November 13, 2008

Jimmy Roughton

Jimmy Roughton speaking before the Union Gospel Mission congregation.

In my “On Love” post I wrote six weeks ago, I beat up a bit on the Union Gospel preachers, and particularly on most mission-goers’ [and my personal] favorite Jimmy Roughton for being cowardly in preaching on love – that is, neighborly love or agape.

Jimmy Roughton was the UGM preacher yesterday and he got into the love-stuff some in a return to his high form. At his best his sermons have a point and an arc. And, always, Roughton displays amazing passion and showmanship. He is a riveting speaker; he is loud, passionate, with grand gestures; his eyes dart as he makes contact with individuals in his audience. He doesn’t make use of a text; he doesn’t need one – he knows his stuff and what he is going to say and speaks without pauses or stumbles. He begins on the pulpit at the lectern, but as his message unspools he makes his way down to the chapel floor. A part of his charm is that Roughton comically – mockingly – does a good job imitating classes of people: False Christians, atheists and rationalizing substance abusers are prime targets.

Often he has been discretely miked so that he can roam, but yesterday he made do with just being loud.

Much of his sermon yesterday compared Moses with Jesus. Moses was a common man, a murderer, an imperfect servant of God. Jesus, of course, is God. Both Moses and Jesus went to a mountain. Moses was met by God at his mountain, where he was given the stone tablets that proclaimed the Ten Commandments, fast instructions from God on how to behave. Jesus met Satan and temptation on his mountain; Jesus’s challenge was a test of character.

Citing the Book of Hebrews, Roughton told us the Old Testament’s hard rules were notably not successful. Only two of the some two million Jews who fled Egypt made it to the Promised Land. The Jews lacked faith in God. The New Testament idea of changing your character is what God truly seeks, according to Roughton. Changing one’s heart is what is sought. If we become pure of heart [change our character], THAT will empower us to be good Christians and from that our behavior will become good. Being good, love will naturally flow between us and our neighbors.

There are interesting similarities between this and Buddhism. Buddha’s earliest teaching is the Dhammapada: Rules to live by, similar somewhat to the Ten Commandments. Later teachings by the Buddha that Mahayana Buddhists [including Western Buddhists, natch] gravitate toward are unmapable pathways toward having a better heart.


Gary Moll said...

A major point of Christianity is that we come to realize that we're not able to create this change in our hearts, to love as God desires us to love, because of our nature. When we submit to God through Jesus Christ, He forgives us of our sin nature and gives us a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to supernaturally aid the change. Notice, this is GOD WORKING IN US! All other religions have us following certain principles to help US work it out to the best of OUR ability.

Thomas Armstrong said...


First off, I understand that Jimmy Roughton "stood up" the mission yesterday, which was his one of his nights to preach. The story I was told is that he is angry that Pastor Hughes is taking away one of his two monthly nights to preach.

Now, as to your post: If conservative Christians were more impressive, that would underscore your point. But they aren't. Conservative Christianity is a mighty mess: Hating gays; saying the Sandy Storm was God's wrath and that the Sandy Hooks murder spree was God proving some point or another.

What seems to often happen is people get all self-righteous and think that they have God in their pocket getting vengeance on their behalf.

And liberal Christianity is wackier -- interpreting things however they want, making the Bible ever more metaphorical and archetypal or a guiding mythology.

I don't know that other religions are all, necessarily, fixed on having adherents "follow certain principles."

Eastern religons, you could say, are just there for us to break through the established roadblocks to full maturity.

Better evidence of this God you speak of, would be nice. What I see are people behaving in a multiplicity of ways, some have an excellent nature that they've always had; others are scoundrels. Happenstance [not God or Satan] seems to be what is ordering events.

It is like the play "Waiting for Godot." I wait for God; he doesn't show up.