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Don’t Let Pastors Off the Hook for What They Say From the Pulpit

fat preacher

Thanks to churches and ministries putting sermons online, the words of many Evangelical preachers are readily available to anyone who wants to access them. Throw in books, blog posts, and other forms of media, and the public has more access to the words of preachers than at any other time in the history of mankind. I preached 4,000+ sermons during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Many of my sermons were recorded on cassette tapes. However, it has been eighteen years since I preached a sermon that was recorded. I suppose it is possible that someone somewhere has a sermon tape or two of mine in a storage box in the back of their closet. I have asked former church members if they had any of my sermon tapes. If so, I would love to have them so I can put them online. Sadly, the tapes have either been discarded or recorded over with Highway to Hell by AC/DC. 🙂 Thus, I am somewhat safe from accountability for things I said in the past. All readers know about my sermons is what I tell them. They must rely on me to be truthful about the content of my sermons. That’s not the case today. Every word many Evangelical preachers say is readily available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Rarely does a week go by without conflict or outrage over something an Evangelical preacher has said in his sermon. Preachers can and do say awful things in their sermons. Evangelical preachers are known for attacks on the “world” and other Christians who disagree with them. The culture wars are verbalized Sunday after Sunday in Evangelical pulpits. Attacks on LGBTQ people, science, atheists, Muslims, liberals, progressives, and mainline Christians are common. Preachers frequently serve up advice in their sermons about marriage, sex, raising children, mental health, clothing, and all sorts of issues. In many churches, pastors are viewed as know-it-alls, God-called, Holy Spirit-filled dispensers of knowledge, wisdom, and truth. The opportunities to say something stupid, ignorant, or hateful are legion. The question, then, is whether these preachers MEANT to say what they did.

Generally, people say what they mean the first time they say it. When preachers say outlandish things in their sermons, they mean to say them. When criticism comes their way, preachers tend to either double down, explain that they were misunderstood, or on rare occasions say they were wrong. Evangelical preachers aren’t very good at admitting wrong. Typically, it’s hearers who are blamed for “misunderstanding” them. I choose to accept what they say at face value. When Evangelical preachers show themselves to be bigots, racists, misogynists, or homophobes, I believe them. They said what they meant to say regardless of how much pushback they received after fact.

These so-called men of God spend hours every week crafting their sermons. Most pastors don’t speak extemporaneously. They know beforehand what they intend to say. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. All told, I preached 4,000 sermons. That’s roughly 15 million words. (Since 2014, I have written 5,044,326 words for this site.) Outside of innocent mistakes, every word of my sermons I meant to say. I can only remember two times when I stood before the church and said I made a mistake in one of my sermons. I meant everything I said, even if my words offended or irritated people. The same goes for my writing on this site. I carefully think about everything write. When I hit publish, I am confident that wrote exactly what I wanted to say. That doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or have instances where I could have used different words. That happens, but not often. Having an editor helps me avoid bad word choices. Carolyn, when warranted, will say to me, “are you sure you want to say this?” or “are you sure you want to use this word?” Thus, when I say “Evangelicals are an existential threat to the United States,” I mean every word. Let the Evangelicals rage! 🙂

I have done a number of live media interviews over the past two years. I always try to speak thoughtfully and carefully. Sometimes, when I listen to the interviews, I find myself saying “I should have said this” or “I wish I hadn’t said that. People will misunderstand.” That’s the nature of live programming. I try my best to be honest and factual. I do, on rare occasions, make innocent mistakes. The offending preachers we are talking about in this post aren’t making “innocent” mistakes. They have every intention of being provocative, controversial, and inflammatory. That’s why they must be held accountable for what they say. And when they try to say that they were “misunderstood,” don’t believe them. When these preachers stand before their congregations and repudiate their words and admit that they were hateful, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, or homophobic and post their admissions to the Internet, then and only then will I believe and accept their mea culpas.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Some of the Southern Baptist churches in my area are talking these days about things that even you never got the opportunity to preach about. A few of the preachers are discussing Q Anon during services or at private evening gatherings.

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    My father was one of the few extemporaneous speakers I encountered and delivered his sermons prompted by small note cards with indecipherable handwriting. And like you he did not hold back from saying things that might upset people.

    He also was not recorded until late in his ministry. But I suspect his words didn’t stick with people long even when recorded. I can recall several sermons that were directly pointed at certain church members and their bad behavior, and in most cases they would greet my father after the service and tell him how good the sermon was, and that certain people in this church needed to listen.

    So he was protected by that strange force field that purges the preachers words from memory as soon as the parishioner leaves their favorite seat.

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    I have heard the “I was misunderstood” dodge many times. In online debates people will say things, and then claim it doesn’t mean what it says. So I accept the correction and respond to that. Then, quite frequently, they refuse to stand by the correction, and change again. Sometimes debating them is like trying to nail Jello to the wall.

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    I never recall being in churches in the Uk (with over 50yrs of sermon-listening under my belt) where the preacher railed against individuals or told his sheeple that the bible definitely says that yoga pants or bikinis or sliced bread etc etc are a sin. What I hated was that preachers felt they had to look at the news every week and appropriate an item in it, to spiritualise. Cos that showed they were cool and trendy. Like when ‘The Shape of Water’ won 4 Oscars, a preacher used it as ‘we need the shape of jesus, the cross in our lives.’ Or the pastor of my former church, during lockdown, minimised its impact by saying not knowing jesus is a whole lot more of a terrible future isolation than lockdown now…..the examples are endless, and I didn’t/don’t find them inspiring at all.

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    Greg Locke, Steven Anderson, and other hate preachers like them mean every vile, bigoted, mean thing they say “in the name of Jesus”. I am glad that their words are out there to shed a light on the dark underbelly of fundamentalist evangelicalism.

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    There were a couple of times I wish that I had the courage to confront a couple of ” pastors” over some things they said in their sermons or homilies. The first time was at an evening service at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal Illinois. The guest speaker was a visiting pastor from a smaller church 15 miles away. He claimed that he would be ashamed if he got to heaven and there were things he could have accomplished for Jesus but did not do them. He then said something to the general effect that if Jesus ” Well Done” when got to Heaven that after hearing that from Jesus, Jesus could send him to Hell and the pastor would be Ok with that. I think that “pastor” was just trying to puff himself up. The second time was when a Catholic Priest related of a time when he scolded a college student for escorting another student out of a chapel for praying the rosary while in an obvious state of intoxication. He was relating this tale in a Mass where most of the attendees were college students. I was at the time almost thirty years older than most of the people in attendance. What I thought later on was that there would have been some denominational preachers who would had tossed the student out of their chapel for saying the Rosary drunk or sober. Also, The priest a remark to the students about when they got out of college about the question about what they were going to do with the other sixty years of their life. Not everyone lives to celebrate living eighty years on this earth.

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