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of Matthew Turner, author of The Christian Survival Guide
By Noel Lloyd 4/28/04
Matthew Turner has done hard time.
Over twenty-five years of it in fact.
No, not at Attica or Sing Sing or Shawshank and certainly for no crime of his own.
Matthew Turner has served his time in the deep recesses and dark corners of Christianity's alter-ego netherworld. Those extreme churches from whose pulpits pastors spew their vehemence. Those cultural warriors who seek to transform society into their own version of utopia. A religious capitalist industry bent on profits and limited in creativity.
“I saw my childhood pastor burn Barbie dolls to illustrate what hell will be like,” Turner says.
He grew up in a church that was sort of a Christianized version of Orwells1984, only now Big Brother was not the government, but any pastor or church deacon or kindly old lady who taught third grade Sunday School. The rules were rigid, the Bible was thumped, and free thinking not tolerated. Men were real men (and Republican); women were demure and submissive. Assimilation was required; deviance was sorely punished.
Spending a childhood enduring such an existence could affect a person in many ways. For some, it would involve many trips to see the therapist, and for others, maybe a tour on the talk show circuit.
Turner had a different approach.
“I’ve written a book about it,” he laughs. “I have always wanted to write a book about my upbringing to find myself, for my personal therapy, but for many years, it was just so negative. “
The result? The Christian Culture Survival Guide: The Misadventures of an Outsider on the Inside (Relevant Publishing).
Turner says this book is part biographical, part observational: a sort of a summing up of his experiences in the church as well as in Christian culture as a whole.
Not only does Turner have a background in a fundamentalist environment, his professional life has largely been ensconced in the Christian music industry. A former editor of CCM Magazine and an expert in the area of Christian arts, he brings a wide and varied background into the writing of his book.
Rather than making it a serious, somber treatise on the sometimes-dismaying aspects of Christendom, Turner chose humor to convey his message.
“With this book, I tried to bring out levity,” he explains. “I think laughter is healing and I hope people can relate and laugh along with me.”
In his book, Turner deals with the way in which modern Christianity has not just hurt the unconverted, but those in the flock as well.
“My mom used to say who needs enemies when you have Christians,” Turner notes. “I have been hurt by Christians more than by non-Christians.” There are so many people who have walked away from Christianity, jaded. I came through the situation still acknowledging my faith, a lot of my friends didn’t. When a church is a totalitarian institution that is demanding, it leads people into a desolate system. I want to introduce them to Jesus in a way they have never seen Him before.“
Turner grew up in the 80s and early 90s in a strict Baptist church that interpreted the Bible (King James Version only) narrowly and doled out condemnation lavishly forbidding any contact with the opposite sex, wearing clothing of a revealing nature, gambling, going to movies of any kind, Amy Grant, and the dreaded three ds: “drinkin', drugs, and dancin'”.
“I knew how to work the system, I knew how to pretend to good,” he recalls. “But I did not have a relationship with Jesus. I had a set a responsibilities I had to follow. Any time you take grace out of the relationship with God, you taint the Gospel.”
“When I was 15, I started listening to contemporary Christian music. I started asking my parents, ‘Is this what God really wants?’ I saw people treated with complete disrespect. I took this stuff to heart. I knew the Bible from it being taught to me. I started thinking about what Scripture really says.”
Eventually, Turner escaped to the greener pastures of Nashville and Belmont University in 1993. Always interested in the Christian music scene, he pursued a career in that industry. After graduation, he worked in both promotions and journalism and became intimately in tune with the sometimes Byzantine world of CCM.
As he put his fundamentalist past behind him, Turner was introduced to a perspective--Christian music, Christian books, Christian merchandise, Christian fads.
“My favorite fad was the Jesus sandals,” Turner laughs. “You walk in the sand, and leave a Bible verse.”
In his book, not only does Turner deal with his past, he also takes direct aim at Christian culture. He leaves no sacred cow untouched, making frank and what many Christians may think as disturbing observations on the current state of modern-day Protestant Christendom.
Turner pokes fun at the insular world of Christianity, and offers wry insights on subjects such as modern church worship techniques, the Christian obsession with boycotting anything deemed as a threat, and the taboo of all taboos: dating and sex. Turner is far from reticent in telling exactly how he feels and is not very concerned if people like it or not.
“The Church needs to be ticked off a little bit,” he explains. “She needs to be challenged.”
Turner realizes this book is sure to instill much controversy as many people will be put off, and even offended, by his taking on what many consider as Gods work here on earth.
“Christians are funny because many believe everything they do is ordained by God,” he says. “Therefore, it cannot be criticized. I don’t see it that way.”
Turner describes an example of this in his book about how an aspiring Christian singer contacted him when he was editor of CCM Magazine. Turner agreed to meet her. Very quickly, he realized her talent was in William Hung territory. After gently, but firmly, suggesting to her to keep her day job, the Ginny Owens wannabe indigently told Turner that had no right to judge her music because it was straight from the Holy Spirit.
Turner sees much room for improvement in Christian culture. “Creativity is lacking,” he says. “Instead of being creative in our own hearts and minds and searching for new inventive ways to worship Jesus, churches just copy each other.”
Being an insider on the music scene, Turner is especially vocal on this topic: “Christian music is either going to get a lot better or a lot worse. All Christian music has a place, but frankly, the creativity is not there. Right now many artists are making music that is not stuff of depth.”
Turner cites the recent worship music movement phenomenon as a contributor to the dearth of creativity. He notes that worship music is very limited in its message, which, in turn, puts a cap on creative expression. Despite this obvious fact, worship music is a sure thing for a Christian record industry currently strapped for cash and desperate for a consistent revenue source.”
While obviously highly critical of what he sees, Turner says his intention is not to be negative, but to motivate and to encourage. “I want to challenge people to live a life of selflessness to the world, Turner explains. I think there are still too many people trying to convict rather than follow the message Jesus conveyed when he said, ‘Come as you are.’ The Church now needs to strive for humility and selflessness. We need to get back to those basic teachings of Christ. The Christian Cultural Survival Guide is not just a jaunty satirical view of 21st-century Christianity. Turner also offers a serious side in the book as he presents practical answers and alternatives to the Church’s fishbowl outlook.
And despite being a borderline pessimist when it comes to Christian culture, Turner is positive, even heady, about the future. “We can do great things in Jesus,” he notes. “I think people are waking up and God is moving. I want people to develop a relationship with Christ so they can go and help other people.”
As far as the impact his book will make, Turner isn’t sure. Perhaps Pat Robinson will invite him to the 700 Club. More than likely it will cause a stir among Christians who are sensitive to criticism.
Turners advice? Have a sense of humor. If this book offends you, take it back. It is not meant to offend, it is a light, humorous look at one person growing up as a Christian and his perspective on life.
Granted not many people’s childhood involved breaking Michael Jackson records or burning Barbie dolls, but many Christians will relate to at least some of the topics on which Turner touches.
As Matthew Turner puts his past behind him, he has found therapy in writing a book. It is his hope that it will touch someone with his message. And maybe, just maybe, make some Christians laugh.
The Christian Culture Survival Guide: The Misadventures of an Outsider on the Inside
By Matthew Paul Turner