The Danger of the Pulpit
- Wednesday, July 01, 2009
My wife collects Precious Moments figurines. Most of the little statuettes that reside in her curio cabinet were given to her by me on various special occasions or holidays because (a) I love her, (b) she likes them, (c) they make a convenient gift when I don’t know what else to get, and (d) I can’t afford the European and Polynesian vacations I’d like to give her.
I’m not a Precious Moments collector myself, and so Debra does not customarily bestow the figurines upon me. She did once give me one, however, and it has resided in my various offices over the years ever since; indeed, I can see it from where I sit as I type these words.
As those of you who are familiar with Precious Moments know, each figurine bears a title that you can find printed on its underside. Mine says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
The figurine is of a little boy standing behind a pulpit; the pulpit is adorned with a cross and has a Bible sitting atop it. The boy is wearing a suit and a bow tie and an expression that I can best describe as a cross between resigned and bemused. He has smudges on his face, a bandage on his forehead and a broken egg atop his head; the pulpit and the floor around him are splattered with eggs and vegetables.
Yep, he’s a preacher.
All is not lost for him, though, because he has a puppy beside him and, as the title on the underside says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
That precious Precious Moments figure reminds me, in its cute and endearing way, that the pulpit can be a dangerous place but that the preacher can count on those who love him or her (as represented by the puppy) and on the good Lord—and that he or she can do such counting no matter what eggs or tomatoes or slings or arrows come.
And they will come. As a sign in my study tells me, we preachers are called to “comfort the afflicted” and to “afflict the comfortable.” When we do the latter, particularly on those rare occasions when we muster the courage to name as sin those sins that are not the generally agreed upon acceptable sins to talk about in our particular community, then we can expect the slings and arrows and eggs. You know the sins I’m talking about, the things that everybody thinks of as sin but that either (a) we all know that certain folks aren’t going to stop doing but we figure the preacher is obligated to speak against or (b) we think are being committed only by people we don’t hang out with anyway but who are probably more prevalent in our congregations than we think they are. When we talk about those sins that the Bible clearly names as sin but that nobody wants to face up to as being sin—things like prejudice, greed, profiting at the expense of the poor and vulnerable, for example—we might even get criticized and talked about when we “comfort the afflicted.” This is because there are always those among us who think that certain afflicted ones shouldn’t be comforted because they brought it on themselves or because they don’t deserve it or because of some other attitude that ought not be held by anyone who really takes Jesus seriously.
Still, if we preachers are faithful and true to the prophetic side and even to the priestly side of our calling, we can expect the tomatoes and eggs and slings and arrows—metaphorically speaking, of course.
But what about bullets? And I’m not speaking metaphorically.
Earlier this year, a man walked into the First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., had a brief conversation with pastor Fred Winters and then shot him. The minister died from his wounds, and his assailant was wounded by his own knife when two parishioners tackled him. It is a terrible tragedy for the family of the minister, for the family of his attacker and for the family of faith at First Baptist Maryville.
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