Source: The Huffington Post
"I think Eldred Sasserine is the devil. I see it in his eyes."
A friend whispered those words to my mother more than 20 years ago, and she says they still send a chill down her spine.
Eldred Sasserine was a retired cattle rancher from Oklahoma who had made it his mission to depose the new minister in our small-town Colorado church. Sasserine and his partisans said that Glenn Greenwell wasn't preaching enough hellfire-and-brimstone, staples of Sunday sermons before he arrived. Moreover, he was "fellowshipping" with other Christians in town, flouting the received truth that our denomination stood alone on the path to heaven. I remember the day Glenn submitted his resignation.
I was about 10 years old. My family attended the local Church of Christ on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, so what happened there left a deep impression on me. Looking back, I realize I was seeing the clash between tradition and modernity that plays out in so many religious communities, written small among the red canvas pews of our little brick church next to a horse stable.
Years later, the conflict seeped back into my mind when I heard about another clash in another religious community. This one was in a mosque in West Virginia.
A colleague told me about an old friend who had just returned to her hometown mosque and found it had been taken over by a conservative clique -- extremists, she called them. These men were excluding women and families from the mosque, and their sermons lashed out against the West and non-believers. It all sounded familiar. I wondered, were these Muslims really any more exotic -- or dangerous -- than the Oklahoma cattle rancher who wanted to control my childhood church?
After all, I grew up to a soundtrack of sermons that painted mainstream American culture as an evil, corrupting force. We were to be "in this world, but not of it." The devil was out there tempting us at every turn, not least of which in the rock music I'd already learned to love. School dances, evolution, bikini swimsuits and television shows like Cheers and the Golden Girls were also his domain.
And at our church, too, women could not hold leadership positions. My mother lost a bid to teach our Sunday school class because women were not permitted to instruct a "baptized man," even if that man happened to be a 10-year-old boy.