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|“Pulpit”, from the eyes of my 9-yr old son|
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According to Wikipedia.org, a bully pulpit is: “An older term within the U.S. Government, a bully pulpit is a public office or other position of authority of sufficiently high rank that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter. The bully pulpit can bring issues to the forefront that were not initially in debate, due to the office’s stature and publicity.”
The correct definition of bully pulpit does not refer to a pastor abusing authority from the pulpit; however, using the literal meanings of “bully” and “pulpit” seemed appropriate to me when we were there. Interestingly, I have been in contact with others who also used the bully pulpit expression in the same sense.
The Bully Pulpit
You commit a sin. You either get caught, or realize the error of your sin. You initiate a meeting with your pastor to discuss said sin, or perhaps if you are caught, you are called into a meeting with the pastor to discuss the situation.
Let’s say everything is worked out in the meeting: confession, contrition, repentance, and forgiveness between all parties, and with God.
You think everything is fine. You’re forgiven. The slate is clean and it’s time to move on. God’s grace is sufficient. Or perhaps it is not? This thought is so important: is God’s grace sufficient or is it not? Tuck that thought away. It is an important theme in this article.
Your heart is now clean and you look forward to attending the Wednesday night teaching. You get to start fresh and want to walk in the light. This is good. Yea!
With your Bible in your lap, your hand ready to take notes, you ready yourself to hear the teaching. The pastor starts preaching. After the first few sentences a dark cloud descends on you. The teaching is regarding the same sin issue that brought you to the pastor’s office. Your heart starts racing.
He’s talking about you, and you know it. He doesn’t name your name, but you recognize certain details. You feel hurt, ashamed, and betrayed. This was supposed to be a fresh start. You have difficulty looking up at the pastor as he is teaching. You do not want your eyes to connect and give the perception to others that this was your sin issue.
You wonder if anyone else knows of your sin. You keep your head forward because you don’t want to see the eyes of others looking at you. You feel guilty all over again. You want to leave and weigh the options of leaving versus staying. You decide to stay, but quickly leave when people are dismissed so as not to mingle with anyone who might know your story. You especially don’t want to run into the pastor. This Wednesday service is not what you had hoped it to be. What purpose did that earlier meeting have?
A week goes by. You convince yourself to go back – that the pastor is going to move on to a different topic. You need to move on. The following Wednesday, you find that the message this week is Part 2, a continuation of last week’s teaching. The wound has been scraped once again. It bleeds. The same emotions from last week are overwhelming.
What should be healing, has not healed. It is like a scab that has been scraped off or picked. It may get infected. Where there should have been a layer of new skin is now an open wound. God’s grace doesn’t feel sufficient. Does He really offer any grace at all? It doesn’t feel like it.
What thoughts and emotions are going through my mind now? How does it feel knowing the possibility that my sin has been exposed to others? Will they still accept me, love me? Will this open up old wounds in relationships?
On the flip side, if you are a congregant and hear a sermon like this, it makes you wonder who the pastor is talking about. You know how this works. You may have experienced it, too. You might look around and try to guess who was caught in this sin. What does this do to the unity of the congregation? How does this make you feel toward the “sinner?” Does it draw you closer, or further away? How does this make you feel about meeting with the pastor, knowing your sins very likely will be addressed publicly from the pulpit? In a church this size, no names need to be mentioned and the sinner will usually be exposed in the form of holy gossip: we need to pray for sinner “Joe” as he’s really struggling.
This environment is hurtful for both the sinner and the congregants who see this played out before them. There is confusion. Sometimes this creates an environment where congregants begin to be on the lookout for the sins of others.
These informants feed the pastor news about members in sin. These informants unknowingly create an unhealthy alliance with the pastor. They perpetuate this destructive cycle of “sin sniffing:” sinner is confronted, meetings with the pastor occur, The Bully Pulpit lesson is taught regarding the sin. Informants are given pseudo grace by the pastor and their own sins may be overlooked because they have won his favor by sharing sin secrets with him.
The emphasis of the church seems to be heavily on sin and repentance, but not grace.
This is a travesty to the meaning of grace, the meaning of church, the meaning of a shepherd.
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