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, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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