In the early 1980s, satirical musician-turned record label president-turned filmmaker Steve Taylor wrote “I Want to Be a Clone.” A scathing three minute indictment of the Christian subculture, “Clone” provocatively compared the church to an assembly line. For Taylor, the church was more interested in producing the “right” kind of Christians than in producing a people capable of growth or their own independent thoughts. “The language, it was new to me / But Christianese got through to me / Now I can speak it fluently / I want to be a clone,” he sang on one of the song’s more biting lines.
Things haven’t changed much in 20 years. True, there are plenty of churches out there where Christians aren’t required to live in tiny, mass produced boxes. But there certainly aren’t enough of them to go around.
Our current political climate is one indication of that. Despite the efforts of Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and other moderate to liberal evangelicals, the words “Christian” and “Republican” are still synonyms. If you don’t believe me, visit a small church in the South or rural Midwest and say something positive about Bill Clinton. Best of luck with that.
Finding oneself an outsider in such a climate of conformity can be a painful, faith-shaking experience. That’s all the more reason why satirists like Taylor are important. It’s vital for Christians to understand that there is more than one way to practice their faith.
Enter Joel Kilpatrick’s A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat. Kilpatrick is the creator of LarkNews.com, a satirical Christian news site comparable to The Onion. Each month LarkNews.com regales its readers with headlines like “Man seeks God’s will over coffee selection” and “SpongeBob checks into Exodus International.”
Naturally, a subculture so rich with material is in need of more than a monthly dose of satire. Fortunately, Kilpatrick doesn’t leave us wanting. His Field Guide to Evangelicals is 170 pages of smart sarcasm.
As the title indicates, Kilpatrick examines United States evangelical culture through the eyes of an outsider. Don’t know the ins and outs of Christian culture any better than you understand the mating habits of a squirrel? That’s OK. Kilpatrick is a National Geographic cameraman in search of a people who think cross dressing means wearing a Lord’s Gym t-shirt.
Kilpatrick starts at the beginning, explaining what evangelicals believe, as well as unveiling a master list of everyone who is going to hell. From there he shows you what to expect at a church, how to talk and dress like an evangelical, and even ventures into topics like education, home décor and sex.
Field Guide is amusing at times, hilarious at others. It’s as cliché-ridden as you’d expect from a book like this. But, more often than not, it’s also on point in its assessment of the brand of Christianity it studies. Kilpatrick is having a good time here, and so will you. But you can also tell he loves this subculture as much as he loves to make fun of it. Just like a lot of us former box occupants.