It all came back to me this morning as I sat in the pew of my parent’s church. The frustration, anxiety and disgust rippled through my being as the young preacher hurled his hate filled message, thinly disguised as love, down from the pulpit. To be honest, I was rather shocked and left in quite a hurry when the message was finished.
Even in this conservative church, one would think that a Sunday morning Christmas service should have the air of hope and joy about it. Instead of an uplifting message, I was greeted with a diatribe against anyone who dares question or reject the story of Jesus being incarnated in the flesh to die for our sins. It was revolting to witness all of the heads in the congregation nodding in agreement. Ugh, it makes me so angry just thinking about it. This message raised my ire, but it also made me think about the difficulties with preaching in general and one problem in particular.
The real problem with preaching is that it is a one-sided conversation. People listening to a sermon are all too similar to people vegetating in front of a television; the critical faculties of the mind are too easily disengaged and they passively receive statements without questioning. Sometimes it is a great experience with a good story teller delivering a message about decent moral values. Other times it is a rancorous Bible thumper who tries to force a dubious message into your mind through sheer force of will. In the latter case I often wish for a Q and A session after the sermon or some type of forum with a balanced debate about the content of the message.
“Excuse me sir, could you explain why most of the Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, and Liberals that I work with are wonderful people with great personalities and an impressive work ethic? Do you have any close friends with differing religious or political views? No? How do you think this lack of friendship and lack of experience with the “other” colors your perceptions? Maybe instead of raising your voice in self-righteous indignation from the pulpit you should do what the literary Jesus did and spend some time with the ‘other’. Only then will you possibly gain a measure of humility in your discourse about human beings who are largely foreign to you.”
I fear that with no opposing arguments or opinions, a lot of conservative-leaning congregations turn into positive feedback loops that whip people into a frenzy and demonize anyone with the slightest criticism of the message.
Anyway, I hope all of you out there had a wonderful Christmas and please do not forget the real reason for the season, family bonding and appreciation for all of the good things that have happened over the past year.