A content warning, I suppose, is in order for this. At least if it were me, I’d want to know that I’m about to talk a whole lot about some specific [if nameless] shitty Christians. Also, a trigger warning for abuse of a minor (it’s an extremely brief mention).
I’m working on a story — well, a novel, maybe — and for that, I need to do a little bit of research. I want to build a framework around some old church sermons with a pretty specific theme. Thankfully (or not so much since there’s a whole lot of things I’d rather have stuck in my head) I used to go to the kind of church that espoused the kind of ideologies and doctrines this story is going to feature. This means I know pretty easily the kind of people to look up who might have sermons online to listen to.
Specifically, I found sermons from a travel ministry my old pastor taught around the country in the years long after he was the pastor. I listened to one tonight, just one, and I had to skip ahead to avoid the most boring bits. But here’s something I discovered upon listening: this asshole pastor (and he is for reasons I won’t get in to right now) is using stories told to him by the teenagers from my old school to shill his bullshit to the masses around the country. Oh yeah. Shocked me too.
Sure I’m aware pastors and evangelists, revivalists and missionaries, they all use stories from their own lives to weave into their sermons. And for the most part, we don’t mind because the stories are vague and mundane. They’re stories that could really be about anyone.
This isn’t one of those stories. My high school, in a good year, had maybe a total of 70 kids. 15 kids per grade, average for years 8-12. So when you talk about kids that attended the school at a specific grade level and whether or not they had a sibling and what gender they are. It’s not that difficult (if you know the place) to start filtering down to who he might be talking about.
But this isn’t just any story he told. He told a specific story about someone who’d graduated from school with enough details to figure out who it was. And maybe if this was a happy story about the person I wouldn’t be so shocked. But this isn’t a happy tale he’s sharing with thousands of people (or is online for anyone to hear). He tells a specific story that this person shared with him in private about a time as a kid when they were abused. Using details and language that should not just be upsetting for someone that even sort of knows who they are (like me) but for a crowd of church-going strangers twenty years later. This old pastor though, he shares details about the abuse, details about this person’s life… and does so not necessarily making light of it, but ignoring the depth of it in order to make a point, to use it as the core for his sermon. As a catalyst to action.
Listen, these people I was raised with, they weren’t good people. I knew it then, I know it even better now. And yet somehow, each time I learn a little tidbit of information about one of them, like this, I’m still surprised.
How…. how can someone who worked for dozens of years as a pastor, a counselor, a teacher of minds old and young alike, casually toss out information like that in a sermon to strangers? I don’t get it.
Now maybe I’m of base here and he got the permission of the person he speaks of in his sermon. Maybe, despite the gravity of the story, it’s not a big deal to this person? Having heard the story and having a pretty good idea who this person is, I want to assume that’s not the case. But readers… I was shocked and sad and really, really disappointed to hear it. And I didn’t want to be listening to this mess in the first place.
So I don’t know what of this series of sermons awaits me next, if there more stories from the people and places of my childhood to hear about. But I’m assuming there will be.