I was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister at the age of 21, over forty years ago. I served churches for more than three decades and as the Pastor of Arts on the executive staff of two of the largest and most influential mega-churches in the world for thirteen of those years. I have seen a thing or two.
I have held people (young and old) in my arms as they died, at home, in the Emergency Room, ICU, hospital, and unbelievably, twice on stage while performing in front of a live audience. I have witnessed sorrow and joy as I officiated at countless funerals and weddings and listened in abject horror as young people have tearfully recounted stories of incest and sexual abuse committed by fellow pastors, deacons, and upstanding members of the church and community.
As required by law, I reported those cases, and I have witnessed those accused men go to prison—some for decades. Behind the scenes, I have watched as my pastors would brag arrogantly about their ability to spin the truth. They have embezzled money, split churches and families apart, and laughed at racist jokes on the golf course—all the while preaching and spitting judgment, shame, hell, and damnation each Sunday from the pulpit.
Those things are only the tip of the iceberg. And they are why I detest preachers like Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paula White, John Piper, and Franklin Graham, to name only a few.
Full disclosure, I too have feet of clay. But my “sins” came long after I resigned and quit the ministry. And somehow, for thirty years, I served as a minister and called myself a Christian, obeyed the myriad religious rules, loved and encouraged people, and served with integrity.
In today’s culture of easy religion, cheaply achieved, it seems to me that most white Evangelicals have forgotten that religion still teaches that basic virtues are a significant part of the Christian life.
The white evangelical Christian church is no longer spiritually responsive to a man of integrity. They worship celebrities today—not heroes—as do their Pastors. People like Jeffress and his ilk just want to be known and to have fame, to have their five minutes of notoriety on FOX News. It’s too bad.
I read about Jeffress bragging that Trump was in the virtual audience of First Baptist Dallas this past Easter Sunday and saying, I quote, “Mr. President, we appreciate your strong articulation of the Christian faith. I’ve never heard a stronger affirmation of faith than the one you gave Friday — Good Friday — in the Oval Office. We thank you for your commitment to religious liberty. And we thank you for your strong leadership during this coronavirus crisis.”
I can’t help but imagine an inquisitive adolescent (whose family attends First Baptist Church Dallas) watching their pastor make that statement and innocently asking their parents. “Dad and Mom, why would Pastor Jeffress tell those lies about President Trump? He bullies people all the time, especially women, and calls people names, and has been accused over and over of sexual crimes against women, he had sex with a porn star while his wife was pregnant (in fact, I heard that Stormy lady describe President Trump’s penis on the Jimmy Kimmel Show on the Internet). He was only the third President in history to be impeached (isn’t that bad?), and he constantly says things on video and then says he didn’t say them, (isn’t that lying?). He makes fun of reporters and cuts them down every night on television, takes the Lord’s name in vain (I heard him), and he says evil men like Putin, Kim Jong Un, and that Saudi guy who chopped that man in pieces—he says they are all good men. Mom and Dad, can you please help me understand how Pastor Jeffress appreciates his…what did he say…his strong articulation of the Christian faith?”
How can the parents spin their answers? Well, I suppose they are learning from the best in the business—their pastors and their President. If anyone can spin it, Trump’s base can.
And these pastors who worship personal celebrity and power wonder why people who actually believe the Christian dogma and virtues are leaving the white Evangelical Christian churches in droves. And they wonder why their churches all over the world are dying a slow, agonizing death. Like the porn star, these Evangelical preachers have gone to bed with Trump, and the cost will be the death of Evangelicalism.