It was heartbreaking to see so many Christian women claim that this man who had sex with his wife in the middle of the night without her consent, agreeing with the masses that he had raped her. Where is grace in the marriage? Where is forgiveness, bearing with him, and enduring all things as clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 13? Where is a biblical marriage? This happens one time and most of the women jumped on the worldly train claiming he raped his wife.
Some women did get it, however. They love freely by giving their husbands sexual intimacy and wouldn’t mind if they were woken up in the middle of the night having sex with their husbands. They can’t understand the women who deprive their husbands sexually and claim that this man committed marital rape. These women are living sacrifices as God calls them to be and love being help meets to their husbands in every way. They truly love their husbands!
Some said that what this man did wasn’t marital rape but it was inconsiderate and wrong. Isn’t this the time that we, as God-fearing women, believe in showing grace and mercy for this one discretion? What if he did this several times a year? Then do we call it marital rape and help tear this marriage down? Let me ask you, how many times has God forgiven you? How many times are we told to forgive others? If you don’t know, please begin reading your Bible.
The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.
After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:
They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.
I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.
After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.
This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.
“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.
I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.
The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:
I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.
As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.
Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.
I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9: If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?
When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.
Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.
Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.
Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.
I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.
Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.
In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.
Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.
As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”
I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.
Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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The word “forgiveness” comes from the root word “forgive” which the dictionary says “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”
I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was physically abused by her father. He was never a “hands on” dad (meaning when it came to the raising of his daughter, he wasn’t active). He served in the military, but came home and started abusing his two daughters. The mother and father are now divorced and the father is in jail for what he did. The young woman told me that her father blames his behavior on the military (he did see action), and that he thinks that the kids are going to forgive him and let him still be a part of their lives. The daughter will not hear of it. She wants nothing to do with him. I do not know the extent of the abuse, or what kind of abuse, but I assume it’s bad because he is in jail.
We’ve all heard the saying “forgive and forget”, but the problem is you can never forget some things. These things can cut deep into your very being. While it is said that time can heal all wounds, forgiveness is a part of that. Most think forgiveness is for the person who wronged you. I argue that it is not. In fact, when you read the definition, it is all about the person who was wronged. After a person hurts you, the way you deal with the hurt to make it stop hurting you (when you think about it) is the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness DOES NOT absolve the person of his or her wrong-doing.
Melody was my girlfriend for four-and-a-half years. Her family lived in Florida (except her daughter). I took care of her during her battle with lung cancer for eighteen months. When she died (October 2006), her family came in and took all her stuff. I didn’t care about most of it. She had little of value when it came to electronics, jewelry, money, or possessions. But what she did have were pictures, art, and memorabilia from our four-and-a-half years together. They cremated her without letting me know (she wanted to be cremated . . . I knew that, it was just they did it without including me). There was no grieving with me. I had no one to grieve with. They did everything behind my back and refused to talk to me. The only exception was that her sister called me up from Florida (two days after she died), and left me a voice message, threatening me with jail time if I did anything with her money or bank accounts. I was livid. I heard the voice message and I immediately began to shake with sorrow and anger! Here I lost the love of my life and all I got from her family was a threatening call.
I was angry, really angry. It was so consuming that I couldn’t grieve her death because I was so angry at her family. I tried to reach out to them, find out why they did what they did, but I never got any answers. They just took her stuff away, thought I had no right to any of it, and left me alone to grieve. The worst thing about that is there would never be closure. I would never know why they did it. Closure is the only thing I wanted in this situation and I was never going to get it, and that made me even angrier. For three months, I would go to work, come home with takeout and wine, eat the food, drink three-quarters of the bottle of wine and fall asleep with the XBOX controller in my hand. Wake up the next morning, rinse and repeat. It was the most miserable I had ever been in my life and I struggled to come to grips with it.
Then one night, I was working on a piece of music which I was using as a way to deal with my anger. I had put together all the voice mails I received after she died and set them to background music. When I came to the sister’s threatening message, I put the sound of vulture calls in the background and changed the music. And all of the sudden it hit me. You see, Melody was not close to her family. She thought all her siblings and her mother had major issues. The reason the family took her stuff was because they were trying to desperately to regain the part of her they didn’t have . . . her heart, her love. But no matter how hard they tried, they would never get that. Her heart and her love were not in her possessions. I had her heart, I had her love . . . inside of me. I’ve always had those parts. And all the things that she taught me over those years would be alive and in me . . . and then I could pass those nuggets of knowledge on to my daughter and those around me . . . and thus Melody lives on. All of a sudden, I realized . . . I won! I had her heart! I had the most important thing! These people will never know the Melody I knew, the wonderful, talented, nurturing, person she was. I was a direct benefactor of that. Once I looked at it that way, the anger subsided, almost instantaneously. I had finally found a way to look at the situation and be at peace. I had found a way to forgive them. Notice, I didn’t say forget. I still wouldn’t piss on any of them if they were on fire, but I was able to move on, knowing I was the one who actually won in this situation. I am also not ashamed to admit that I don’t feel an ounce of sorrow for them. I don’t feel anger towards them. I just feel nothing towards them. They weren’t a part of my life before, they aren’t a part of my life now . . . so I don’t care what happens to them.
I relayed that story to this young woman, and something clicked with her. Her eyes were glazed over with tears and she said “I never thought of it that way. This really helps me with this situation and another that I’m going through. Thank you so much. Would you become my “step-in dad?” And with that . . . Melody lives on! I’m still winning! If it weren’t for me going through that situation more than twelve years ago, I would have not had the tools to help this young lady.
So, forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s all about you! It’s about the way you cope with someone who wronged you. You can never put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t change what happened or the way people are, you can only change your reaction. You can only change your perspective. Once you decide to exorcise the offending situation from your life, peace is right behind. If the person who wronged you means something to you and it would be worth keeping him or her in your life, you will have to deal with it and find some way to make the relationship work. If the person should be “dead to you,” then cut them out of your life and don’t look back!
Evangelicals believe that all humans are born sinners, at variance with God, and headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Evangelicals get their view of humanity straight from the Bible — a collection of books they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all other books. Divine in nature, perfect, and true, the Bible reveals to us God, the “human condition,” and what all of us must do to have right standing with God and avoid eternal damnation in Hell. According to Evangelicals, atheists and other non-believers deliberately reject the truths of the Bible because they desire to live sin-filled lives. Never mind the fact that Evangelicals also live sin-filled lives. You see, they have an out — Jesus. No matter what terrible things they do, forgiveness and restoration are but a prayer away:
If we [Evangelicals] confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
No bad behavior (sin) is beyond God’s forgiveness. King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband murdered so he could have her for his own, yet he is called a “man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) We need only turn to the modern-day fall-from-grace/forgiveness stories of men such as Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker to see how the process works. Those of us who were once Evangelicals have first-hand experience with the sin/forgiveness, wash/rinse/repeat process by which we procured continued right-standing with God. Daily and twice on Sundays, we confessed our sins to God and asked for his complete, total, buried-in-the-deepest-sea forgiveness:
He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)
And each and every time, God — or so we believed anyway — granted us forgiveness. Catholics had the confessional, and we Evangelicals had the altars, prayer meetings, and devotional times. In fact, forgiveness was so readily available that all we had to do is send up a quickie prayer to Jesus. We could be at work, driving our cars, or cleaning up after masturbating to porn; it mattered not. All God required was for us to say “my bad, Jesus, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And just like that our sin slates were wiped clean. Awesome, right?
Evangelicals believe they are hopeless and helpless apart from God’s grace. While Evangelicals often present themselves as superior to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, and other non-believers, when confronted with their own “sinfulness” they reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!” According to their doctrine, the only thing that keeps Evangelicals from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire with Hitler, Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser is the moment in time they repented of their sins and asked Jesus to save them. Evangelicals see themselves as sinners who just so happened to have pushed the right button on the Eternal Hell Fire Insurance Policy®.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 reminded Christians and unbelievers alike of their true nature. Here’s how Paul describes the “human condition”:
None of us is righteous (vs. 10)
None of us understands (vs. 11)
None of us seeks after God (vs. 11)
None of us does good (vs.12)
All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (vs. 23)
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Paul in Romans 3 and other places reminds Christians that the only difference between them and non-Christians is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9 and Hebrews 11); faith in Jesus as propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2); faith in the Jesus who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5); faith in the Jesus who promised to forgive us of every sin — past, present, and future.
Is it any wonder Evangelicals live such schizophrenic lives? On one hand, God commands them to live morally, ethically, and righteously, and even commands them to be as perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet, on the other hand, they are repeatedly reminded by Paul and other Biblical authors that it is impossible for them to keep, follow, and practice that which God commands. Thinking this way leads to all sorts of emotional stress. Evangelicals may be “sinners saved by grace,” but their behavior suggests that their lives are long on sin and short on grace. One need only read the Black Collar Crime series to see how such thinking affects Evangelicals. So-called men of God — deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and worship leaders — praise the wonders of God’s grace on Sundays, all while they are fucking their secretaries, sexually abusing boys and girls, seducing church teenagers, and otherwise engaging in behaviors that most people consider wrong. “Oh Bruce,” Evangelical apologists say, “these stories are the exception to the rule!” Really? You might want to read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? before defending God’s spokesmen. You might also want to talk to pastors who are willing to be honest about their own “sinful” behaviors and that of their congregations — that which has been confessed to them in secret.
“Fine, Bruce,” Evangelicals say. “Are atheists any better?” To that question I reply, yes and no. Atheists don’t believe in “sin.” Most atheists reject Evangelical moralizing about “sin” and instead focus on good and bad behavior. While atheists certainly have smaller “sin” lists, they do believe that certain behaviors can be categorized as good or bad, along with many behaviors being neither good or bad. Most atheists are humanists, and their humanism gives them a moral, ethical, and practical foundation for living one’s life. Atheists recognize that some of their brethren are despicable human beings, every bit as bad as the men of God detailed in the Black Collar Crime series. They also recognize that humans are capable of doing good without the help of imaginary deities.
If atheists reject the Christian view of the “human condition” and forgiveness, how then do they deal with bad behavior? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can share how I and other atheists I personally know handle acts of bad behavior. When we act inappropriately or cause harm to others, we confess it, ask forgiveness of whomever we harmed, and if necessary, make restitution. We recognize that none of us is perfect, and we can, at times, say and do things that hurt others. We own our behavior and vow to act better going forward. If our bad behavior has caused material or social harm, we make amends. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because I believe I have a moral and ethical responsibility to own past bad behaviors; that the harm I caused to congregants must be atoned for; that the harm I caused to my wife and children must be made right. Simply put, wrongs must be made right. I can’t undo the past, but I can own past bad behaviors, and vow to be a better man, husband, and father. I will, most certainly, fail in this endeavor, but each day of my life I will try to be a better person than I was the day before. No magical wiping the slate clean, no religious incantations to a mythical God, just an honest, heartfelt commitment to being good. Is that not all that any of us can do?
To Evangelicals I say, leave your harmful religion behind. Humanism provides a far better way to live one’s life. And it’s a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
As I wade through the neck-deep filth in the Evangelical gutter gathering information for the Black Collar Crime series, one common event shows up in story after story: that when these criminals are on trial or they are being sentenced for their crimes, their pastors are on hand to let everyone know that the predator pastor was a good person who did a bad thing. Often, these testifying pastors tell judges and juries that the criminal’s good works outweigh any bad that he might have done; that molesting and raping children or sexually assaulting church members is somehow atoned for by the church member’s or ex-pastor’s good works. These so-called men of God even go so far as to ask the courts to grant the convicted offender probation, promising that the child molester/rapist has turned over a new leaf and has crossed-his-heart-hoped-to-die promised that he will never, ever rape, molest, look at child porn, or take sexual advantage of woman. Why do pastors seem so willing to be character references for criminals?
First, when a church member or colleague in the ministry is accused and convicted of a sex crime, it makes the church and pastor look bad. Churches and their pastors supposedly set the moral standard for their communities. Yet, here’s a fine, upstanding congregant or pastor behaving in ways that make a mockery of Christian morality. So the testifying pastor, by putting a good word in for the criminal, hopes to remediate his church’s reputation. Unfortunately, by testifying, what he really says to the community is that he believes there should be a separate standard of punishment for Christian church members and pastors.
Second, many pastors believe “sinning” church members and pastors deserve a second chance. If Jesus forgave them, shouldn’t everyone else? Think of all the good Child Molester Bob or Rapist Jack could do in the community if they were given probation. Why, they could travel from church to church telling how God delivered them from sexual deviancy. Isn’t God wonderful? Bob says. I stand before you today as a humbled man forgiven by God. I am so grateful that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave me another opportunity to serve him! Later that night, Bob slips into his car and drives the streets looking for another child to molest. God will forgive him, he thinks. Isn’t God awesome?
Testifying pastors seem to forget that our justice system is expected to mete out punishment to those convicted of crimes. Why all the pleas for understanding and forgiveness? These same pastors will preach thundering sermons about God’s judgment of sinners and their impending doom in hell, yet when it comes to criminal church members and pastors, it is expected that they be treated as if their crimes were insignificant or worthy of special treatment.
Forgiveness is up to the victims and not the courts. Courts are supposed to weigh facts and evidence and render appropriate judgment. Testifying pastors are callous and tone deaf when they ask courts to grant convicted congregants and pastors probation or community service. Should not the victims be their primary concern? Yet, in case after case, pastors re-victimize victims by their unwavering love, compassion, and support for rapists, child molesters, and those who use their positions of power to take advantage of others.
Third, some testifying pastors don’t believe the crime was as bad as prosecutors made it out to be. Yes, Youth Pastor Jim was thirty and in a position of authority, but come on, the girl was sixteen, Why, she was a-l-m-o-s-t an adult. I wonder if pastors who think this way would do so if it was THEIR daughter Youth Pastor Jim had sex with in his church office? I doubt it.
Fourth, some testifying pastors simply refuse to live in the real world. Surely, there must be some other explanation for Suzie accusing Deacon Joe of molesting her. Deacon Joe is a fine family man, the pastor says. I’ve known his family for forty years. I assure you that Deacon Bob could never, ever — I mean NEVER — molest his daughter. (Deep down he believes Suzie is possessed by a demon.) Even after the judge says GUILTY! some pastors refuse to believe the truth staring them in the face; that they didn’t know this or that pastor or church members as well as they thought they did.
Child molesters and sexual abusers can hide their behavior for decades. It is often only when children become adults that they have the courage to speak about what their father, pastor, youth pastor, deacon, teacher, or Sunday school teacher did to them. Testifying pastors wonder, why didn’t they come forward sooner? It sure looks like they did so for the money. Evidently, such pastors expect children to act like adults, refusing to see that when an authority figure has power over someone, a victim often becomes incapacitated by fear or loss of love from family and church. It’s not that they don’t want to report what has happened to them — they can’t. And often, when victims DO speak up, what happens? They aren’t believed or they are accused of being culpable for what happened to them. This is especially the case with churches on the right-wing fringe of the Evangelicalism. More than one girl has been forced to stand before her church and “confess” her sins. Imagine being raped by a church leader, only to be forced to apologize for being such an easy target for the rapist.
I have some advice I would like to give to testifying pastors. SHUT THE HELL UP! Don’t testify. Don’t be a character reference. Don’t talk up the abuser’s good works and family. Instead, support the victims and their families. Help them find professional care for their psychological scars. Let the criminal face the just consequences of his behavior. Surely you have not forgotten that the Bible says that a man reaps what he sows. There will be plenty of time for you to minister to your convicted church member or colleague in the ministry. In open court is not the time. Are you listening, pastors?
Often this narrative [sin and redemption] is particularly prevalent among evangelicals who have been accused of sexual misconduct. After evangelical television personality Josh Duggar confessed to molesting his sisters as a teenage boy, he and his family used the salvation playbook. Michael Seewald, whose son is married to one of Duggar’s sisters, spoke out against the media condemnation of Duggar, who was never charged with a crime: “The ultimate answer … is what Josh found and millions like him. He found forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus Christ. There are many of you that are reading these words right now having had thoughts and deeds no better than what Josh had and did.”
Disgraced megachurch founder Ted Haggard resigned his post in 2006, after admitting to drug abuse and a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He returned to public church life with similar rhetoric: “I am a sinner and [my wife] is a saint. … I feel we have moved past the scandal. We have forgiveness. It is a second chance.”
In other words, there’s a tendency among evangelicals to see sexual (or other) sins that have happened long ago (or even not that long ago), either prior to conversion itself or prior to a “re-conversion” or renewal of faith, as, well, natural. Of course people commit sinful acts, because sin is part of the human condition, and of course people are victims of sin without God’s grace to help free them of it.
There are a few problems with how this manifests in practice. It can absolve “saved” individuals of too much responsibility for past misdeeds, since they’re considered the deeds of a past, different self. It encourages a culture of silence among evangelicals about their struggles, since salvation is “supposed” to mean that temptation goes away, and any “backsliding” is the result of insufficient faith. Finally, this theological approach also means that “sins” tend to be conflated, especially sexual sins: consensual premarital sex and sexual abuse are often seen on the same spectrum, both the result of a temptation too great to bear.
Without God, the implication goes, people have almost no agency. In Moore’s case, the fact that his alleged sins happened so long ago — and that the intervening years have seen him become more and more committed to the idea of a theocratic Christian state— only intensify some evangelicals’ sense that Moore’s actions then (even if true) don’t necessarily have a bearing on who he is now. It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign, evangelicals have done an extraordinary about-face when it comes to their view on the importance of politicians’ personal morality.
Many, many Christian scholars and thinkers have been intensely critical of this “get out of jail free” approach to sin and grace, as I noted earlier this month. Among the most prominent in the past century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in a concentration camp for his activism. Bonhoeffer distinguished between “cheap grace” — easy forgiveness that allowed individual perpetrators and oppressive societies to get away, unchallenged, with their actions — and “costly grace,” or forgiveness that also asks hard questions, and demands social change.
It’s worth noting, however, that several prominent evangelicals — including the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, Russell Moore (no relation) — have spoken out criticizing Moore’s evangelical supporters. “Christians, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” Russell Moore tweeted.
Despite this, “cheap grace” has become seemingly common in some evangelical communities, especially when there are practical political or pragmatic reasons (i.e., a Republican in power) to overlook a sin and preserve the social status quo.
As many have heard, the famous 1960s cult leader Charles Manson died while serving a life sentence in prison. By all accounts, he was a charismatic, dictatorial cult leader whose followers murdered several people and created false “evidence” that the murders were perpetrated by African Americans in order to try to start a race war, after which (somehow) Charles Manson would rise victorious and lead after the chaos. While Charles Manson did not physically commit the murders – his followers did – he was deemed to have been the mastermind behind the crimes and was sentenced to death. When the state of California abolished the death penalty, Charles Manson’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Manson died at age 83 of natural causes.
I first heard of Manson’s death while checking my social media. One of my Christian friends posted a link to the story with her personal comment:
At long last, justice may be served to him, in death. I’m glad some of the victims’ loved ones are alive to know he no longer breathes, but will become dust, in a state of death, like his long-ago prey. I have a particular disgust for Manson, and the gruesome acts of his followers. He stole so many lives, including those of promising young people who joined his cult, and had their minds and souls hijacked. They are responsible, in the end, for their decisions, but, to an extent, were also victims. America lost part of its innocence in the Manson years, so I consider us all his victims. It may not be charitable to say so, but I am nearly always happy to hear when any despot or cult leader is dead.
I believe he is now in hell and finally getting what he deserves.
He was Satan’s own. Now may he go back to where he belongs.
My first thought was, here we go with talk of heaven, hell, and divine justice again. My second thought was, wasn’t Charles Manson arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned for life? Is that not what our society deems as justice?
As one who does not believe in supernatural beings nor in an afterlife, I look to my society’s law enforcement and justice systems to resolve issues involving crime. While no system is perfect, our society’s system works in many cases, and, because it is an evolving society, it is possible for changes to occur within our systems so that they function more efficiently and fairly. However, I realize now that while religious people also are provided the protections of society’s law enforcement and judicial systems, they are also looking to their deity to mete out further justice in an afterlife. Therefore, Charles Manson, for example, has served life in prison for his crimes, and now after his death the Christian God will cast him into eternity in hell where he will burn or rot, depending on one’s definition of hell.
My friend is a Christian, and presumably many commenting on her post are Christians too. I saw many comments corroborating the concept that “now Charles Manson is receiving justice in hell.” These comments caused me to consider the concept of justice. Do these nice Christian men and women really not consider earthly justice “real justice”? Is God’s eternal justice the only true justice? What if Charles Manson had “gotten saved” before his death? According to these Christians’ religion, Charles Manson would be afforded the same afterlife of eternity in heaven as all these nice Christian people who have not persuaded others to commit multiple acts of murder. If one were to ask these nice Christian people if that is “real justice,” what would their answer be? I daresay many would find themselves in quite the conundrum when pressed for an honest answer.
Let us consider a few aspects of Christian justice. My friend and presumably many of her friends believe in the concept of original sin and salvation. Each person by birth is a sinner; the wages of sin are death – eternal death in hell; the only way to escape eternal death in hell is to repent of one’s sin, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, and to be baptized into a new life of service to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Anyone may be saved – anyone – including Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and yes, Charles Manson – and anyone who is saved is granted the golden ticket to eternity in heaven. However, anyone who does NOT accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior will be condemned to eternity in hell. This includes Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Charles Manson, the young man in India who grew up Hindu, the old woman in Kuwait who grew up Muslim, the old man in China who grew up Buddhist, the middle-aged American woman who is an agnostic atheist. Each one deserves and is subject to the same fate: eternity in hell. Does that sound like justice? Adolf Hitler, who orchestrated a massive extermination enterprise, inhabits the same hell as the nice Muslim lady who was unfortunate enough to believe in the wrong type of deity and who never had the chance to hear about or accept the “correct” one?
It is also interesting to ponder the way Christians learn to overlay their beliefs about supernatural forces onto the natural world. They live in the world, but the world is also inhabited by angels and demons. A person who is “saved” is said to have Jesus living in his “heart.” An unsaved person may be possessed by demons or guided by demonic forces. A guardian angel may save someone from harm. Satan may tempt or guide someone to commit some horrific act. God may intervene to prevent a catastrophe. Christians live in a world where humans commit acts which may or may not be influenced by supernatural forces, where nature may or may not be changed by supernatural forces. There is a constant struggle going on around Christians at all times between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Many Christians believe that if they live a life in favor with God that He will save them from catastrophe, from the forces of evil, from evil acts perpetrated by humans (possibly under the influence of demons), unless He doesn’t physically save them from harm. When He doesn’t, then one must not question His Will, for we humans cannot fathom God’s divine plan.
I remember living in the world inhabited by angels and demons, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the Devil. As a child, I was terrified of the dark. No, not the dark, but by the monsters and demons that inhabit the dark. I was taught that monsters were not real, but that demons and the Devil were real and were eager to prey on the unsuspecting unsaved and ready to tempt the staunchest of believers. As a child I couldn’t discern the difference between fictitious monsters and real demons. We were living in a world surrounded by the forces of Good and Evil locked in a battle for our immortal souls. Then in the 1980s (my teenage years) came the whole Satanic scare in which everyone (Christians, that is) talked about Satanic rituals and kidnappings and sacrifices and pentagrams. All of us Christians were afraid, on alert to battle the forces of evil, while at the same time we were told that all we had to do to overcome demons and Satan was to demand in Jesus’ name that they leave, and that they must obey. Whenever I was scared of the dark, I used to pray that the demons and Devil leave in Jesus’ name. Then I felt better.
But we have adult Christians who weave their belief of supernatural forces into the acts of human beings. Believing that Charles Manson is under Satan’s control or perpetrating acts that are pleasing to Satan brings the concept of justice to a different level. While non-believers see Charles Manson as someone who chose to lead others to commit horrific murders, Christians see Charles Manson as a tool of Satan, perhaps inhabited by demons or at least under Satan’s control either through Manson’s free will or lack of free will. Non-believers see that Charles Manson was arrested by law enforcement officers, tried by a group of peers, sentenced by a judge, and served life in prison. Christians see this too, but they also anticipate judgment by God and eternity in hell as additional justice later, as if life in prison were not enough. And there is rejoicing among believers that finally Charles Manson will receive the justice he deserves.
I wanted to ask my friend’s commenters “what if Charles Manson had been saved before his death?” (It’s unlikely, as that turn of events would be too much for a pastor or chaplain to leave unannounced, either so he/she could receive credit or so that other unbelievers could be influenced to turn to the “truth” before it is too late, because, see, God is so great He can even forgive Charles Manson.) But I did not ask, mainly because this friend is one of the few from my evangelical past who knows that I am now an agnostic atheist, and I do not want to cause trouble for her amongst her crowd. But if Charles Manson had been saved before his death, should not good Christians rejoice in his repentance and his eternal glory in heaven with his Lord and Savior?
I imagine that by the convoluted system of Christian justice, those good Christians would say that yes, they rejoice in the power and mercy of God that he can even forgive the likes of Charles Manson. Conversely, they are glad to see that God, in all his glory as the almighty righteous judge, meted out eternal justice to Charles Manson as he never repented of his sins and accepted the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. It just seems somehow inconsistent with the concept of goodness one associates with religion the glee that Christians were exhibiting over the death – no, the everlasting damnation in hell – of another human being.
I desperately wanted to engage in conversation on social media, but I refrained and wrote this post instead. In any case, Charles Manson served his life sentence and will never harm another person again, and for that we should be glad.
Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.
Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God — are violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins. Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of a spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”
Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors of about the importance of studying the Bible, praying, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.
Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. Just last week, two Toledo area Evangelical pastors were arrested for grooming and trafficking a teenage girl. One pastor would frequently have sex with the girl in his church office, giving her $100-$300 to keep her mouth shut. According to WTOL-11, the thing that likely did the good pastors in was the one pastor’s request that the girl bring a friend so they could have a threesome. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside believers, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime? And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!
Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sin. I John 1:8-10 states:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan, Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep your sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.
Recently, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, this man likely will be homeless when he is released from jail. His life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.
This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best describe as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.
The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.
This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.
Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.
Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.
Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later, and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, he is the problem. As long of Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.
As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will details these similarities.
From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new victims. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO and this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long distance telephone service.
One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he would come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?
The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger. As they came on to our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.
Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive 70 square foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.
Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please — AMWAY.
Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After 30 minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.
Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)
I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.
Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!
I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor greatly waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.
Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:
Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since betting saved/joining MLM program.
Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision
I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.
I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains the Evangelicals are sales people with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves program must exercise faith, believing in the end that the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a sparking new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.
As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after death they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.
Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life. Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.
The majority of voting Evangelicals plan to cast their vote for Donald Trump come November. Their support of Trump is proof positive that Evangelicals have sold their souls to the Devil. James Dobson, arguably one of the patriarchs of Evangelicalism’s war against American culture, with a straight face, says that Donald Trump is a “baby” Christian. If Trump is a Christian, well Praise Jesus, Hallelujah, everyone, including atheists such as myself should have no problem making it to God’s Trump Hotel in the Sky®.
Even in my hardcore God is a Republican, Independent Fundamentalists Baptist days, I would never have supported a degenerate like Donald Trump. He is a twice-divorced, thrice-married misogynistic womanizer who shows all the signs of being a psychopath. Trump has a long memory, holding grudges for years. He has, so far, shown no capability to forgive or admit wrong, even when close supporters are telling him he needs to do so. Yet, despite all of this, Evangelicals plan to vote for Trump in November.
And that’s fine, but quit trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Donald Trump is not a Christian. If anything, he is indifferent towards religion or an atheist. But, a Christian? Please, stop it Evangelicals, you are embarrassing yourselves.
Supposedly, Evangelicals believe that beliefs matter. Why, then, are Evangelicals ignoring Trump’s theological beliefs? Let me conclude this brief post with a video clip of Trump answering a question at the Family Leadership Summit about asking the Christian God for forgiveness. Less than a minute long, this video should end all discussion about whether Donald Trump is a follower of Jesus.
Anyone raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church has likely sung numerous times the hymn There’s Power in the Blood. The lyrics reinforce the IFB belief that the forgiveness of sin, any sin, is but a prayer away. According to 1 John 1:9, if a Christian confesses his sin to God, he will find instantaneous forgiveness. This is only possible because of the atoning blood of Jesus. Through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, the sinning and confessing sinner’s sins are washed away, never to be remembered again. Sing with me now:
Would you be free from the burden of sin? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Would you o’er evil a victory win? There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
Refrain: There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r In the blood of the Lamb; There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Would you be free from your passion and pride? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide; There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow; There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
Would you do service for Jesus your King? There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood; Would you live daily His praises to sing? There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
No matter what Christians do, the blood of Jesus washes their sin away. Many Evangelical sects believe that any sin committed BS, before salvation, is forgiven and forgotten. One pastor I know refuses to do background checks on church workers because crimes committed before the super-duper blood of Jesus washed away their sin and are remembered by God no more. And if God doesn’t remember the sin, why should we?
Another man, an evangelist, was accused of having sex with minors. He refused to talk about his past, claiming his past behavior is under the “blood.” Unfortunately, there are allegations that he continued to prey on minors after Jesus washed away his sin. But, don’t worry, forgiveness is but a prayer and a blood-washing away. Young girls can rest easy, at least until the blood of Jesus loses its power and the evangelist seeks out new potential victims to molest. Why is it that a Jesus’ blood transfusion is only temporary? If Jesus is who and what Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t his miraculous blood protect children from Christian sexual predators? Evidently not.
Consider how amazing the blood of Jesus is. No matter what Christians do, no matter how heinous their behavior is, a quick prayer to Jesus asking for forgiveness will unleash the sin-cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb. This supernatural blood allows the Christian to escape accountability for bad behavior. Just pray, the Christian is told, secretly confessing the sin to God, and forgiveness will be granted. This is no different, BTW, from what goes on in Catholic confessional booths. No matter the crime, Jesus will forgive. Even repeat offenders can find forgiveness if they sincerely plead for the blood of Jesus to be applied to their sin-darkened hearts. Dear Lord Jesus, please forgive me for watching porn. I know this is a sin. I ask you to forgive me and wash away my sin. In Jesus name, Amen. Two nights later…Hey Jesus, it’s me again, Pastor Billy Bob. The devil got a hold of me and I looked at porn again. I’m so sorry for my sin. I ask you to forgive me and wash away my sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen. A week later, Hey Jesus, it’s me again…
And so it goes. The Evangelical sins, feels guilty, prays for forgiveness, promising, with fingers crossed behind his back, that he will never, ever commit the sin again. Rather than being accountable for his bad behavior, the dirty sinner is given a get-out-of-jail-free card to be used any time he “sins.”
Those of us who are agnostics or atheists have no way for our bad-behavior slate to be wiped clean. All we can do is admit what we did and make restitution. In some instances, we’ll carry the stain of our “sin” until we die. Unlike the Evangelical, we acknowledge that bad behavior can and does have lasting consequences.
This is the sixty-sixth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is God May Forgive You (But I Won’t) by Iris Dement.
You say that you’re born again cleansed of your former sins You want me to say “I forgive and forget” But you’ve done too much to me Don’t you be touching me, go back and touch all those women you’ve made
Chorus: ’cause God may forgive you, but I won’t Yes, Jesus loves you, but I don’t They don’t have to live with you and neither do I You say that you’re born again, well so am I God may forgive you, but I won’t and I won’t even try
Well, the kids had to cry for you I had to try to do things that the Dad should do since you’ve been gone Well, you really let us down You may be Heaven ‘bound but you’ve left one hell of a mess here at home