Maybe it was the return of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” for a second season, but this Halloween it seemed zombies took the place of vampires as the favorite nightmare of the American imagination.
To cite one example, thousands of people paid $20 for the privilege of being scared to death at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. This fright-fest takes the traditional haunted house to a new level by allowing patrons to walk through 100,000 square feet of zombie infested city. Zombies are the monsters du jour.
What is it about a zombie that is so scary? Isn’t it exactly the fact that a zombie is almost-but-not-quite-human?
The most frightening scene of any zombie movie is when the hero is confronted with a loved one who has been turned into a zombie. The zombie might look like the hero’s mother. The hero might feel the love that he felt for his mother. But it isn’t his mother anymore. It is now a mindless monster that wants to eat him alive. Will the hero succumb to his emotions, let his guard down, and allow his mother-turned-zombie to make him into a zombie, too?
The creepy thing about zombies is that zombies are almost, but not quite, familiar to the living. They seem like people, but they are not people. Sigmund Freud called this state of eerie foreign/familiarity “the uncanny.”
A few weeks ago, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, publically proclaimed Mormonism a cult during his endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry for president. Jeffress was responding to the fact that two other Republican presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, are themselves Mormon.
Jeffress assures us that he believes that Mormons are nice, kind, moral people. They simply are not, in his opinion, real, orthodox Christians. Jeffress’ comments were echoed by other Southern Baptist and conservative evangelical leaders all over the country. All wanted to make known that Mormons might look, act and talk like Christians, but they are not “real” Christians at all. They are different.
This almost-but-not-quite-Christian difference is what got me thinking about zombies.
The whole point of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC beginning in 1979 was to spark a “resurgence” in the life of the convention. Their theory was that taking over the Southern Baptist Convention in the name of biblical inerrancy and fundamentalist doctrinal purity would pave the way for an explosion in church growth and missions giving. Thirty years later, they continue to argue amongst themselves as church attendance continues to fall. Giving to their Cooperative Program for missions and ministry continues to decrease. The SBC has such an image problem they are considering a name change.
By contrast, Mormons out-Southern Baptist the Southern Baptists by almost any measure. Their children all serve as missionaries and their numbers are growing. Mormons generally have a reputation of being socially conservative, nice people with good family values. What’s more, many Mormon converts were previously Southern Baptist.
Isn’t this simply a version of the basic plot of any zombie movie? They are trying to turn us into them.
From the viewpoint of many Southern Baptists, Mormons are Southern Baptist zombies. Mormons hold the same family values as Southern Baptists. They talk about Jesus like Southern Baptists. They send out missionaries like Southern Baptists. They baptize people like Southern Baptists. But they believe the wrong things about Jesus, God and the Bible. For many members of the SBC, Mormons’ foreign/familiarity leaves them with the same creepy feeling we all get when we watch a George Romero movie.
Mormons are beating the Southern Baptists by the SBC’s own measures of success. The worst part is that Mormons are succeeding while holding theological tenets that Southern Baptists believe are anything but orthodox.
Perhaps this is the most frightening thing for Southern Baptists about Mormons. Mormons make a lie out of one of the most basic SBC denominational principles: correct doctrinal belief leads to spiritual success. And that scares Southern Baptists to death.