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Eulogizing Elvis

It was the summer of 1977. I was fresh out of high school, living on my own, generally disinterested in the church but not yet an atheist. Once a month I attended the church I grew up in, and sat with my parents. They'd be happy to see me in church, and afterwards I could score a good Sunday dinner and use the washing machine.

Elvis Presley had died a few days earlier, and to my surprise the pastor mentioned it as he began his sermon. If he wanted to get my attention, it worked. Usually this old fogey minister preached about Noah or Moses or Jesus and I would promptly zone out, but on this Sunday morning, if the pastor was going to eulogize Elvis, I was listening.

Except he didn't eulogize Elvis; he ripped the dear departed icon a new one. He condemned Elvis and the Beatles and rock and roll in general, and went on and on about the evils of modern music and modern society. I remember one line from early in the sermon, verbatim: “He called himself The King. Well, he was the King of nothing. There is only one King, and that is Jesus.”

After about five minutes of Elvis-bashing and equating rock and roll to blasphemy, Danny Wiggins stood up and said, “You're just wrong.” The whole church was hushed. Danny was a few years older than me, 22 or 24, and he had always been a “good kid” who took the church and Christianity seriously. But on this day the good kid stood in his pew and said loudly, “You're just wrong. Elvis was a good man. He was a Christian. He said so, and I have no reason to doubt him. He sang Christian music when he wasn't singing rock and roll. He never set himself up as a competitor to Christ. Everything you're saying about him is just not true.” And with that, Danny walked out of the sanctuary and out of the building, while the pastor and a few church elders called out after him.

From a different section of the sanctuary, an older woman (about 30) and her husband took their toddler and wordlessly followed Danny out, while the pastor stood and sputtered at the pulpit. I wasn't a big fan of Elvis, or even of rock and roll really, and besides, I was sitting with my parents and wanted my dinner and laundry privileges, so I remained seated and enjoyed the show more than any church service I'd ever seen.

After a minute, the pastor looked at his notes and resumed his sermon from the point he'd left off, and the modern Exodus continued: two young men I didn't know walked out, followed a few minutes later by the only black guy in the congregation, and after that by a couple in their 40s. There were no further outbursts from the audience, but by the time the sermon ended, eleven people had left. Several of the church's younger members who hadn't stormed out gave the pastor a piece of their mind afterwards.

Danny Wiggins never set foot in the church again, and when I ran into him a few years later he was a wholehearted atheist. I don't know whether any of the others who walked out eventually returned, but I hope not. Within a few years I was gone permanently, though not for Elvis-related reasons.

That's my happiest memory of attending church. That minister had always been a mean old man, and he gave his congregation a choice — believe in God or believe in music. Several of them made a choice he hadn't expected. It was a Sunday that really rocked the church, pun intended.


  1. chuck dunbar August 19, 2020

    Man, that’s a well-told, cool tale–thanks much.

    • chuck dunbar August 19, 2020

      The second reply is from another Chuck, not me, I’m the first one. Still think it’s a great story.

  2. Chuck August 19, 2020

    Sorry you chose atheism. Do your research on Jesus. You will find. Him totally reliable.

  3. Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello August 19, 2020

    You may not know this, but Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York influenced Pope Pius the XII to issue a non written directive to all grammar, middle and high schools for girls WORLDWIDE, not inckuding colleges, to instruct all school directors to tell their students that if they attended an Elvis concert they would be kicked out. The directive took hold in March of 1957 and it was only put into effect by a High school convent in Montreal, when they caught six of their students travelling to Ottawa to catch his show there, after the Canadian Catholic Church put pressure to have his show in Montreal cancelled. Elvis gave only 27 shows in 1957, none in 1958 then he was drafted, and since he didnt tour again until 1970, the directive went nowhere. Pope Pius XII died in 1958, and although Popes Johan XXIII and Paulus VI kept the directive on, in theory, Elvid died in 1977 and Pope John Paul II, later St John Paul II, without mentioning Elvis, acknowledged the Catholic church had not properly understood the music of youngsters. . Since Elvis was the only artist they tried to ban, his name did not need to be mentioned. Of course, the FBI after Spellman’s death, in 1967, leaked to a reporter what they had on him, namely that he was the most recurring sexual predator in the history of the North American Catholic Church, his victims, all young priests that ever came near him. Spellman was not resposnible for the June 1956 article bashing Elvis in “America””, the Jesuits’magazine, but on the way to Rome, in January of 1957, for whatever reaosons, he decided to tell the Pope that he had a huge problem in the US, and the name of that problem was Elvis Presley, And that is why the Pope issued the non written directive,.

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