I often observe the way Christians use language, as well as the rhetoric employed by pastors and laypersons. For the most part, I notice that, growing up in the Bible-belt, Christians have their own use of language and ways of communicating that are foreign or sound odd to many non-Christians.
However, I also notice some patterns of preaching I think could be problematic.
The first demeritorious aspect is the matter of animal death. When I was younger, I visited Gateway Church’s youth group in Southlake, Texas. That night, the youth pastor’s main illustrative story consisted of him bragging about beating a possum to death with a baseball bat. This story took up at least one third of his sermon, and, as is obvious, related very (very) little to Jesus.
This is no uncommon theme. I’ve read devotionals that include stories about a young’s dog being run over or children watching their squealing puppy get eaten alive by an anaconda.
And just yesterday, I listened to a sermon by Robert Jeffress (from First Baptist Dallas) titled “The Crux of Christianity.” His opening illustration was a joke about a man who purposely killed his wife’s affectionate cat by drowning it in a river. His wife was filled with distress and cried severely when she found her cat was missing. Lying to his wife, he promised he would put an add into the newspaper guaranteeing a 1,000 dollar reward for the lost cat. When questioned by his friend about the high price, the man responded: “When you know what I know, you can afford to be generous.” Jeffress went on to claim that Jesus “said something very similar. Not about cats. But the message of Luke chapter 6 is very clear: when you know what Jesus knows, you can afford to be generous.” Congratulations sir, you managed to Jesus-juke a joke about cat murder.
(Note: “Jesus-juke” means to take something that has no relation to Jesus, and try to turn it into a Christian message. Example: preaching a sermon about the Sharknado series, and claiming that grace is the chainsaw we use to fight the Sharknado of our soul. See also every sermon given Ed Young from Fellowship Church. His “Fifty Shades of They” series really taught me about godly friendships [okay, maybe not], but the title does sound familiar…)
It’s no secret that most Christians hold little esteem for God’s creation — as evident in the fact that so many still deny climate change, take no concern with the environment, and rarely mention the horrendous problem of animal extinction. Christians are charged with the duty of taking care of the earth, since we are made in the image of God. Nonetheless, we take little concern with such matters — even mocking vegetarians and all those tree-huggers who recycle. Such rhetoric and language mocking the death of God’s creation is merely evidence of the greater problem with Christianity’s relationship to nature.
And I doubt Jesus would brag about beating a possum to death with a baseball bat.
The second issue I find odd is that of circumcision jokes. Being a Christian all of my life, I’m aware of how much circumcision is a theme within the Bible. Yeah, it’s a really awkward topic — especially in mixed company. Everyone knows that. So why not lighten the mood on Sunday mornings with jokes about cutting off foreskin with a knife? I can’t think of any better comedic material (sarcasm).
There’s no escaping the topic of circumcision in the Bible. But if all you can say about it is a few middle-school-level jokes, then you’re doing your job wrong. Only once in my life have I learned anything from a preacher about Pauline theology concerning the topic of circumcision. There’s actually some important things to ascertain through reading those parts of Galatians, etc. But making jokes about circumcision does nothing more than demonstrate the immaturity of the pastor. And can you imagine the way such sermons are viewed by non-Christians? “Hey! Do you wanna come to my church this weekend? The pastor might make a bunch of jokes about circumcision!”
Another rhetorical aspect of preaching that drives me insane is when pastor’s attempt to assert their masculinity by using ‘edgy’ and ‘crude’ man-language. A perfect example is Perry Nobel. His “advice” to young men who don’t know how to ask out a girl on a date is tell them to “grow a set.” He mentioned several examples of boys who came to him and did not know how to date a girl. Mr. Noble then proceeded to assert that such young men are “eunuchs” and “losers.” He literally issued a six-minute rant, saying that such men lack male genitalia — just like Jesus would do (sarcasm).
And furthermore, many statements or stories are used in sermons that really should never be told. For example, in another youth group adventure of mine, the youth pastor’s opening story was about how he once kicked a boy on the playgroup so hard that he broke the kid’s testicles, and he had to go to the hospital to get stitches. This pastor’s segway into the Biblical message? “Sometimes, we get into fights with our parents.” I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. wishes he could have thought of such an amazing illustration for conflict (*pounds head against table*).
And just tonight, I attended a co-ed, intimate small group in which the preacher told the boys in the room: “If y’all grow up to be terrible fathers, I will cut of your penis. I’m serious. I’ll nail those little things to a telephone pole.” No further comment is needed to elucidate such absurdity.
And if I were to list all of the ways in which preachers imply that women are nagging, vengeful, power-hungry creatures whose skinny jeans are akin to pornography, I would make this post way too long.
So how do we respond to such rhetoric?
First, we need to have compassion for both sides before addressing the issue.
Why did the small group preacher I mentioned threaten to castrate me and my friends tonight? It’s because he fights human traffic and witnesses young girls being raped. All of them claim to have had horrible fathers. Why was this statement still not appropriate? I know personally of some young men in that group who’ve experience life circumstances similar to molestation. They view their bodies as damaged goods. Making such claims merely brings up the scars they still carry. The pastor surely didn’t use the best words, but we need to first have compassion for the individuals in situations like these. Later, I plan on lovingly confronting this pastor in private and explaining to him why his use of words may not be the best means of addressing the issue of poor fatherhood.
What about the other situations I mentioned earlier — such as stories and jokes about animal death or circumcision? Those situations are the result of immaturity, so how can we respond to them in a godly way?
First, as Christians, we have a right to point out absurd language and unChristlike rhetoric stemming from the pulpit. However, we must do this in compassion and with mercy, reminding ourselves that we commit grievances to God on a daily basis. Not all of us make ridiculous jokes about circumcision, but we all harbor hatred and vengeance in our hearts — perhaps even to preachers who make insensitive jokes. Thus, we must forgive these pastors in our hearts. We must not turn them into a scapegoat. Then, I think it is important to confront them in love. Explain to them that they could be more effective in sharing the message of Jesus if they used a more appropriate rhetoric. With this motivation, we can be more certain that we are acting out of love and for the sake of the church.
Christians must constantly be examining our language, rhetoric, and the way we present ourselves to the rest of society. We may not always have control over the way society treats Christianity. But we absolutely have control over how we present ourselves, and in this task, we hold absolute responsibility.