"Why don't you guys move to the front row?"
Why? Because I'm a grown-up human man and I decided where I wanted to sit when I walked into church this morning. Are we really going to have this conversation? Again?
I'm sitting here because I have free will and volition, and while that may be as a result of the original sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, I'm not sure that's a reason not to choose a seat and sit in it.
I'm 38. I've been a Christian for 20 years. I have a large beard and several tattoos. I know you can't have mistaken me for a child. And yet here you are, treating me like one. I mean, I don't want to be unpleasant, and I don't want to cause a scene, but when you put this kind of emphasis on where I'm sitting while I try to worship God, I feel like you're asking me to worship your own insecurity.
It's 2015. Just stop.
Here are some things I'd like to stop hearing on this subject:
1. "It looks so empty up here!"
Only to you, buddy. From the back row this place looks fuller than a Delirious? concert (in 2001). It's really only you – up there on the stage – who thinks this looks as sparsely populated as a Delirious? concert (in 2013). God certainly doesn't. Remember God? The guy you keep telling us this is all about? If a fire alarm goes off, he will not need to check the register to know how many people are here. He can see through walls and stuff. He won't be impressed by a packed front row.
Sure. I guess it must feel intimidating, right, to be up there and feel like everyone is cowering away from you. But man up. Or, indeed, woman up. If worship is not about me, then it's also probably not about you. And while I might, for the sake of encouragement, snuggle up close to the pastor or cuddle the worship leader mid-song if they're new and green and nervous and scared, I'm not going to do it for you, million-time veteran of this particular rodeo. Not because I don't love you, but because you don't really need me to.
And anyway, how is more people, closer to you somehow less intimidating?
I'm not trying to be difficult. I just want you to stop asking. Please.
2. "I feel so lonely up here!"
Do you? Do you really, though? There's like, 50 people in here. All staring at you. All waiting to hear you interpret, speak for and explain God to them. I guess that is pretty lonely. But if the kind of lonely pressure you're feeling can be assuaged by having me sit five feet closer to you, I wonder if either you're not really feeling the pressure or you're focusing on the wrong thing. If being within literal spitting distance of me is going to make that much difference, I wonder – and I know this is harsh – if what you're going to tell me is all that wise.
I know it shouldn't, but it makes me angry when you do this to me. When you pull me out of my comfort zone so that you don't have to leave yours. And it makes me wonder if when you say "I'm lonely up here" what you really mean is "man, I love the feeling of being in control."
Don't make me think you're playing Wizard's Chess up there, moving your human pawns. Don't do that to me. I'm not a good person and it's hard enough for me to come to church and listen for God. Don't make me jump that hurdle too.
3. "You pay more attention up front."
No, I don't. I pay more attention when I haven't just been shunted about by a pulpit Napoleon.
4. "One day I'm just going to remove the back row, lol"
One day I am going to flip out. Seriously.
Go ahead. You will not have removed the back row, genius. You've shifted it. There's still a back row. Is it okay if I sit in that back row? No. Of course not. BECAUSE YOU'RE NEVER HAPPY.
Do you want to know why I sit in the back row? Honestly? Because I'm fat. I'm fat and self-conscious about plumber's crack and sweat stains and my backside spilling over the sides of the chair and the people behind me chuckling at the sight. Or feeling disgusted. Or thinking I'm ugly or ridiculous. There. You made me say it. Is it okay now if I sit there, no-complex guy?
Thing is, whether my reason is that, a nervousness about not having my back to the wall or just a preference for sitting at the back out of long habit, what is it to you? Are you here to serve or be served? I know you're going to ask the same of me, but does it really make sense to make eight people (ten people, 20 people, three!) move for no reason other than you'd like them to?
5. The Joy Gambit
The Joy Gambit is the worst. You know: God is alive, look happy! The Lord Jesus died for you, the least you could do is sit in the front row. What the actual what kind of weird, twisted Calvinism are you believing that suggests spiritual progress can be discerned by where someone sits in the church?
If the job of leading in a service is to get out of the way and let God work, do that. If it is to lead and inspire, go wild. If it is to impart knowledge, discern messages from God or just create a safe, comfortable space in which others can worship, spectacular. None of those require me to be able to smell the bacon and eggs you ate this morning.
I'm an attentive congregant. I make regular eye contact. I don't check Facebook and pretend it's a Bible app. I laugh on cue, whether or not the joke is funny and I nod a lot to encourage you.
That should be enough. Leave the geospatial location of my buttocks out of it.
6. "The back row is for late-comers."
Okay, that is a pretty solid argument, not going to lie. But I've committed to this. Plus, if they're late, why shouldn't they have to sit at the front? Why punish me so they don't have to be? I knew there was something funny about penal substitution!
Seriously though, make latecomers sit in the front row.
7. "Church has become so consumerist."
I mean, yeah, totally. If you mean our participation in the Capitalist mammon-worshiping spiral of panic-ridden spending to mediate existence, sure. If you mean we should never express a preference for anything or notice that we have a choice as to where to worship, no.
Wanting to choose from the non-allocated selection of seating provided by the church is not "consumerist". I'm not asking for reclining chairs with pop-up footrests, I'm not asking for beanbags, swivel function or hammocks (though there's an idea). I'm asking to be allowed, if there's space and I'm there in time, just to sit where I want to without tutting and jovial admonitions or any other profoundly irritating trespass on my autonomy.
I obey so many limits and constraints. I try to follow the speed limit, I park only in marked bays, I queue like a good English soldier and I always colour inside the lines. Can't you let me, just in this little area, really cut loose and go wild and channel my inner Keith Moon? You know, by sitting quietly on a moderately comfortable chair to attend a church service?
I know this isn't important. It's not going to revolutionise the Church or affect souls saved and lives transformed. But if we could be the generation to eradicate seating fascism in Church, I think we will have done future generations a good turn. Say it with me:
Let's stop the row-hop.
Jonathan Langley is a freelance writer and works for a Christian mission and development agency.