When I was a kid growing up in Clear Lake City (just outside of Houston, TX) I went to University Baptist Church. UBC grew rapidly under the leadership of an awesome pastor named Henry Adrion III and his equally awesome wife, Pat. It was easy to pay attention to the passionate sermons Brother Henry gave every Sunday. But that was before Kathy Covington joined the church with her sister, Kayla, and her parents, Mary Lou and Clarke.
Like all the other grade school boys who were distracted by Kathy, I was pretty certain she was the most perfect girl ever to walk the face of the Earth. But she kept getting a little more perfect every year. By the end of high school, things just got downright ridiculous. She was star of the senior play, homecoming queen, senior class favorite, senior class president, a top 15 student (of around 3300) and, of course, she was voted “most beautiful.”
So when I met Kathy’s husband at my ten-year high school reunion in 1993, I wasn’t too surprised that he had a lot going for him, too. Good-looking, intelligent, and athletic, I was also unsurprised that John Burke was a pastor. Kathy had always been a very religious (and spiritual) girl and a fine example to everyone at Clear Lake High School.
Fourteen years after meeting John, I got a copy of his book in the mail. My mom sent it to me so I figured I had better read it. Otherwise, I feared I would risk not getting any brownies or chocolate cookies when I come home for Christmas this year. I was less-than-enthusiastic about adding to an already over-sized “to read” list. However, when I finished John’s book, I quickly realized that I had just read the second truly outstanding book among the several dozen I’ve polished off in 2007 - the other being Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller.
John Burke, the man who married the perfect girl, wrote No Perfect People Allowed with a deep sense of sympathy for those who are suffering in the wake of what he calls a “three-decade binge on self” which has the country “vomiting up the consequences” in the early part of the 21st Century.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this national binge on self has been the widespread neglect of children. But Burke points out that there has been much more than mere neglect of children in recent years in America. There is a disdain for children who are all-too-often seen as obstacles to self-fulfillment for status-oriented Americans. If you aren’t convinced, note how children were depicted in such an innocent fashion in decades past and contrast that with the way children are often portrayed as evil in Hollywood today.
Before the sexual revolution of the sixties, making “evil child” horror films would have been unthinkable. But, since the onset of the sixties, that has certainly changed.
Consider the following movies: Children of the Damned (1964), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), It’s Alive! (1974), Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976), The Omen (1976), Carrie (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), It Lives Again (1978), Damian: Omen II (1978), Halloween (1978), The Children (1980), The Final Conflict (1981), Halloween II (1981), Firestarter (1984), Children of the Corn (1984), and so on.
Given that we have so dramatically turned our backs on our children in recent years, it is unsurprising that so many are experiencing a crisis of trust when it comes to social institutions such as the church. I am convinced that this is nothing more than a basic transference of distrust. Individuals who have torn relationships with their earthly fathers will have a much harder time placing trust in their Heavenly Father.
John Burke understands this. That’s why he goes to great lengths to ensure that seekers and doubters are welcomed in his church. We should all do the same. Remember that it was after John the Baptist met and baptized Jesus that he sent someone from prison to ask Jesus whether he was really the One or whether the people should expect another (see Matthew 11:2-3). If John the Baptist could have doubt because he did not understand why Jesus was doing things exactly the way he was then what does that say about us?
We must also recognize that the 21st Century church must have something better to offer than does the new religion of multi-culturalism, which preaches mere “tolerance.” Christianity is indeed unique in that it offers something better. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim Code are all lacking one important thing that is unique to Christianity: Grace, which says that God loves us just as we are. We don’t have to “earn” it.
But John Burke understands what the pastors of so many failing churches do not: We must accept people as they are while simultaneously insisting that once they enter the church they will not stay that way.
And who could argue that most of us need to change? The society cannot change until individuals change. The social statistics certainly cry out for change. In the wake of the Sexual Revolution, the divorce rate tripled (when comparing 1962 to 1981). Over 40% of teens will be pregnant by age 20 and 80% of those pregnancies will be out of wedlock. Looking at all age groups, our illegitimacy rate is around 33%. And what was called “free love” in the 60s became “herpes” in the 70s and “AIDS” in the 80s.
We all need to recognize our own role in the downfall of this society as humble members of a united church. As Burke points out, we are all in a broken state of wanting to play God. The only difference between individuals lies in the willingness to acknowledge this brokenness. Just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, most people do not.
When C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world, he was reminding us that there really is no greater motivator for change. I am pleased that I was given John Burke’s book in a year during which I have suffered an unprecedented amount of pain. The portions on our attitudes towards other religions and towards homosexuals have given me cause to consider some changes I need to make in my rhetoric as a public commentator.
No Perfect People Allowed might just have been the perfect book at the perfect time for this imperfect reader. I urge you to read it, too. But you might not be the same when you are done.
Mike S. Adams would like to thank Ashley Herzog for motivating him to write this column simply by pointing out some of his imperfections. John Burke would probably like for Mike Adams to encourage his readers to visit the website of Gateway Community Church in Austin, TX.