Some churches think the word “wretch” in the hymn “Amazing Grace” should be changed to “soul.” They say “saved a wretch like me” sounds harsh.
The members of one church in Denver, however, may feel the word “wretch” is too namby-pamby. The Scum of the Earth Christian Church pushes "plain talk" to a whole new level.
Scum of the Earth (“Scum” for short) sidesteps the “in crowd” to search for the “out crowd.” The church caters to outcasts — the homeless, Goths, gangsters — anyone who feels shunned.
Founded 17 years ago by Mike Sares as a Denver street ministry, the church’s name comes from the New International Version of 1 Corinthians 4:13:
“Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”
(The King James version reads: “We are made as the filth of the world and are the offscouring.”)
The last time I was in Denver I went by Scum to look around. In its building and worship, the church is pretty much straight ahead evangelical. One volunteer describes it as “no frills” but “not radical.”
What sets Scum apart isn't its theology but its congregation.
The faithful in the pews include “punks, skaters, ravers” along with the pierced and tattooed crowd, according to the church’s website at scumoftheearth.net.
Posting on Yelp, where people review everything from religion to roller derby, one anonymous parishioner went even further.
“There is a definite need for a church like Scum in every area, not just Denver,” he writes. “There will always be those fringe believers who would never go to church unless they could come wearing fishnets, come barefoot, or even come with a heavy, alcohol-induced swagger.”
“I love Scum. I truly do.”
The church also uses tools that suit its followers. Podcasts are plentiful. There are comic books, cooking classes, song lyrics and videos.
For me — being pierceless and tattooless — the whole thing calls to mind the Christian Ragamuffin movement started by author Brennan Manning many years ago. It was Manning’s contention that we are tattered street urchins. We’re bruised, battered and looking for relief.
Scum seems to agree with the notion, then pushes the envelope.
It's a prison ministry without the cell blocks.
It's salvation without the Army.
It’s where people who fear the night feel safe.
And say what you will about the church’s approach, it’s gaining traction. Already a branch of the church has started in Seattle with other outposts on the drawing board.
Of course the church has its critics. Pat Buchanan, in his book “Suicide of a Superpower,” mentions the church by name and asks, “Is this a manifestation of the real strength of Christianity, or does it instead sound like disintegration, the loss of the unity of the People of God?”
The jury is still out on that one.
But for now, the pierced and tattooed ragamuffins seem to be voting with their feet. And their feet are taking them to church every Sunday at Scum.