On a July Fourth weekend, a slice of Christian Americana: the cowboy church is a new-old institution that seems to be roping its fair share of believers.
[H]ere, Jesus might have worn boots instead of sandals. And maybe he'd talk about cattle instead of sheep. Speculation aside, the folks at the cowboy church know three things for certain: They love Jesus, they love the rodeo and they love the West. Combine the three and you get a growing trend in Arizona: cowboy church. About 730 churches across the country are registered on the cowboychurch.net network. Most are in Texas, but 18 are in Arizona. Pruit started his church four years ago, but the movement has been around for decades.
"They bring a rural kind of mentality almost with a family emphasis," said Chip Moody, the dean of students at Phoenix Seminary. "And yet at the same time, they hang on to that rugged individualism that the cowboy way kind of encourages."
...."I see that one day there will be a big roundup," [churchgoer Rhonda] Evans said after a Sunday morning service. "Jesus will be there and he will let the ones in that have his brand, and if you're not branded by the blood of Jesus Christ, on that great roundup day you'll be separated out," she said.
Not that we'd all agree with this interpretation of Matthew 25, mind you.
For some reason this reminds me of those NASCAR themed caskets you can now get for your loved one once his "race is run" - y'know, religion hyper-specialized to the tribe one belongs to. On the other hand, what is denominationalism if not a kind of Christian tribalism? I mean, who's to say that Cowboy Church isn't doing something effective for the cause of Christ?
You can't just sneeze at tack-and-saddle religion and walk away. I know because I used to. The first church I served out of seminary was deep in the heart of Texas, where I confronted and finally came to terms with my inner cowboy. Then, when I moved to Colorado to serve a second church, our family's neighbors were the Colorado Cowboys for Jesus - really good musicians with hearts and minds for God. Stretched me like taffy; I'm the better for it, though.