Organized religion meets organized labor?

Southern Baptists are known for their brand of vocal, conservative Christianity and high visibility in the political arena. The movement found more headlines last month, when it instructed followers to pray for those lost in the “darkness” of Hinduism.

Green Lake has had a strong, devoted Southern Baptist following for many years, despite the obvious ironies of having Southern Baptists in Wisconsin. But cracks showed in their unified front this past week, as, for the first time, a religious group has unionized and gone on strike to protest religious conditions.

“It’s not that we disagree with the Convention,” says Manuel Flores, newly elected president of Southern Baptists Local 462, “we agree 100%. But add prayers for Hindus on top of everyone and everything else we’re supposed to pray for, and it’s just too much.”

Citing statistics that the average Southern Baptist is required to make at least 64 prayers a day as opposed to the two or three that other Protestants offer, Flores is demanding that the SBC come to the bargaining table and negotiate a fairer deal for Green Lake’s believers. “Less prayer, more power!” was the chant heard around town last week, as Flores and his union staged a large protest outside St. Reginald’s Church. The official strike manifesto calls for all union members to refrain from praying or attending services until they are given a shorter list of prayers.

Response from the bulk of Southern Baptists has been largely negative. SBC spokespersons have refused even to comment on the strike, though an anonymous source says that SBC religious “strikebreakers” armed with hymnals and a portable Casio keyboard will soon converge on Green Lake. “They’ll force them to do a few gospel numbers first… once [the union’s] resistance is broken, they’ll be back in line in no time.” St. Reginald’s pastor Joseph Dewayne has tried to act as a temper-quelling mediator, even writing a rotating prayer schedule as a potential compromise, but has met with little success.

The confrontation comes at a very bad time for Southern Baptists, who had finally won the first Hindu convert to their brand of Christianity. Oddly enough, it’s a Greek Lake local, as Don “Pickles” Reardon, 33, decided to throw off his Hinduism and join the Baptists. Now that the strike has hit town, Reardon has a dilemma on his hands.” I want to be part of the Green Lake Baptist community, but I don’t want the SBC to look at me as some lunatic. I’m the new guy, and so I’m stuck in the middle. I feel like Arjuna in the middle of the Mahabarata – oh wait, that’s evil now. Bad example.”

Outside analysts have suggested that the problem lies not necessarily with the SBC but with St. Reginald’s itself. A list of the congregation’s prayer list shows many items that don’t appear on the official SBC list, including Co-jack cheese (“mixing two cheeses without a blessing is impure), driving instructors (“that they may find the strength to keep drunks, criminals and those teenagers with the loud stereos from getting behind the wheel”) and even singer Art Garfunkel (“may he be our ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water'”). Union president Flores sees a larger issue than individual prayers. “Five years ago some nuns in Akron, Ohio were complaining that they had to use generic soup in their homeless kitchens instead of Campbell’s. They were all set to go on strike, but their bishop came to the table and made a good deal before things got drastic. Everybody won.”

For the time being, Reverend Dewayne preaches in an empty room, cheese goes unblessed and Green Lakers are getting used to the sounds of Manuel Flores and his union protesters: “We’re getting too much flak from the top, and it’s time for a change. And we pray things change soon. Wait… I mean we DON’T pray- this interview is over!”

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