In the Sunday, August 9, 2009, "Parade" magazine, movie celeb Brad Pitt is talking about his life with Angelina Jolie. They are all the rage of the tabloids, they appear to be in love, they live together but are unmarried, and they're the parents of five children, three of them adopted from various countries.

Wherever they live--in France, in L.A., and in New Orleans--Pitt says he tries to get involved in helping the needy. In New Orleans, his organization is leading the way in innovative techniques for building new homes for those devastated by Katrina.

And yet, this couple is a favorite target for anyone with a soapbox and a sermon, it would appear.

Pitt says, "I resent people telling others how to live! It drives me mental!"

"Just the other night," he says, "I heard this TV reverend say that Angie and I were setting a bad example because we were living out of wedlock, and people should not be duped by us! It made me laugh!"

He might have laughed, but he was angry. "What d--n right does anyone have to tell someone else how to live if they're not hurting anyone?"

Those of us in the ministry know exactly what was happening with that preacher, I surmise. He was making a point, a biblical one, no doubt, about the sanctity of marriage or the importance of obeying the teachings of scripture in one's personal life. He thought of Brad and Angie and threw that in to make his point.

A few years ago it was Elizabeth Taylor and her--how many, eight?--multiple marriages. In the 1990s, it was President Bill Clinton and his philandering ways. It was Michael Jackson, it was Marilyn Monroe, it was Madonna. In the 1940s it was Errol Flynn and the usual Hollywood crowd.

It's cheap preaching.

On the surface this kind of direct, in-your-face sermonizing seems biblical since the Bible has so much to say on the subject of marital fidelity and purity of mind and body. The Old Testament prophets seem to have come down hard on the rulers of their day--the only kind of celebrities they had--and spared no guns.

But those prophets exercised a kind of caution absent with a lot of today's preachers.

Check out the preaching of Amos, the blisteringly strong 8th-century B.C. prophet, who is the role model for every modern would-be prophet. Amos was careful to deal with the big picture and not to accuse individuals by name. Well, okay, other than the head priest of Israel, a character named Amaziah who asked for everything Amos handed him. (Amos 7:10.)

There's something self-righteous and hypocritical within some of us--maybe all of us; I'm not sure--that cries out for the preacher to "let those other people have it!"

I still cringe at the memory of the preacher who stood at a public gathering in the Washington, D.C., area and opened with a stale joke, "As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eighth husband, 'I'll not keep you long.'" In the audience was Virginia Senator John Warner, the eighth (or whatever number) husband of Elizabeth Taylor.

An incredibly deep hurt, no doubt, and for what? Absolutely nothing. The preacher was just trying to be cute.

Let's see if I can say this and be kind and gracious about it: the preacher who stands in his pulpit and attacks modern celebrities by name for their sins is a coward.

If he is addressing the sinners in person, and decides to talk with them about their behavior, that's another story. (We think of John the Baptist confronting Herod Antipas for taking his brother's wife. The story is recorded in Matthew 14, among other places. It was courageous, it was bold, it got him arrested, and eventually beheaded. Was it the right thing to do? We'll leave that to the Lord and John.)

"I preach against sin," some man of God responds.

No problem there. But let's see you address the sins of your audience, not those out in La-La-Land. Those are too easy targets. The ones in the pews pay your salary, and in too many cases, buy your silence.