The other day, I stumbled across an online sermon by the worst person I’ve ever known.
It’s from December.
In it, he tells a terribly sad story and then speaks of the self-destructive life, detailing how it develops. I’ll share his points now and give the context in which they were said later.
I’m quoting from him directly. I was furiously writing and pausing the sound file to get this all down, I was so gobsmacked.
Here’s the evolution of “the self-destructive life”:
All you have to do is …..
— avoid worship, avoid singing and rejoicing in the Lord and when you do sing and rejoice, make it only for a moment, not a lifestyle
— avoid studying truth
— avoid praying with abandon
— stop thanking God for the things you have; it will secure a self-destructive life
— complain about what you don’t have; make sure that you focus on the inequities of life; it will guarantee senselessness and rebellion
— compare yours to others, focus on that every day
— don’t invest in people’s lives
— remove yourself from society as far as you can
— never give where you don’t have to give
— isolate yourself from the kingdom of God
— don’t enjoy the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ; avoid them out of fear or anger or whatever drives you; you will definitely become self-destructive
— embrace self-pity as an acceptable emotion
— see the difficulties of your life as the basis for your self-pity and let your world wrap around that emotion
— justify your rebellion because of your pain and live with it every day
— focus totally on the temporal benefits of life
— never see the power of eternity and the purpose of living for God
— as a lifestyle, choose temporal things — beauty, acceptance, material possessions; you will inevitably become spiritually in rebellion against God
— finally, let the world dictate your worldview; don’t accept God’s truth as final; accept whatever the world says
This is the development of a self-destructive lifestyle.
I won’t argue the points; that’s not my purpose here. It’s difficult for me to write about this man because he is, to my mind, literally, the worst person I’ve ever known. For a while now, I’ve meant to write about my destructive dealings with him; I’ve even started and abandoned a few half-written posts because I find it almost impossible to write coherently about such an abusive person.
And just a few years ago, he was my pastor.
I don’t know how those points above struck you as you read them. Perhaps you found yourself agreeing with them. Fine. They aren’t necessarily wrong. Actually, divorced from the larger context of his message, I pretty much agree with them.
But here is the context I promised:
He is speaking of his ex-wife, to whom he was married nearly 30 years.
His own ex-wife.
Who had killed herself exactly a week before.
Here she is, not cold in the grave, and she is made to be his public model for the “self-destructive lifestyle.” The mother of his children. A woman known by many people at the church. The pastor’s longtime wife, for God’s sake! The woman he’d spent the larger part of his life with. The woman who had stood by him all those years until — for whatever reasons — she’d left him about 5 years before.
She is dead and gone, but still useful fodder for some sermon points, I guess. Points that read like some callous litany of a dead woman’s supposed flaws, rebellions, and sins against man and God, even.
He is USING her flaws as a sermon outline. It is so cold-blooded, it made me gasp.
Whether they are accurate or not is MOOT. It’s moot. There can be no reasonable or compassionate context for such a violation.
She is dead.
These are for private consideration, not public broadcast.
He goes on to describe her death:
On Sunday morning, at about 12 o’clock, she took another stash of pills and this time added substance to it that would guarantee this time would work (ed.: she had tried to kill herself just the week before) …. and at 2:30 she went into the presence of the Lord.
The inevitable result of a life of drinking the poison of lies every day.
Wow. “Inevitable result”? Inevitable? Such compassion. So, uhm …. “that’s what you get,” I guess? You will inevitably kill yourself, then? If it was inevitable that’s what would happen, why was she left alone so it could happen?
I won’t write about my interactions with this man right now. At some point, perhaps I will. It all takes a backseat, though, to what happened with his ex-wife, TO his ex-wife. I never knew her, but certainly knew of her. Somehow, though, I always felt a small sort of kinship with her. It’s arrogant even to say that, I suppose, but I felt through my comparatively short, but nonetheless damaging relationship with this pastor, I had a glimpse of what her life might have been like living with such a man. A man who lives too much for his public. A man who cares too much about image. A man of God, publicly committed to biblical truth who will not be privately swayed by it, even when put right in front of him. A man who expects bending to his will, not God’s. A man who will humiliate and verbally abuse. A man who sends people limping and broken from his church, at his hands, and cares not a bit to tend to their wounds. A man who will not apologize or seek forgiveness. A man who fits the clinical definition of a narcissist.
You may say I’m being judgmental. Go ahead. Say it. But we are called to judge, to have discernment. We are called to judge what is right and wrong, what is good and evil. A lack of conscience is a breeding ground for all kinds of harm. I speak from what I know of this man and I’ll wager I know more of him than many of the wiry-haired old ladies who’ve sat in those pews for years and see him only as they choose to see him — as the apple of their faithful, fading eyes.
Near the end of this sermon, he says:
Suicide is a horrible, horrible tragedy of human despair. It comes from a life that has been unable to assimilate truth and truth to become that which changes a life. (emphasis mine)
So she failed. She was “unable to assimilate truth”; therefore, she committed suicide. To suggest that the only reason a person commits suicide is because she is “unable to assimilate truth” is not only faulty logic; it’s cruel. There are plenty of non-Christians, unassimilated to the truth, who don’t commit suicide. Suicide comes from a place too dark and too deep for this man’s understanding.
I felt sick to my stomach listening to this and so deeply, horribly sad for her. The fate of this woman I never knew kept me up last night. I know she’s with God, free of earthly chains. But her life ……. I’m only left to imagine.
After I listened to this message, I poked around the archives and found the sermon from the previous week. Here’s the mental picture I could not escape as I listened to it and put the timeline together:
The pastor, up in his pulpit, speaking on this week of the failed suicide attempt of “a woman he knows and cares about” just the Sunday before, while at the very same time — because it happened on this very Sunday morning — she is at home, alone, recovering from her failed attempt, by making sure it succeeds this time.
As he speaks of her attempt and exploits her despair, she is all alone and dying. This man, who’s all about biblical “context, context, context,” seems utterly devoid of proper emotional context in real life, in interpersonal issues. This was a violation of his ex-wife, his dead ex-wife, someone despairing enough that death seemed the only escape. Trotting her out in front her former church as a negative example of how to live, well, it’s the work of an utter narcissist.
She died at Thanksgiving. Three months ago. Meanwhile, he seems to have a new girlfriend. My Beloved had recently seen him with a woman at a local coffeehouse. And yesterday, since we live in the neighborhood, we happened to be driving by the church as the late service was letting out and spotted him. There he was, this 50-something-year-old man, strutting along the sidewalk, laughing loudly, sporting a Ryan Seacrest-type shirt, having retired, I guess, the suit he stubbornly used to wear. I imagine because this look is more “cool.” He was towing a woman along behind him, hand in hand, the same woman MB had seen; I assume a girlfriend. If she’d witnessed this coldhearted sermon, how did she not bolt for the door? I don’t see how a person of any discernment could miss the cold and hostile context here.
Prancing down that sidewalk, the pastor seemed quite over the “intense agony” he’d said he had.
To the one who is gone, I am so sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I am so sorry that you died so despairing, so alone.
But I know — I know! — you’ve finally found the abundant love that perhaps you never felt here.