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Why Do Many Evangelical Preachers Think Causing Offense is a Virtue?

offensive preaching

For those of us raised in Southern Baptist, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Freewill Baptist, and Holiness churches, we are oh-so-familiar with what is commonly called in such churches “hard preaching.” or “stepping on toes” or “calling out sin” or “naming names.” Hard preaching is almost always loud and animated, often with pulpit pounding and foot stomping. Preachers who preach this way — as I did early in my ministry, emulating (or imitating) preachers from my youth or big-name pastors/evangelists whom I admired — take pride in offending people. Calling out specific sins in the congregation or attacking preachers, colleges, and parachurch organizations by name often offends. But, that’s okay in the preacher’s mind, cuz he’s just preaching the Word. Jesus and the Apostles offended people with their words, why shouldn’t I?, Fundamentalist preachers think. Offending people gets their attention, or so the thinking goes, anyway.

Over the years, I have shared with readers numerous offensive emails and comments from Evangelicals. These so-called followers of Jesus could have been polite and respectful while sharing their disagreements with my writing, but having attended churches pastored by men who love to offend, they think the best way to reach me or get my attention is to use offensive words. When called out on their behavior, such people often say that they are just speaking truth; that their words are straight from the Word of God; that my being offended is a sign of conviction. Thinking the adage “you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is a conspiracy theory, abrasive, bombastic Evangelicals think “you will catch more sinners with offensive speech than kindness.” In their minds, if you leave a church service without broken toes, bloody lips, and bruised faces, the man of God ain’t doing his job.

Imagine growing up in such an environment, three services a week of hard preaching. Imagine fear, guilt, and judgment being served up at every church service. Imagine your pastor calling out your sins by name. Talk about a self-esteem killer, a wound that runs so deep that all you see in the mirror every morning is a vile, worthless sinner who would split Hell wide open if it wasn’t for Jesus saving him.

The purpose of the body of Christ is to love, show compassion, and extend grace. Certainly, preachers need to teach the Bible and help congregants apply it to their lives, but how they do so speaks volumes about the kind of person they really are. When the Bible is used as an offensive weapon, bloody carnage is left in its wake. Evangelical churches are filled with hurt and wounded people; people who sincerely love Jesus. Their spirits are battered and bruised, and the person who did this to them stands in the pulpit every time they attend church. And the sad thing is that people think this abuse is normal. How could they think otherwise? Long-term conditioning and indoctrination give them a warped view of “normal.” I know for my partner, Polly, and me, it wasn’t until after we deconverted that we saw, for the first time, how much psychological harm our five decades in Evangelicalism caused us. Counseling office waiting rooms are filled with people who have/had pastors who loved to offend.

It seems obvious to me that being an asshole is not a virtue, but sadly, for many Evangelical preachers, their “obvious detector” is not working. Either that, or they love being mean to people.

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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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, do you think such an attitude comes from having been indoctrinated at an early age, as so many preachers and congregants were? It seems that giving a young person a sense of righteousness about their beliefs at a time when they still think the best way to get attention is to shock and offend is a recipe for the kind of obnoxious behavior you describe.

  2. Avatar
    Vincebus Eruptum

    In a way I do think it’s also just a cover for them to be the mean spirited and miserable people they really are. From a sociological standpoint I see this in the closely-related, if not basically the same or at least overlapping, group of people who are very right wing or ‘tea baggers’ who seem to relish in being as offensive to anyone who is not an assjack like they are. They use politics as an excuse to be loudmouthed bigots and then cry “BuT mY fIrSt AmEnDmEnT rIgHtS!” when they get called out on their hate speech. It’s really just the same psychology you see with a child who wants attention and throws a temper tantrum when they don’t get their way. I mean what do they really expect when they put on a shirt that says “fuck Biden” or “trump that bitch” or more relevant, word vomit on a tee shirt, “christian white straight unwoke unvaxxed gun owner meat eater & male how else can i offend you today?” (which is a real shirt). Dressed like that in public and outside of their universe I think they absolutely intend to offend and hope there are liberals around to see it in hopes they are confronted so they can just let loose on a tirade of religious hate spew in hopes of hurting feelings and then say they are the ones persecuted against and they just want to help them to know jesus. Behaving like that I don’t believe their actual intention is altrusitic.

  3. Avatar

    Some people gravitate to any system that allows them to act as mean as they want to be. These people thrive on yelling at people, tearing them down, being mean, and exerting control over others. Unfortunately, there are people raised in that system who aren’t that way, and they’re typically abused and psychologically damaged in that system.

    Vincebus hit on the right-wingers’ “come at me, bro” bravado and swagger. Right-wingers, conservatives, fundamentalists, all like a strictly ordered hierarchical authoritarian system that somehow, in their own minds, puts them near the top of the pecking order. They get bent put of shape at those outside the system that don’t want to give these tinpot dictator wannabes their “due”. And those who believe they have a mandate from a deity to act this way are the worst…..

    • Avatar
      Vincebus Eruptum

      So true, you’re on point with the authoritarian view and in a way systemically the system has been tailor made for them which has fostered a sense of entitlement so that their response to anyone not falling in line is like “how dare you go against god (me)!”, and what’s puzzling, but I guess not really, is the women who totally accept all that and know where their ‘place’ is, through conditioning I’m sure. I guess the current name for them is ‘trad wives’. Just depressing.

  4. Avatar
    Nils L. Weber

    Bruce, I wish you returned to Christianity. No need to become an evangelical, just following the King James Bible and nothing else.

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