Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Cream? Sugar? Eternal Salvation?

Gay Erasmus posted a story about an evangelical-Christian couple running an ex-gay cult out of an Australian Gloria Jean's. It made me wonder, just what is the deal these days with evangelicals and coffee?

Before Gay Erasmus, I assumed that the link between coffee and Christian conversion had been limited to my provincial settings. Then again, everything in this town has a dark Christian element. Heck, I can’t pick up my dry cleaning without having to listen to the good word. Still, I like their Judgement-Day specials that give my shirts extra starch for half price.

Every independent coffee house in this small Texas town reeks of moldering Christian piety. The local university newspaper even ran a (celebratory) full-length article documenting the ways that local java shacks double as Bible enclaves. “About 90 percent of our patrons are Christians,” one saved employee noted, “You can just tell from the Bibles on their tables and from the conversations that go on around the shop.”

They don't just keep those Bibles to themselves, either. A Jewish colleague once told me how an eager patron attempted to convert him over an espresso and cranberry muffin.

I consider myself a spiritual person, but would never identify as Christian. It always seemed like human hubris to assume we know all the complexities of the universe. Organized religion of all types seems to bring much suffering. Still, whatever evangelical Christians want to believe is fine by me. If they think I am going to hell, that’s okay because I don’t think they will end up in a pleasant place in the afterlife either.

When evangelical Christians start infiltrating coffee shops, though, they are intruding on what’s mine. You don’t see me trying to open all-night gay porn shops in their vestibules – yet. So, why are they trying to make scoring a java blast an opportunity to pass along their propaganda?

During the mornings and afternoons, coffee shops are supposed to be a refuge for academics and the fringe of society looking to ponder their existence with a caffeine buzz. At night, they should become a haven for drunks and Goth posers. Everybody entering a decent coffee shop should at least pause to think warmly about the Beat Generation, if they aren’t actually composing a beat poem right then and there. Wearing a beret and goatee is optional, but preferred.

Maybe this is why I can trust Mormons a bit more than evangelical Protestants. Yeah, Mormonism is just as insidious as other forms of Protestantism. Mormons hate everybody different from themselves. They hate sex. They hate gays. They hate birth control. They hate sheep (Uh -- I think). They hate women. Mormon’s anti-caffeine, anti-liquor stance, though, means I hardly ever encounter their crazy asses. If an eatery doesn’t offer either caffeine or liquor, I’m not showing up. Mormons don't come to my bars and coffee shops and I don't go to their stake houses or temples. We understand and respect each other’s space.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know creepy evangelical Christians have a right to open whatever business they want. Obviously, these Christian shops don’t get any of my money. If other caffeine-craving customers wish to substitute communion wafers for biscottii, that’s their own affair. I pray for them.

I see this as a much more serious problem, though. Bringing evangelical Protestantism into the coffee business threatens to make coffee radically uncool. We can’t allow that to happen. GayProf needs a decent cup of joe, people, that doesn’t involve scripture.

Evangelical Protestants aren’t content to just bring misery to their own coffee shops. Even faceless, soulless Starbucks© earned evangelicals’ wrath. Protestants couldn’t believe that they would have to drink coffee from a paper cup that quoted openly-gay Armistead Maupin. They probably imagined that their lips would soon be flamming.

What bothers me more than anything about the Christian coffee shops is that it seems radically inauthentic. These local shop owners claim they want to use coffee as a means to help others. Bullshit. These evangelical entrepreneurs just want to fatten up their own pocketbook. If they really had altruistic inclinations, they would be running soup-kitchens instead of steaming up $5 frothy mocha lattes.

Christianity has become another form of capitalistic branding. Why would you want to buy heathen coffee when you can have born-again Guatemala Estate? Why not buy a special $50 t-shirt to show you are a chosen one? There is nothing holy in these enterprises. I am confident, as well, that these Christian java shops don’t make any attempt to obtain fair-trade coffee, either. They don’t need to worry about the working conditions or human suffering that brought that coffee. These evangelicals can tell they are doing good by counting the number of Bibles on their customer’s tables.

Last night at the gym, I actually saw an ad for a day-spa that promised a facial and back massage “from a Christian perspective.” What the hell? I can only imagine that a Christian massage involves your masseuse making you feel guilty for having a massage in the first place.

Can Christian bars be far behind? Come to think of it, that might be an organized religion that I could get behind. Every cocktail could be counted as a prayer up to heaven. Of course, there would be a two prayer minium on weekends. Don’t bother, though, trying to go to confession unless you order a full round of prayers. The preacher isn’t going to want to hear your sins for the price of beer.


Roger Owen Green said...

My recent favorite infusion of evagelistic Xianity is Xian yoga. But instead of using the Hindu, you say "Praise Jesus!" or whatnot. Really. Saw it on ABC NEWS last week.

Obviously, the non-solution in your case is to start a gay-friendly coffee house. But since you work in a town that a friend of mine used to work, and she described all of the folks driving around with gun racks on their trucks, I guess that wouldn't really work, would it?

tornwordo said...

The last time I ran into some Mormon missionaries, I asked them (after they STARTED a conversation), "at your age, do you really think you're qualified to be teaching me, a man over twice your age? You know, I'm christ reincarnated, but no one seems to believe me. And I'm really having second thoughts about dying for your sins again, this place sure has changed."

It was so funny to watch them stammer and slink away.

Anonymous said...

Mormons are anti-coffee, but not anti-caffeine--they guzzle coke and pepsi by the gallon.
I'm glad you posted the stalking notice about Wilmer Valderrama. I'd wondered who that was--I almost tripped over you the other night when I was stalking him myself.

Anonymous said...

This coffee house phenonemon doesn't seem to spread up here, praise the goddess! I like my coffee strong, and without biblical platitudes.

However, a fundy co-worker was talking about some christian aerobics class thing she was taking in the basement of her church!? Apparently they do their modestly dressed aerobics while listening to only christian music. Uh huh. Whatever.


GayProf said...

Dean:Holy crap! You're stalking FEZ?

I prefer to think of him as the new Ponch.

Margo, darling said...

As I was reading this, I was thinking, no way, coffee is sooo not Christian to me, because I grew up Mormon and still associate coffee with "wildness," though I drink it happily. (My marriage to a Mormon man ended the day I drank coffee in front of him--I'm not kidding.) So I was delighted that you made the connection in the post. Christians drinking coffee still seems wordly and exotic to me. Which would explain why I'm the only person in the world who thinks the parents on 7th Heaven are kind of kinky.

For the record, Mormons love sex (hello? lots of wives=quadruple the sex!) just not extra-marital sex; they totally believe in birth control (they value big PLANNED families--they're not Catholics, for god's sake), and the whole anti-caffeine thing is really fuzzy, Ryan. The Word of Wisdom just warns against "strong" drinks. Different Mormons interpret it different ways. In my family it meant no caffeine at all, which made for some awkward and dorky birthday party moments for me as a child. BYU only offers caffeine-free versions of Coke and Pepsi--you have to go off-campus for a real Coke.

Kalv1n said...

Once again, it depends on how crazy your mormons are (crazy, extra-crazy, bat-sh*t crazy) and the stance on caffeine. I remember in my teenage years hearing the prophet (ugh, mormon's call their leader that) say you should not drink caffienated beverages. But, there is a debate, and the craziers will tell stories about how people's lives were ruined by caffeine. AND I LOVE MARGO DARLING's story. My mother now says that everyone who gets divorced does so because of pornography and not extramarital affairs (and in every case she talks about there has been an extramarital affair), so maybe they really do love sex. Actually, the first time I drank coffee in front of my mother she cried.

And you really need to stop the whole invasion of the coffee shops. Maybe you could have a counter-movement take some people from the gym and be really flaming. And please let there be a Christian bar, hell, a Christian gay bar. I don't dislike Christians, but they usually want people to be Christian too, and then I won't have to deal with any sort of disapproval (I know this isn't always the case, I'm being general).

Oso Raro said...

Aren't coffee houses so, um, I dunno, so 90s? I remember going to coffee houses and sitting and writing and reading, and then later, when they banned smoking, doing that on lovely terraces shaded by bamboo and bougainvillea. But Cold City doesn't seem to offer many terraces of note (unless you love a burst of diesel smoke and winter dust in your foamy Cap), and I tend to prefer my own Venezuelan coffee made chez Moi (that's what having a Venezuelan lover will do to you).

Of course, in Venezuelan, ubiquitous shots of strong expresso coffee (served in small plastic cups and drunk very hot and very fast) and cheap gasoline are the right of the citizen, apparently. I swear instead of mother's milk Venezuelans feed their children with their rich, delicious coffee and look at the result? Argumentative, passionate, poetic, Glamazon women with stilettos that will pierce your chest cavity or pug generals or office drones, all pining for their eight (yes, girl, that's 8) shots of expresso per day, minimum.

All of which is to say, when I venture into coffee houses today and see the ubiquitous slackers and poseurs and collectionneuses lazing about with their IBooks and IPods and Palm Pilots and cell phones, all disconnected yet "connected," I'd rather eat nails than sit amongst their kith and kin. Which is probably why I prefer Tab. The Christian element is just enough to have me start a campaign to ban them in their entirety. Don't these people have any shame? I don't mind what they do at home, but when they force us in public to see their disgusting practices, that's just too much. Ew!

GayProf said...

Margo, Darling and Kalvin: Thanks for the info on Mormons. I didn't know they allowed birth control. Good for them!

Oso: Coffee, no matter where it is served, will never be dated -- ever.

Conor Karrel said...

Ouch! I remember going to coffee shops and talking about the crazy christians and there wacky ways. Now they're invading them? Where am I supposed to go now?

Maybe I should get my herbal tea (yeah, coffee's just gross to me, sorry) and take a couple of my friends into their pews and complain about them there, see how they like it!

Elizabeth McClung said...

First - there are Mormon ex-gay programs too (just a odd thought)

And second - if they really wanted to help me - they would offer me coca leaves to chew - actually you can't get a evangelical coffee round here - since we all worship the almighty chain coffee round here - that's why I do my people watching at the drug store counter - far less Christian and someone might leave behind some pills!

Truth be told - I can usually tell a christian establishment from the force field that goes up when I try to enter - or the soul sucking music that is playing when I get inside.

Aethlos said...

love coffee, loathe religion.

Anonymous said...

Dear GayProf,
I came across this blog, and, as a Christian in the sense that I believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible [not as a Catholic, Mormon, Pentecostal, Baptist, Bapti-costal, Anglican, Weslyan, Protestant, nor any other denomination], decided to share your concern.

The first thing those small-town, pompous, religion-pushing people need to learn is that people like you are always watching and discerning their actions. It is apparent they are not showing the Love of God as much as "shoving" the Word of God in peoples faces.

I am also from a small town that also has a religous spirit, turning people away from God because they can't get past their wooden pews, evangelical preachers, and heavy black bibles to see that people do not follow things blindly, so restricted and conformist, without question as to "Why" without a real, tangible response.

They can spend their time and money in these businesses, and as you put it "capitalistic branding" for a "bumper-sticker" faith that gets them nowhere, merely turning people away from God, because they are so disgusted with people shoving all this bullcrap in their face all the time.

It's in what you believe in your heart and what you do, not what you say, where you go, or what you sell or show that makes Christianity anywhere near believable or understandable.

The people you are referring to are not "Christians" but are the screwed-up result of the power-hungering dictators [the leaders of the Early churches] who needed a reason to take money from the poor and ignorant.

Things haven't changed much, have they?

Anonymous said...

Christian bars. One was started in my town about two summers ago. It lasted all of six months. The added irony to this is that the owners fleeced the investor for about 50K. I guess you just can't trust those Christians, especially when they're playing around with alcohol.

Dorian said...

My favorite stealth Christian business is Southern California based In-N-Out Burger. There's nothing quite like discoving Bible codes printed on a hamburger wrapper on the bottom of your soda cup.

Margaret said...

I was traumatized when I learned about the connection between coffee and christians when I moved to the midwest 6 yrs ago. I *expected* the coffeeshops to be filled with left-leaning bibliophiles. And then I noticed that all the conversations were about being saved. NOOOOOOOO!

Personally, I think there's some connection between born-agains and AA members, who also love the java.

WM said...

Sign me up for the Christian massage!???
I'm with you all the way, especially the bit about organised religions having not very much to do with spirituality. I'm amazed that these are still legal and not outlawed by the Geneva Conventions or something. Oh, and thanks for coming by chez moi...

Gay Erasmus said...

Hi there Gay Prof,

Interesting post. Just to clarify, the CEO of Gloria Jean's in Australia is the CFO of Hillsong Church, the largest Pentecostal church in Australia, known for the rabidly anti-gay sentiments of its ministers and congregation.

GJ's apparently donates 10% of its total national earnings to Hillsong each year. Having said that, GJ's are everywhere, including Oxford St, Sydney's main queer strip, and the owners of individual GJ's often may not have known that GJ's and Hillsong are linked together.

For me, as a queer Christian, the two big points in this whole ex-gay ministry issue are: watch out for Hillsong ex-gay programmes; their ministry sucks. And watch out for GJ's; their coffee sucks.

I love being gay, and I *lurve* caffeine. Hillsong ex-gay ministry and GJ's are hazardous to my and other young queer people's happiness.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like SOMEONE who doesn't love Jesus needs to get coffee at the 18th and Castro Starbucks in SF. I've seen people on their knees there, but I doubt they were praying!

Malaika said...

Fez IS hot

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is why I can trust Mormons a bit more than evangelical Protestants. Yeah, Mormonism is just as insidious as other forms of Protestantism. Mormons hate everybody different from themselves. They hate sex. They hate gays. They hate birth control. They hate sheep (Uh -- I think). They hate women. Mormon’s anti-caffeine, anti-liquor stance, though, means I hardly ever encounter their crazy asses. If an eatery doesn’t offer either caffeine or liquor, I’m not showing up. Mormons don't come to my bars and coffee shops and I don't go to their stake houses or temples. We understand and respect each other’s space.

Margo, Darling is right: Mormons don't hate birth control. And I sort of agree with her that they don't hate sex: I would sum up the view of sex I was given as a young Mormon woman as, "Sex is filthy and disgusting; save it for someone you love." And there are plenty of books to help Mormon couples achieve "intimacy," and I once planned to do a rhetorical analysis of them, but then I realized I'd have to read a bunch of them, and that killed that idea.

As for the other stuff, it's true: Mormons hate a lot of things. And they claim they don't want to eradicate these things: tea isn't intrinsically evil, we would tell the good people of Taiwan when I was a Mormon missionary there; it's not a problem that this plant exists. It's just that consuming tea is a sin you must repent of, and swear never to do again--if you want to be a Mormon, which you must be to earn the right to enter heaven.

And the church spends MILLIONS of its own money--and church members spend MILLIONS of their own money as well--to send young people out into the world with the avowed purpose of getting everyone else to hate these things too.

I don't really think that constitutes a reason to trust them.