But the singing continued, and the crowd around us grew. Since we had been too timid to find seats far from the entrance, we watched as people of many different ages and ethnicities trickled and eventually poured in through the door. Whether in groups, couples, or individuals, they all smiled at us and began to move their lips in song. In front of me, a woman whose nametag said “Here to Serve” bobbed her head and wiggled her hips modestly to the beat. Soon I could pick out individual voices coming from all sides, and the chorus enveloped me as the energy in the room reached a level I haven’t felt since Phillies fans filled the streets after the World Series last year. Glancing to my right, I saw Sarah mouthing the words she read on the screen. And when I knew my voice would be drowned out by the sound of overwhelming unison, I started to sing. It wasn’t that I felt guilty for staying silent; I actually wanted to join in. And when the songs were over and Pastor Lon Solomon asked us to say hello and shake hands with those around us, I greeted all the smiling faces and I was glad to do that too.
What I felt at the beginning of this service was a kind of building momentum, an implicit promise of community and acceptance if only you just join in. And in that moment of elevated energy, I bought it. Like all other human beings, I want to be accepted, to feel like part of something that is bigger than myself; it’s part of my nature, and the McLean Bible Church knows it. From the rest of the service, I could tell that this was not the only aspect of human nature that Lon Solomon was familiar with, and as I think back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I realized that he found a way to hone in on almost every one. Maslow says that after our physiological needs are met, we move on to the following emotional needs:
- Safety (security of body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of family, of health, of property)
- Love and Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy)
- Esteem (self-esteem, confidance, achievement, respect of others, respect by others)
- Self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts)
My lapse in control over my vocal chords is a clear example of the use of our need for belonging, and it didn't end there. Kim wrote about the girl who had accepted Jesus for the first time; she found people who accepted her “with open arms” when they didn't even know her, and my fellow churchgoers watched her televised face eagerly as it gave them proof of what this church can do. Meanwhile, every other screen alternated psalms that preached security for those who believe, such as:
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily
thou shalt be fed” (Psalms 37:3)
The church encourages involvement on all levels: jobs at the church (employment), participation in one of the many musical groups (creativity), or in any of the hundreds of community groups (belonging/friendship). And Lon used Martin Luther King Jr. to preach equality, while the acceptance of facts came with his proof of the existence of God, leading directly and somewhat unsettlingly to the idea that right and wrong are definitely black and white and sinners obviously go straight to hell.
Lon also spoke to our need for esteem throughout by praising the crowd's good prayers and their achievement in accepting Jesus into their hearts. This led into the ultimate promise of security, which was the forgiveness of sins. Being raised Catholic, I'm used to the idea that God forgives our sins, but we have to keep renewing this forgiveness by going to confession and doing some sort of penance or atonement that shows that we are sorry for each individual sin. But according to Lon Solomon, all you have to do is accept Jesus (the way they tell you to), and you pretty much have a Get Out of Jail Free card for the rest of your life. Who wouldn't want that kind of guarantee?
Yet all of these promises still leave me wondering. Are McLean churchgoers' emotional needs fulfilled or do they only feel like they are? They are told to be like MLK Jr., with a lack of prejudice against others, yet anyone who doesn't believe what they do will not join them in heaven. Creativity is encouraged, but within the confines of Christian values and a modest dress code. And between passionate and suggestive lyrics and the facial expressions that went with them, the repressed sexual energy between our favorite 20something male-female singing duo was almost laughably obvious. It seems that to believe we are being completely fulfilled, we have to be able to get swept up in the crowd and let our lips move on their own.