(Mostly) pejorative Anglican
slang for various Charismatic
/Nondenominational churches and Anglicans influenced by them, their theology
, similar to "fluffy
" in the Wiccan world.
Happy-clappy churches are based on the notion that Christianity ought to be brought to the people, not people to Christianity. Therefore, anything that appears "churchy", from the look and layout of the building, to the style of music, must undergo a thorough facelift to appeal to mass contemporary sensibilities. Call it Christianity Lite, McJesus, or Wal*Christ.
For instance, take the Bible. If actually read, the Bible is full of all kinds of material, from straight-on history to wild allegorical poetry to downright earthy tales and imagery. The Psalms contain songs of despair, anger, and joy. It's an immensely complex book, and people have spent the better part of 1600 years debating about topics like "Is there one overarching theme to the Bible, or several?" "Should it all be taken literally, and if not, which parts are symbolic?" and "How does it really end? Is this like 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' or something?" However, if you're a happy clappy, there's only one way to interpret the Bible.
It's a love letter. A passionate, thrilling love letter written by Jesus, to the World. Reading the Bible is a warm, loving, soothing activity, where He yearns for us, and wants to make us happy. Really. He loves you so, he's written a whole big book that tells you everything you need to know in life! Isn't that just sweet of him? Wars and whores, murder and legalism, sin and sorrow is all put aside in favor of passages about angels and lambs and Noah's Ark under a rainbow.
Because He wants you to be happy, you shouldn't be in those fusty old pews. No! You should have movie theater seats, folding chairs, or, for maximum comfort, be seated around tables, like a coffee shop or a nightclub. (Coffee is available in the rear.) Crucifixes are kind of a downer, so instead of a Corpus, put a few flowers, or a nice, fully clothed Jesus holding up his hands in a "milking the giant cow" position. Hymns also tend to turn people off, and organ music doubly so, so they've tossed out the Hymnal in favor of third rate rock and pop, played by the equivalent of a wedding band, with lyrics on par with grade school songbooks. Likewise, these songs are designed to be participatory, with handclaps and dancing encouraged, hence the term "happy clappy".
Likewise, the Cycle of the Christian Year, with its problematic Advent and Lent and other "downer" occasions is downplayed, or completely jettisoned, in favor of a yearlong Sunday Praise plus a few Holidays. What remains of, say, Holy Week, is a series of "fun" services less penitential and expressive of the Agony of Christ than merely curious customs, such as the procession and giveaway of Palm Sunday and the 'great noise' of Tenebrae, leading up to flower giveaways, eggs 'n' bunnies. The net effect is to take away the seasonal aspect of the Cycle, with its penitential Fall and last days of Winter and joyous Christmas in full winter and (if you've been following) downright ecstatic Eastertide in Spring, in favor of an air-conditioned effect, where every day is predictably 70°F, dry and sunny, and the flowers are always blooming, since they're made of silk.
And, oh yes, the sermons. Well, according to Anglican ritual, the Bible is supposed to be read in a fairly orderly fashion, with the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel roughly pointing to a shared theme, and the sermon is supposed to follow suit. While the overall message can be buttressed by reference to additional quotations, it's fairly clear that if all four quotations refer to fishermen or the sea, the sermon will probably not mention the Fall of Jericho.Interesting, if only because Anglicans are routinely accused of "not reading, or allowing parishoners to read the Bible".
In HappyClappyLand, the quotations are chosen at will by the preacher, who may well not even use a quotation as a source. Instead, the message will be some version of "God loves you." or "Ask, and thou wilt receive" -- since Jesus loves you so much, you should feel comfortable praying for any little thing that you might want, even something so small as getting preferential seating at a restaurant. As a matter of fact, pray for a raise, a new car! Yes, you will receive so abundantly … you can put more into the collection plate now, and rely on the miracle later, a point abundantly made by the more independent ministries and megachurches, which often integrate bookstores, health club facilities and restaurant services.
Running a second, there are various sermons about current events, which are not so much about faith, but an attempt to preach politics, a tendency that comes through with even the happiest of the non-denominationals: it's important to understand that Christian fundamentalism is far from being "old-time religion", but actually an incredibly new development, historically speaking, dating only from the turn of the last century. Most people in the Charismatic movement are and were self-taught, and have only the faintest idea of what happened in the faith between c.AD 100 and um, whatever their parents taught them.
Therefore, the more they can identify in peoples' minds with such images as the American Founding Fathers (who were deists and various shades of renegade Anglicanism) and apostolic Christianity (which would be just fine, but even the best scholars can't agree on the details), the more they can claim to be the "real" Christians. Therefore, social justice takes a back seat to judging individuals, in the manner of some conservatives.
Lurking behind these is salvation and repentance, although this is prettified into a process that sounds more like a diet or spa treatment than the actual, painful process that can be much more like being treated for cancer than getting de-stressed and have a couple of spots and wrinkles removed, while reading a love letter (from Jesus, naturally). In fact there are a whole lot of "Christian weight loss" plans out there, from "The Eden Diet" (which tells you God doesn't judge you by your weight or what you eat...um...I kind of heard gluttony is still a sin?) to "The Daniel Fast" (which is mostly vegan, with water the only drink, to be attempted in January, recipes and Bible quotations included). Come to think of it, there's a nice old late wintertime tradition of going vegetarian, doing without luxuries and examining your conscience...but unlike the others, you don't find it in an informercial, don't pay $29.99 in three installments, and don't have a chirpy lady telling you what a good choice you made.
Lastly, there's the Apocalypse. You'd think that a gentle, non-threatening view of Christianity would tend to downplay End Times echatology, but it stands there nonetheless. Just as happy-clappies dislike the past, they're equally sour on the future. Why worry about the long-term effect of anything, if Jesus is going to be coming any minute now, to make things right? Conversely, as fluffy Wicca hides a strongly bigoted and ignorant view of history, the happy clappies foster a profoundly pessimistic view of humanity: having been at its best in the Biblical period, we can only look forward to more wars, more corruption, and more cruelty. But it's OK! We're going to have Bible Study this Wednesday!
Not every Sunday calls for a thorny piece of medieval or baroque (or modern) music, not every prayer must be a fire and brimstone call for repentance, and church services don't have to be the mid-twentieth century torture I recall from childhood. In fact, there are pieces of rock music that I find quite spiritually inspiring (they're just not labeled "Christian Rock" as such), and once in a while, it's fun to fool around with the formula, go a little crazy and dance in church, the way it's fun every once in a while to go to a chain restaurant and eat fried heart attack special.
Unfortunately, fast food religion for me is well, like fast food. It's tasty and filling, but it doesn't necessarily scratch the itch, the way a good restaurant or home-cooked meal does. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel more in tune with my slightly off-center self surrounded by brocade banners and Gothic Revival shadows than cheery felt wall hangings in a well-lit auditorium. It's fascinating to hear the vast range of music that's been written for worship over the last thousand some-odd years -- just because very little of it has anything to do with 12 bars, three chords and 4/4 time doesn't necessarily alienate me. Instead, it gives me a feeling of something beyond myself, my life and times. Leaping around on Sunday morning is not necessarily something I might feel like doing -- I'm a New Englander, after all, and we're used to Sunday being restful and calming, the kind of time you want to eat brunch, listen to something that makes you feel smart, read the news, and get ready for the week ahead. And, let's face it, the I don't always feel "blessed" 24/7. I have my patches where I might feel morbid, sad, guilty, angry, or even indifferent, when I might just want to go in, work through my feelings and let myself go. And for that, I need an adult church that was designed, not for the lowest common denominator, but for everyone.
Besides, it makes real holidays feel so good!