectiveness of the service (like we would when giving a treatment to a patient, but in this case for the congregation as well as the community) immediately following the service.

  11. Thanks, Barbara AZ. I like to think about what Mrs. Eddy said about attending lectures, that there should be no social activities afterwards but those who come to hear should leave pondering the truths they have just heard. I think this is good for our church services as well.

    In the church I attended during the Vietnam war era, there were some who had very definite feelings one way or another about the war. But almost by an unanimous unspoken agreement the members chose not to use the church as a springboard for their opinions.

    I respect the right of each individual to have their views and political choices. But I do not come to church for that. I prefer to 'drop my burdens at the door' and enter to be refreshed and inspired by the lesson, and leave feeling 'filled up' with joy. There are plenty of other times and places to handle church and political issues.

  12. I love Barbara's comment #6, "How are you praying about that?" If you can think of something from the lesson or hymns that might apply you could bring that up.

    I have never had the political discussion which can get pretty opinionated, come up. Sometimes it's just the chatter of everyday lives being shared with friends.

    But what if the whole congregation were so moved by the ideas in the service that all they could talk about was the inspiration they got and how to use it.

    We are so used to the concepts that are read every Sunday and Wednesday during our services. But what if you just came from hearing the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus himself, or you were in Chickering Hall where Mrs. Eddy had just preached? What would you be talking about?

    We are dealing with the same ideas in our services today. Where is the inspiration? Where is the conviction in our hearts? Yes, a lot of it should come from the inspiration of the Readers, but we must engage with the ideas instead of just passively listening to them. We cannot afford to take them for granted.

    The ideas at our services are still REVOLUTIONARY! Are we so familiar with the concepts that they are no longer causing up to be born again (and again, and again)?

    If someone starts talking about politics or anything else (fill in the blank), maybe they are really asking to get a higher spiritual perspective. They may not know it, but they are asking for healing of some sort or they would not be bringing it up in church.

    I don't think church should be some place where there are taboos about certain discussion topics. It should be a place where we can talk about anything with the desire to bring healing to it.

    So, Brad, I would say you're right. There are more pressing concerns. You mention closing churches. I have my list of concerns too. The question is, what are you doing to bring healing to your church, your community? We must all ask ourselves this.

    Here's the question I think of from time to time: What will be healed today because of my prayers? Individually, in my community, my church and the world? It's easy to see the things that need to be corrected. So go ahead. You see it. You can heal it or you wouldn't be noticing the need.

  13. @ James Early- I find this question a gentle way to let someone know that I also prefer not to be an audience for gossip or criticism or ridicule or anger or any error that should be silenced and not voiced. Evil makes enough noise in the world without needing any help from us, you know?

  14. Brad, I always appreciate your comments because they seem to cut through the mist and get to the point. I was especially interested in learning of the Wilmette CS church. I knew it was up for sale. Many years ago I attended Sunday school there and was a member.
    These online discussions are very interesting even though we may not always agree with everything that is said.

  15. yes,this topic comes to my mind when I attend church service.great approach barb!will try that.church service is such a needed refuge from the world chatter.a time to be silent and listen.a very revelent topic

  16. Hopefully the uplift we do and should get from our services will help us in decision making throughout the week. We live in dangerous and difficult times that require decisions made by representatives in the political arena. Christian Scientist should be at the forefront of thought to assure the best courses of action is being taken. Certainly there is disagreement about what that action should be; nonetheless, it is probably helpful that political discussions be done at lunch or the local Dairy Queen and not in church foyers.

    I like the idea that church business be lumped in with "politics." Some obviously has to be done as many members don't see each other at other times. But again, it should be a minimum and in the clerk's office or somewhere else in the church.

  17. Thank you all for the inspiring comments - especially #6. I am sorry to hear of the closing of the Wilmette Church. I was a member there for three years in the 70's. It was a BIG church. Now I am a member of a much smaller (building size) church; it has a BIG spirit and it is growing. Should it come to the point of overflowing the pews I would hope we would consider a second Sunday service rather than a bigger church edifice. (That opens up other possibilities.) I do not lament the closing of these big things that were the fashion at one time. One might say they were big distractions of themselves!

  18. I attend what used to be one of the largest in membership CS branches in southern Calif. After each service the few members gather to talk to each other in the center aisle and ignore the non-members who might be there once or regulars. Even at their monthly refreshment stand, few members show up. Compare this to the weekly fellowship at the
    nearby Methodist church, and perhaps that explains one of the reasons for the disparity in attendance.
    I can't imagine what would be more important than greeting new or regular attendees where there are only about 40 total in attendance where once over 200 attended and there were two services.
    The discussions regarding committees or curtain colors should wait.

  19. The kind of discussion we are having in this column is a kind of Christian Science politics, which is often discussed after services. The pure thought is lost in answering the question. I live at the very edge of the Christian Science Galaxy and face the problems that arise in this environment. I find the best way to handle them to to purify my thought and know that I am never separated from the divine being. Existence is in heaven and is unlimited and we never leave our true existence to have a mortal experience. Material, mortal experience is not real. Where as our spiritual existence is forever real and sustainable. All we have to do is separate our selves from the mortal illusion and find the real congregation and the real membership.

  20. If politics is being discussed, it is because it is front and center in church attendee’s thoughts. Christian Science should meet the needs of the time, not attempt to repress the uncomfortable. Whether inside or outside of church we should abstain from criticism, negativism and fear. Christian Scientists should counter these either through silent prayer or proactively suggesting positive actions/outcomes—whichever is appropriate for the moment.

  21. Thanks to everyone for their very interesting comments re: "This Week's Question". I must say that I particulary enjoyed the remarks of "Church Attendee" (#18) about the once large CS branch which he attends in southern Cal. While I can appreciate the remarks of those who talk about the need for reflection on the message of the Lesson-Sermon both before and after the Sunday service, where is the harm in having a little Christian fellowship after the service (with refreshments preferasbly). The picture #18 paints of the tight little knot of members chatting (to the exclusion of the infrequent newcomer) does not bode well for the future of that branch. I agree with him/her that it is little wonder that the nearby Methodist church provides a more welcoming atmosphere than this CS branch.

  22. Thanks everyone for the discussion here. These ideas have been really helpful to me.

  23. Dear Brad, I know the sense of loss of place that can accompany the requirement to move out of your church home. However, when my church was taken through eminent domain (not a CS church), it caused me to seek a new church home and I was led to Christian Science, so it was a blessing after all.

    Also, just today, I read a Church Alive article entitled, "Building and rebuilding in unity" by Dorcas Strong. It was about the merger of two CS churches in Cleveland. The writer included this selection from a letter Mary Baker Eddy wrote to the church in 1904 when it was first built. I think we can all benefit from her thoughts,
    “The praiseworthy success of this church, and its united efforts to build an edifice in which to worship the infinite, sprang from the temples erected first in the hearts of its members — the unselfed love that builds without hands, eternal in the heaven of Spirit. God grant that this unity remain, and that you continue to build, rebuild, adorn, and fill these spiritual temples with grace, Truth, Life, and Love” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, p. 195"
    I imagine the time is now to rebuild and express the unselfed love she describes and then more CS churches, as Spirit leads.

  24. "How are you praying about that"? How it elevates the dialogue concerning any distractions from Truth. Thank you!
    "The prophylactic and therapeutic (that is the preventive and curative) arts belong emphatically to Christian Science..." S&H p369, applies to conversation too, especially gossip.

  25. Hi every one thanks for all your inspiering gifts.
    I am well aware of the distractions before and after our service and i'm also eternally greatful that I will not be mesmerised by reacting to them, but use them to pull up my 'spiritual socks' and love more and more.

  26. Where and when is the fellowhip, inspiration?

    What does sitting in the foyer before the prelude reading something 'spiritual' say to a newcomer or regular attendee or member? Could that action say: "Dont't bother me!" "Stay away!" "Don't talk to me." "Don't talk to anyone else either." "Just plain don't talk, SHUT UP! period?" Would you openly say "SHUT UP" to anyone in a public place? Not welcome?

    If the answers to these questions are 'yes', then what might be the results? Leaving you alone, leaving others alone, everyone is alone, not smiling, not greeting, just leaving everyone alone!

    Is this place(supposedly a church)perhaps perceived as a Mausoleum? Museum? a Funeral Home? A place which is dead, no activity, no life?

    I remember a time when a young woman brought another young woman, a new mother, to a small church of about 4 members) for the first time to share Christian Science. The new mother had had difficulties at the hospital and was predicted to die. The other young woman,my daughter, brought me to visit at the hospital, as all were friends. I visited and prayed 'on the run'. During the night the situation reversed itself and the young mother did not die. The young mother attributed to reversal to my being there and my prayers, and to Christian Science, although she knew nothing about Christian Science.

    In this church, these young girls were looking at the Christian Science Quarterly, the order of services and the week's lesson on LOVE. The young mother looked at the lesson on Love, and her eyes got big and excited and she was so excited about hearing a Bible lesson on LOVE. She softly giggled with excitement to her friend.
    The first reader stopped what he was doing, focused his stern eyes on the two, scowled, and in a commaning voice said, "NO TALKING OR WHISPERING IN CHURCH!" Both were embarrassed as well as I was. They sat up straight in their chairs, as if in prison, not talking, and not moving. NEITHER OF THOSE GIRLS EVER CAME BACK TO A CHRISTIAN SCIENCE CHURCH. Perceived as unfriendly, cold, ruthless, and MEAN. No joy, no life, no intercourse, nothing but blind submission to someone else, archaic doctrine.

    Why bother coming to church? One can be alone elsewhere, at home, in their vehicle, at a reading room, on a MP3/MP$ player, in front of a tv, alone. How does being alone and not talking contribute to our community. Can't one, or isn't it a duty of a member or regular attendent, to do spiritual filling up, and aloneness during the week and bring their INSPIRATION to church to SHARE at church.

    Can't sharing be verbal/oral as well as silent? Perhaps not the supposed politics or getting into discourses, but friendly conversation?

    Does the pious one really want to be left alone? One could just leave YOU alone and go somewhere else where their presence and sharing might be appreciated. Perhaps talk or enjoy the company of others with similar thoughts such as sports, recreation, food. One might recognize why these others might be attractive.

    One also could (pray)guard against ANYTHING which might obstruct the light of Christian Science from getting through. Each of us can be a beacon, not a wall, not a dead thinking and non-acting,lifeless person, to allow that light to shine though. Each can claim that life light for themselves and for all mankind.

  27. "WoW!" What an interesting discussion! I can relate to you a concrete example: My CS church had an organist who attempted to engage the chief greeter in a political discussion before every service. (He also tried to tell him off-color jokes, talk about the triumphs and successes of his own church, and proselytize passers-by to his religion.) It seemed very deliberate. The greeter finally had to tell him he would not discuss politics with him any more. A "word" was necessary. Much prayer went into this, but eventually the entire church voted unanimously not to renew his contract. He wanted to know "why!" Hmmm!

    I enjoyed the diversity of your comments. Pamela was most articulate and gave wonderful metaphysical ideas to support our services, but even while reading it I was wondering, "No human action?" We can't keep our "love," our desire for good for everyone, always in the abstract. Prayer is great and effective but answered prayer often leads to a "word [spoken] to the wise." Human action must be seen as the result of prayer -- or definite identifiable healing evidences that can be pointed out. The spoken word can heal and has healed -- more often for Mrs. Eddy, she said, than the silent. Until we are all on a much higher spiritual level than we seem to be at this time, unfortunately our prayers (without the concrete human nexus) can just seem absolutism. This comes across as very cold and unloving.

    I know of at least two lovely women who strongly believe in Christian Science, but they have both gone over to Unity. They love the message of Christian Science but find the structure too heavy, the formality smothering the message. That cannot be what Eddy intended, can it? What are we to do? Loosen up! Let God lead us! Really believe and live it, that "Divine Love alone [actually does] governs man." And churches. Follow Eddy only so far as she follows Christ. That is what she said, and she did this to the nth degree. But Christ leads us directly in our individual missions, too. In new paths. Do we see this? Do we live this? Or do we say, "No, I must go back and bury my father, say good-bye to my friends, ask TMC (which, of course, seems desirable of individual demonstration in this line of light), before I can follow where Christ leads me, individually, to do the world good by bringing the Christ-light to them in whatever way I am led to do." (A little drop of rain such as I! Can do!) Again, what are we to do? Love, support, and embrace all who are following Christ in the way of his/her appointing. Let us end censure and censor, and let the Word have free course. "Free thought must accompany approaching Science." And that's no joke!

    I don't expect anyone will ever read this blog. I just happened upon this site by googling a topic, and I don't know what date the question under consideration was asked. But, I expect the thoughts I've shared here will find their free course and will be seen and heard -- to help bring the freedom so needed today for Christian Science to advance.

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