Menu Close

The Danger of Diagnosis by Anecdote


Over my fifty years in the Evangelical church, I heard thousands of sermons and preached 4,000 more. I heard masterful orators and butchers of the English language. One thing these preachers had in common was using anecdotes to prove points in their sermons. Anecdotes were either personal experiences, illustrations, or news stories. Anecdotes were particularly useful in diagnosing the condition of the church, schools, government, and the “world.” Evangelical preachers are noted for their moralizing and condemnation of anything they deem unbiblical. Years ago, I heard an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher preach from Ephesians 4:27: Neither give place to the Devil. Six little words, yet this preacher turned them into a forty-five-minute sermon; a checklist of all the things Christians and unbelievers alike were giving place to the Devil. Picture someone preaching from their grocery list; that’s what this sermon was like.

This preacher used numerous anecdotes to justify his assertions. Not truth. Not evidence. Not facts. Just anecdotes meant to reinforce a particular point in his sermon. This behavior is so common among Evangelical preachers that I can safely say that it is a normal, everyday occurrence. The problem with this approach is that an anecdote does not a fact make. I extensively follow the machinations of Evangelical Christianity. Never does a day go by that I don’t read posts about what is wrong with the “world,” the church, liberals, Democrats, socialists, atheists, and anyone else deemed an enemy of God. So, when someone affiliated with Black Lives Matter sets a storefront on fire, everyone associated with BLM is an arsonist. When a drag queen is arrested for sexual assault, all drag queens are perverts. When a gay man is arrested and charged with rape, all gay men are rapists. And so it goes . . .

These preachers are unable to separate individual acts from the groups they are part of. We all do this. People read the Black Collar Crime Series and conclude that all Evangelical preachers are rapists and child molesters. They are taking anecdotes and applying them to Evangelical pastors as a whole. This is unwise and leads to a distorted understanding of church leaders. People look at the financial excesses of men and women such as Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, David Oyedepo, Enoch Adeboye, and others and conclude all preachers are in it for the money. This is untrue, a good example of anecdotes coloring a false picture of reality.

Upwards to half of preachers are bi-vocational, meaning they work jobs outside of the church to make ends meet. I spent twenty-five years in the ministry, pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Not one church paid me a wage commensurate to my skill level. The most I ever made in one year in the ministry? $26,000. Outside of this church, the rest of them paid part-time wages for full-time work. And I am not complaining. I willingly and gladly pursued my higher calling. No complaints from me. However, I had a wife and six children to care for. So I held employment outside of the church. Someone of the jobs were menial positions, while others were full-time management positions. We also received from time to time help from the government: food stamps and Medicaid.

Just because a BLM member does something doesn’t mean all members do the same. Just because someone is LGBTQ does something doesn’t mean all LGBTQ people do the same. The same goes for churches, preachers, Democrats, Republicans, immigrants, or three-eyed trolls who live under bridges.

I am not suggesting that we can never judge a group by the behavior of its constituents, but we must guard against judging them by the behavior of a few. I try to differentiate between Republicans and MAGA fascists. We may be reaching a point where the two are one and the same. When group members are no longer willing to discipline their own ranks, then they make have reached a place where judging them as a whole is justified.

An anecdote does not evidence make. It’s just a story, and while I love a good story, I don’t want to judge all Evangelicals/Catholics/atheists/Republicans/Democrats/socialists/Canadians/Mexicans/Michiganders/Cardinals fans by one. Fuck the Cardina . . . stop it, Bruce. 🙂

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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.


  1. Avatar

    Every morning while eating breakfast, my husband and I switch back and forth between Fox and MSNBC to see what each side thinks is important for the day. Increasingly, I see that Fox takes an anecdotal approach. One person who migrated to the US and joins M-13 gang and kills someone means all migrants are potentially criminals. MSNBC isn’t perfect by any means, but they seem to take a slightly less anecdotal tack.

    Evangelicalism is full of anecdotes. It makes sense as evangelicalism is literally based on story-telling – the story of the gospel, of Acts, people giving their “testimony” and witnessing. It’s all stories, anecdotes.

  2. Avatar

    Back in my church going days I would listen to sermons and snooze through the scripture parts but wake up when the preacher used anecdotes. I know I’m not the only one who felt this way and preachers know they lose their audience if they stick to the Bible too much. Interesting how the omnipotent all powerful creator of the universe is such a lousy writer.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser