I heard a familiar comment recently that always sticks in my craw. This particular person, in order to demonstrate his flexibility, tolerance and all-around Mr. Congeniality, offered this explanation: “I’m not trying to preach to anyone.”
Actually, if you could have heard his remarks you would have known that this nationally known political commentator is a strongly opinionated person who relishes stirring things up and has no intention of speaking judiciously. His bread and butter comes from being strongly opinionated, the more so the better. But he justified his comments by saying that he “wasn’t preaching,” thereby permitting himself by using a shopworn and offensive comparison.
“Oh, don’t be so thin-skinned,” you say. “Just because you’re a preacher you shouldn’t take it so personally that people use ‘preaching’ in such a derogatory way. You preachers get just what you deserve ... standing in a high and mighty pulpit, shaking your finger, moralizing, condemning and threatening. “
“But that’s not all of us, and it’s not any of us all of the time,” I protest.
“Yes it is! Some of us used to go to churches — at least until we couldn’t stand it any longer — where we received generous weekly doses hellfire and damnation. We even had a preacher who got carpal tunnel syndrome from simply wagging his finger at us each week.”
“You’re making that last part up.”
“No, we’re not. And furthermore, our first cousin had a preacher who lost his index finger in a tragic skill saw accident, discovered he could no longer preach effectively without that digit and elected to take early retirement. He even applied to Social Security for disability, claiming he could no longer preach because he could no longer point that finger.”
“That’s ridiculous and you know it! Preaching the Word of God is an honorable calling, one small element of which includes identifying sin and proscribing the way forward. The true pastor is grieved and heartbroken over the times he or she has to prophetically call people to repentance and conversion.”
“Okay, so what’s your solution, Mr. Preacher? Are you claiming that nobody can use the word ‘preaching’ unless it is a clergyperson speaking on 1 Corinthians 13?”
“Well, no, that’s not where I was going.”
“Then are you proposing that the phrase ‘I’m not preaching to you’ should be banned along with other offensive racial and ethnic slurs?”
“Well, I didn’t want to take my complaints that far, either.”
“Then let’s review the second paragraph of this very column. It looks to me like you have gone to preaching, wagging that index finger at us through your word processor. Seems like you want to have it both ways.”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe instead of trying to rehabilitate a phrase that’s not going to disappear from common parlance, I should simply insist that when people — whoever they are — start preaching, they should own up to it. Actually, I wish I’d written about Thanksgiving.”
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.