Have you ever heard the adage that says “just because you have the right to say something, does NOT mean that you are right to say it”? Perhaps this quote, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, says it better:
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Of course, in the age of the intertubes no inflammatory statement stays hidden for long. This week, a pastor in Tempe told his congregation (and then, of course, a news camera) that he is praying for President Obama’s death. No, really, I am not making this up. He really is. He wants him to die of a brain tumor. I am paraphrasing here, but he basically says in the video interview that he wants the President to die and go to hell.
I struggle to maintain an attitude of understanding with people like this. I mean, the guy is a pastor. He should know what the book says, right? I mean, I know that it is hard to grasp what Paul is getting after in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, but let’s see what we can find there:
1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
Okay, praying for all who are in authority. Got it. Thanksgivings: check. Petitions on their behalf, no problem. Asking God to give them a brain tumor and send them to hell…not so much. That doesn’t even include passages like Romans 13:1-6 or Matthew 22:21.
This is nothing new for this particular pastor. He drew national attention when he supposedly got tased by Border Patrol. Search for him on YouTube and you’ll find sermons that make me shake my head.
My concern here is not political. If he really, really hates President Obama and wants him not to be the president, then that is his right. It is even his right under the First Amendment (quick, name all five rights guaranteed under the first amendment before clicking here to see how you did) to say what he said.
What frustrates me is that the world is not seeing this as the statement of this guy Steve. No, crazy people say crazy stuff all the time, so that is not noteworthy. They post it on YouTube all the time. They have dopey websites. The world is instead seeing this as the statement of Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, and they are seeing it on national news.
Then the connections come, the ones that I want to avoid. See, I am the pastor of a Baptist church. The world out there does not know the difference between a typical church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (like ours) and an Independent, Fundamental, King-James Only Baptist church (like Faithful Word). There is a real chance of people rejecting what kind, well-meaning, and thoughtful Christians have to say because of the associations with this kind of ranting.
This is really, really frustrating to me. I suppose this blog post is at least partly motivated by my desire to completely disavow anything this guy has ever said. People like him were very much behind our decision as a church to remove the word “Baptist” from our name last summer. We love being affiliated with SBC, but don’t love being lumped in with that kind of hatred.
I had a similar experience awhile back when Laura and I went out. We went to a place that has dueling pianos in Tempe, where people make requests and the piano players play while the audience sings along. When we left we ran into a man yelling at the crowd to repent through a bullhorn, telling them all that they were sinners going to hell. Whether the message is right or wrong, the method of approach makes the message unable to be heard.
I wish guys like this would consider the advice I got from my mentor while in seminary. I had a hard time censoring my comments my first year, and wasn’t very sensitive to other students. We instituted a rule that I had to answer a few questions in the affirmative before I was allowed to speak in class:
- Was the question on-topic?
- Would other students benefit from the interaction? Was it helpful not just to me but to others?
- Was I really asking a question, or was I trying to just score points for my position? Was I trying to lead discussion or gather information?
- Did the question need to be asked in class? Could it be handled privately?
If I could answer all four affirmatively, I could talk. Otherwise I had to hold my tongue. I called the rule “Shut up, John. Shut up.” In times like these I wish I could enforce the rule on others, too.
So if you saw this pastor open his yap, please do me a favor and realize that he is on the radical extreme. He has the right to say what he wants, but we have a right not to listen to him. His attitude, in my opinion, is the exact opposite of what the Bible says about how to treat those in authority. Please do not regard what he says as being representative of Christianity or the teaching of Jesus.
And please, join me this week in praying for our President. If you know me, you know that he and I do not see eye-to-eye politically. I didn’t vote for him. Nevertheless, I will pray for him and respect him as God’s chosen agent for my government at this time, praying also that God would show him how to make godly decisions and give him the strength to do so.