September 14, 2005 | Issue 41€37
BIRMINGHAM, AL—A new trend in the religious upbringing of children has recently emerged in the heart of the Bible Belt. "Home-churching," the individual, family-based worship of Jesus Christ, is steadily gaining in popularity, as more parents seek an alternative to what they consider the overly humanist content of organized worship.
Norville Tucker, who moved his family to the woods outside Shelby, AL in 1998 to "escape the damaging cultural influences of urban Mobile," is widely credited with pioneering the home-churching movement. Tucker said he was inspired to home-church when his 10-year-old son Macon returned from Sunday school singing a lighthearted song about Zacchaeus, a tax collector befriended by Christ, and then later recited the parable of the Good Samaritan.
"I couldn't believe that the liberal elite had infiltrated even the study of our Holy Scriptures," Tucker said. "It was bad enough that my youngsters were being taught evolution in public schools, but when I discovered they were learning to embrace foreigners and Big Government in Sunday school, I drew the line."
Home-churchers create their own services, emphasizing close readings of Old Testament books led by a parent, and sermons that often exceed two hours. Proponents of home-churching argue that, when handed down by family members, biblical teachings take on a more direct, personal meaning. Additionally, they say home-churching reinforces familial bonds.
"When I open the Good Book and begin to preach, my kids associate all the things they learn about—the floods, the plagues, the impalings, the threat of eternal hellfire—with their daddy," Tucker said.
Many home-churchers say they chose to worship at home because they objected to "licentiousness" within the church social structure.
Chattanooga, TN's Judith May MacAuliffe, who home-churches her family of five, said her frequent complaints about modern church music and coed potluck dinners fell on deaf ears for years. It was only after she discovered that the evangelical summer day camp in which she enrolled her eldest daughters emphasized Frisbee and horseback riding that she made the move to private worship.
"We don't need these born-again evangelists watering down God's fearsome judgment," MacAuliffe said. "It sickened me to think that young Christian boys and girls were sharing canoes, watching occult videos of bewitched talking vegetables, and arranging pieces of macaroni into suggestive patterns in a so-called 'wholesome' setting."
MacAuliffe added: "By separating my children from sinful elements, I can finally teach the lessons of Leviticus in peace, without all this 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone' nonsense."
Critics of the home-churching movement argue that its practitioners deprive children of a well-rounded religious education.
"An untrained theologian is not equipped to address the thornier questions of morality," said Rev. Lawrence Case of Grace Methodist Church in Homestead, FL. "Home-churchers often make their own interpretations of complicated biblical instruction such as 'knowing' daughters, or whether eating a rock-badger is as sinful as eating a regular one."
Home-churchers like Pottsville, AR's Othniel Beebe say that in an increasingly secularized world, "Home worship is the only safe worship."
"My kids don't have to understand everything in the Bible—I don't claim to," Beebe said. "But it ain't my place to question God's will. As long as my Caleb grows up understanding pestilence, sin, massacres, and to eternally fear the wrath of our Lord—and not this warm and fuzzy 'universal brotherhood' crap—then I've done right by Jesus."