I’m not a personal fan of Sunday Assembly — that’s fine if it floats your boat (it doesn’t mine), but the whole idea of aping a church bugs me a little bit. Is this the best we can aspire to? Developing our own hokey rituals?
But at least it’s not the worst model. The day movement atheists start promoting services patterned on Heath Mooneyham’s Ignite church of Joplin, Missouri is the day I become a Catholic. Wait, no, I retract that — there’s too much danger it could actually happen.
Mooningham is the “redneck pastor”, a toxically manly kind of guy who worships dudebro Jesus and the cult of the gun.
Notably absent are crucifixes, inspirational proverbs or any other Christian iconography you might expect to see in the home of a spiritual leader. I didn’t even see a Bible.
“I don’t need a bunch of shit on my walls to tell you that I love Jesus,” Mooneyham says.
He takes me down to a secret room on the lower level and flips a switch to reveal an arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns and ammunition. His most cherished weapon is a .50 BMG sniper’s rifle, which can tear through a target more than a mile away. Church members chipped in $3,800 to buy it for him in celebration of Ignite’s fifth anniversary last year.
“You pull that trigger and it makes your pecker hard,” he says.
You can guess how he treats women.
After a few more pints, the pastor starts in on a second female bartender. “Are you coming?” he asks, taking a long pause to let the sexual innuendo set in. “I mean tomorrow. To church.” The men all laugh.
The uncomfortable employee sizes up the hulking man in front of her with the mohawk and tattoos in a football jersey and says no, she doesn’t plan on going to church.
“What’s the matter? Do you have freakin’ daddy issues?” he persists. Actually, her father is a Baptist minister. The pastor has struck out, but Brad Blankenship, Mooneyham’s friend and cousin, offers a more aspirational interpretation. “That’s a real chick at a real job that’s been ruined by religion,” he says. “That’s the type of person who needs to hear Heath’s message.”
Watch the highlight reel…I mean, lowlight…to see how he reacts to other kinds of people.
It does appeal to a certain type of person, I guess.
After the crowds have filed out, I notice Todd Ebbinghaus in the lobby, mostly because he has a beard that extends to his chest and baseball cap with “redneck” written across it. “This place truly takes down any barrier that could prevent you from hearing God,” says the 40-year-old beer-maker, who also happens to be a software engineer. “I keep telling my friends there’s a lot of hot chicks here,” he says. “And they’re looking for dudes with big balls.”
There’s a lot of talk about balls. I guess this is the church for people who love their testicles, think with their testicles, and want others to worship their testicles.