Sermons come in as many colors and flavors as the ethnic backgrounds, various theologies, and personal proclivities of the preachers. The pulpit can be a lifespring of love and grace, affirmation and encouragement — or it can be a spewing sewer of bigotry and hatred, of pompousness and condemnation.
Christ continues to suffer the abuse of the heartless when vociferous pulpiteers denounce any particular group of people that they consider to be especially abominable. God’s name is dishonored when hate speech is qualified by the bibliolatrous sentiment “God said it, not me!”
Hateful sermons are nothing new, of course, but the increasing numbers of churches that video their services and post them on the Internet turns what would once be scattered sparks into verbal conflagrations. Otherwise unknown pulpit pounders become household names when their vitriol goes viral. Sadly, some of those previously obscure preachers do their ugly work in North Carolina, and call themselves Baptists.
These days, of course, gays and lesbians are the favorite target of sneering sermonizers — along with President Obama, who recently endorsed the concept of same-sex marriage.
Sean Harris, pastor of Berean Baptist in Fayetteville, NC, started the recent run by saying that parents should punch little boys who appear to be acting gay.
Charles Worley, pastor of Providence Road Baptist in Maiden, NC, argued that the government should exile gays and lesbians to separate containment camps surrounded by electrified fences, where they would soon die out “because they can’t reproduce.” As if gay and lesbian children are not born to straight parents every day of the week?
Another Baptist preacher, but in Kansas, wants a more immediate solution. Curtis Knapp, pastor of New Hope Baptist in Seneca, Kansas, said the government should simply kill gays and lesbians. He claims that ancient Israel had no problem with homosexuals because that’s what it did. That’s a ridiculous claim, because even though Knapp can cite a provision from the “Holiness Code” in Leviticus that called for stoning men who had sex with men, he ignores similar statutes for executing adulterers and killing children who disrespect their parents. If those cultic regulations had actually been followed, the Israelites would have self-imploded within a generation.
Extremists are the exception, I know, and mentioning them here may serve to spread the stench of their bigotry even further, but there’s something to be said for standing up and saying “This is wrong.”
That’s what the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists recently did, posting a statement calling for an end to using the pulpit as a launching pad for verbal terrorism aimed at those whose sexuality doesn’t match up with cultural norms or perceived biblical views. And, any number of bloggers and newspaper columnists or letters to the editor have voiced similar sentiments.
The most effective response, however, will not be blog posts or petitions to sign, but the kind words and loving examples of believers who follow Jesus’ example of loving and accepting and reaching out to all people, even those that his own religious tradition considered to be outcasts and sinners.
The overarching message of the Bible is the story of a God whose love for humankind is unhindered and unending, constantly reaching out to sinful people who could never earn God’s favor, but who freely have it.
Those who represent God best are those who understand and exhibit that same inexplicable grace.
[Image from 3ders.org]