It was for a reason that I chose the First Baptist Church of Tempe and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for attendance and interview. Doing some preliminary research on religious group meetings in Tempe I looked for communities of differing convictions to opt for maximum diversity. The two groups, although they offshoot from the Judeo-Christian branch, are direct opposites of each other in terms of the interpretation of the scriptures. The research on these two groups also provided a line of guidance on what to expect and how to behave.
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First Baptist Church of Tempe
The sermon “What Did Jesus Say About Legalism” was led by Rev. Mark Ward at the First Baptist worship center. The Pastor operated the concepts of law as a necessary component of a believer’s relationship with god. From the Pastor’s words, the notion of legalism referred to salvation through the good works, abiding with Christ and following the rule of God, which is, as the Pastor quoted from David, pure and perfect.
The interpretation became clearer after I interviewed one of the members of the group. A woman of approximately 25 years of age, Terry (which is not her real name) agreed for a short interview after I explained the purpose of it as studying the current and the future place of religion in the formation of our country’s future. I asked her what she personally believed, how she came to her faith and how she found herself in the First Baptist, whether she perceived women were valued in this group, whether there were many representatives of ethnic minorities, and what she thought the future of religion in America would be.
From my preliminary research on the beliefs of the First Baptist I learned the church regarded the Scriptures as the supreme authority on religious matters. Thus, I expected that the believers would be quite literal in their perception of the scriptures. Terry confirmed my anticipations by saying she believed in one Lord in three persons, in the perfection of Christ, his redemption, and his glorious return.
She was of the opinion that every believer had direct responsibilities before god and was supposed to worship according to what their conscience told them. Terry said her family attended the First Baptist, which is why she came to be the member of the community (by upbringing and partially – rational choice). All persons were respected there, regardless of their ethnicity, age, or gender.
As for the future of her community and religion in general, she maintained the First Baptist would continue its excellent social works (like training leaders and pastors, teaching the scriptures, advocating for women and minorities) and unite diverse people under the rule of Christ. The community is, therefore, aware of the social function of the church and is actively participating in its expansion. The church is targeting wider audience by including the Hispanic population and providing sermons in Spanish.
Religious Society of Friends
A small building housing the meetings of the Religious Society of Friends (another name for Quakers) in East 15th Street was a stark contrast to the somewhat pompous First Baptist complex. Doing my research on what the Friends believed in and how the worships were held, I learned an attendee was not required to dress formally. As I entered the premises, jeans and flannels seemed to predominate. The volunteer at the door welcomed me and showed me the way to the hall where the Friends were seated in a circle. The meeting was mostly silent, everyone prayed wordlessly on their own or meditated.
After the meeting, I asked Spike (which is not his real name), a man in his 40s, the same questions I asked Terry. Spike said he believed god’s grace was an experience, something that anyone could feel through prayer. He added that the prayer itself was “a very personal thing,” that everyone prayed the way they thought worked for them. Having learned about the Quakers by word of mouth, he came to one of the Friends’ meeting a broken man “overwhelmed by dark thoughts and unclean emotions” and found understanding and peace.
He said that the Friends welcomed everybody (although the majority seemed to be over 40). Spike also expressed his concerns about the world peace and stated that preserving peace was the Friends’ mission predetermining the future of the group. He hoped all people would someday realize the need for peace-keeping and share the convictions of the Quakers in this respect.
The Quakers are known to lean towards liberalism, although the interview and some more conversations created an impression they were holistic towards politics, with special emphasis put on the ideal of peace. Apart from the peace-keeping mission, the Religious Society of Friends is an educational institution, a place of discussion and artistic expression. It is not aimed at spreading the ideology; rather, the Society tries to individualize religious experience while simultaneously creating an atmosphere of shared practice.