Bully Pulpit Abuse

AKA, “Waging a Personal Vendetta”

How do you preach fairly and faithfully when you have been under fire and deeply challenged with simply surviving, let alone projecting energy for uplifting sermons?  Let’s be honest.  The sermon you want to preach involves the specific agonies of your renewed faith in the existence of hell.  Explain how the flesh burns mercilessly off their bones, with no hope for relief.  They may want a simple glass of water, but never.  Their suffering must be complete, feeling every moment of pain you yourself has suffered.

Think about it for a few moments . . . is it out of your system, yet? … OK, may we return to reality now?

Does that help?  It may feel good.  Get it out of your system if that’s what you need, but in the need your woes will only be worse.  Seriously, you must guard the Gospel itself as Christ’s call against your own personal grievances and vindictive retribution.  Your sermons may not be as harsh as previously noted, but pay attention.  Some of that hate will manifest itself without realizing it.

Teddy Roosevelt is credited with animating the expression of “bully pulpit,” but it’s probably not what you may suspect.  It does now really have to do with turning pulpits into clubs and proceeding to war with a strong, yet heavy, club in hands.  Roosevelt held “bully” as a term of endearment.  In his time, it held a sense of wonderful.  It was his favorite adjective to describe a good time.  William Safire, Political Dictionary, defines it as

“an active use of the president’s prestige and high visibility to inspire or moralize.”

It’s an advantage providing the intentions are noble enough.  Allowing your preaching to seize an unfair advantage over your adversaries is an abuse not easy to live down.  Once this sin is committed, you may never live it down.  Your preaching can easily be spoiled with such selfish use of God’s grace.

The Problems with Personal Vendettas.

1) You will damage your own esteem in this church.

  1. a) you are tipping off your opponents about just where you are holding on. When you are in the midst of conflict, you must play with care; holding your cards close always guarded without benefit of others peaking.
  2. b) Grinding your issues does not help. You are reliving pain and now you have expanded it into a public arena. Preaching is never a means to vet the pressure. You will only increase the pressure by continually reliving it every Sunday.  Digging this up every week will only renew its toxic effects upon your soul.

2) You will empower your antagonists

Expressing too much rage will assure your opponents that their strategies are working, you are wearing down.  Expressing strength will discourage them, but stooping to low standards will expose a weakness.  They just might interpret such rants as close to collapsing and opening the way for their full coup.

Typically, they tuned you out long ago, but an occasional word will perk the attention.  If they interpret themselves as the focus the only result for them will be pure ego.  Despite the rambling rhetoric, which they never catch, they will be on the phone this afternoon to brag about being the headline of today’s sermon.  The moral of what you meant to reveal will never see the light of consciousness in their minds.  They will only hear, “it was about me, me and me!”  You will be handing them an adrenaline rush on a silver platter.

3) You have let down the faithful who came to church this morning searching for some degree of hope to deal with their own problems.  They will be walking away today confused about what that was all about.  They are outsiders to all this.  Remember, antagonists are typically less than 5% of your church, which means 95% and more are present with pure hearted questions about faith.  Using your pulpit to grind an elusive and confusing ax will fail your church.  Pay attention to those wanting to be there for good.  Why would you waste such an opportunity focused on such a small percentage of contrariness?

4) You have failed God.  He has drawn people to hear the gospel and find hope, and how have you responded?  You have made it forum of your wounded ego.  How terrible to let God down.  You have betrayed your calling to “rightly divide the truth,” and proclaim good news of Gospel hope.

Try some of these precautions,

1) Benefit of long range planning.  If anyone reads a personal affront this morning you must be quick to point out how many weeks/months ago this topic was selected and the basic flow was set.  It has not risen from this past week’s tension.  It’s a safe out, and it will help you to stay focused in more neutral time of planning.

2) Just do the lectionary.  Whatever your reluctance may have been, here is a significant asset to use it.  It will ease your own tension in sermon prep and keep you on a safer path to avoid controversy and save your energy for better things.

3) Recruit a Sermon referee to make judgment calls.  Look up your wedding vows, maybe there is something in there you could contrive to persuade your spouse to help.  Talk to your peers.  Run the theme by your Board Chair of Elder Chair.  They may give you good “objective” counsel which stress will have exhausted.  And even if they never say anything, just knowing someone will be making a “call” on your work may be enough to keep you honest and on track.

When the stress is running high, you must pay close attention to your sermon topics, themes and general scripture references.  It will reveal what is “really” going on inside which may disturb you to see your deeper pain of resentment.  Your targeted abusers will probably have phased out anything you may say from the pulpit, but if they catch any of your preaching gone into “ranting,” you have made yourself vulnerable to very unnecessary, renewed attacks.

Dr. Steve Minor, Administrator

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