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Modern Church Ladies

Updated: May 22, 2021

The Judgmentalist are everywhere.

Back in 1986, some lowly Saturday Night Live costume courtier was asked to procure a laughably modest mid-century collared frock and prepare it for a new SNL sketch. Dana Carvey, an early show star, gifted comedian, and impressionist, would quickly jump into character and become ‘The Church Lady.’ Of course, the rest is history. The Church Lady would bring our generation to rolling laughter in front of the boob tube every Saturday night. Ironically, she helped us prepare for the following Sunday morning worship service by, perhaps, making it more meaningful.

Well, if not more meaningful, more interesting for certain. Because we now knew what to look for when we gazed across the communal gathering for any hint of an actual ‘church lady’ amongst us. Just a few pews ahead, frummpy Mrs. VanKlippenschitz wore a collared dress. But the stereotype broke down when I heard that the upright farmer’s wife swore like a coal miner when feeding the calves.

Dana's twisted face in mock condescension and faux disgust while playing a church organ twisted our guilt into laughter. We forgave him because he made us laugh. We boomers remember well the stereotype of the typical Church Lady full of self-righteous piety and ready to drop a load of judgemental excrement on the head of every 'sinner.' “Hhmmmm… was it- Satan?” the Church Lady asked mockingly suggesting the source of your evil.

My sister, when all my aunts were still alive, played a most believable Church Lady. Talented in her own right, she'd dress up all tight and walked with just the right sexually suppressed knee knock and wore a pair of mom's old horn-rimmed glasses and pout her lips and twist her head when challenging my virtuous aunts to admit to sin. Shockingly, my aunts loved it! They'd laugh till tears. At one dramatic performance, a dear aunt ran for the bathroom, fearing wetting herself from laughter (she claimed a mild continence condition a result of bearing children). From a humbler generation, they saw the humor in the not-so-subtle irony and saw close up the pretensions of the sinless- but that was not them. They readily admitted to their imperfections so they took no offense.

“Well… isn’t that special!”

As for my sister, I think she objected to the clever subtle tyranny of the overtly judgemental. Like many of our generation, she saw the judgemental around every corner telling us how to live our lives and then sneer or shun those who dare not follow the only true orthodoxy. She'd bristle at the condescension a tilted head with judgementally pinched lips dripped. Some of us would go on and rebel a bit. We may have thought the tendency towards this kind of manipulation unique of the churched. Fortunately, there were very few people like The Church Lady in churches or elsewhere- until now. Now there are many, and pitifully few have a sense of humor.

If I were to guess, the Church Lady's theology hung on the principle of good works. Do good, be good, and she'll pump her organ as you climb the stairway to heaven. Do bad, and she'll do what she can to create a little hell here on earth. She’ll scold you and label you an unrepentant sinner. You’ll be shunned, canceled even, and belittled on SNL as a reprobate. The laugh track laughs.

Not a late-night comedy show, many news folks today have perfected the art of the judgemental sneer. One cable info babe told of being fully vaccinated but insists on wearing her mask outdoors to feel safe. She either insists that you join her (misery loves company), or you must be an idiot, a conspiracy theorist, and you watch the other channel. Of course, she mutters something about 'follow the science' right into the commercial break.

Unbeknownst to her, the science interpreters at the CDC would reinterpret the science proclaiming those vaccinated were indeed safe to be outside unmasked. It is difficult to follow anything, a religion, science, or a tribe when the dogma, the theology changes due to a reinterpretation of the up till then only true orthodoxy. The true believers are left bewildered. Faith becomes difficult when political contrivances trumps truth. Just ask Martin Luther.

In a moment of clarifying honesty, the newscaster confessed to being distraught and confused. Now, what is a devout believer to do? If one can no longer blindly 'follow the science' and preach the mask's life-saving properties, what do you wear to prove your tribal membership? A BLM sign? A crucifix? Who or what will save you now from the virus and from the ideologically unsaved?

Tribes often share a characteristic with that of cults- they require complete subservience to the only acceptable narrative. Much like powerful cult leaders, social media companies have proven adept at removing those who dare think differently. They have become the greatest judgementalist (probably not a word but should be) of them all. Express an idea, a belief, a dogma, and they’ll shut you off faster than your credit card company for late payment.

In the same breath as claiming nothing about the wearing of masks is political, a young man tweets that a benefit to wearing a mask is to show the world that you're not a Republican. And why not, Facebook and the others echo the sentiment by disabling those who argue the other side. How ‘Church Ladiesh’ is that? At least The Church Lady had the courage to dress up and scold you to your face- the ‘church ladies’ at the Twitter cess-pool do so mostly anonymously while in pajamas. “Now… isn’t that special.”

So where do all these new ‘Church Lady’ clones come from? Teresa R. Manning, the policy director at the National Association of Scholars and a former law professor believes they’re being baked at today’s universities. She’s in a position of knowing. She offers some disturbing examples in her essay found here. Ms. Manning sees it this way, “They (the universities) are the new scolds—the church ladies, though their church is one of the new denominations, Safetyism.”

With mask-wearing more a signal of purity than a means of providing protection, Safetyism has made it their official adornment- its own crucifix if you will. That’s what three girlfriends discovered when told not to turn up for class at the university this fall. A photograph of the three not appropriately adorned with ‘the mask’ left the university no other choice than to turn them away from the sanctuary. The university went beyond the scolding right to defrocking. How ‘Church Ladiesh.”

Sometimes ex-politicians become decent human beings. So it is with Mitch Daniels who gave a provoking commencement address at Purdue University. He offered this to the adherents of Safetyism. “Before the virus visited us, there were already troubling signs that fearfulness was beginning to erode the spirit of adventure, the willingness to take considered risks, on which this nation’s greatness was built and from which all progress originates. Rates of business startups, moving in pursuit of a better job, or the strongest of all bets on the future, having children, all have fallen sharply in recent years. And now there are warnings that the year 2020 may have weakened that spirit further.”

Like my sister and many others of her generation who recognized the subtle bigotry of the judgementalist posing as uber do-gooders, we rebel a bit. That is what history suggests we do when confronting an orthodox whose adherents choose defrocking as the ultimate argument.

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