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I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby Lehigh Valley Man » Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:18 am

I attend church with my Christian wife almost every week. I am atheist, but I go with her to support her. I've also benefited by developing great friendships in our close-knit church community. We live in a large city, and this church is literally across the street, my front door is adjacent to the church front door.

So for a little background, it is Presbyterian, and pretty traditional with the theology but pretty progressive with the culture: come as you are, alot of diversity, it is a recent church plant of like 7 yrs. In the last 3 yrs I've developed a close personal relationship with our pastor, so I feel like I'm not the average attendee. What I mean is we have dinner at each other's house, I've driven his kid to baseball practices, and picked him up from the airport. I've helped him with renovations at his house, and I have spent dozens and dozens of hours doing maintenance at the church...fixing the AC during the summer heat wave, etc. We have opened our home for weeks at a time to volunteers that were helping at summer camp, etc. I have keys to the building, ya know, I'm in the inner circle. I don't say this to show how great I think I am, but to illustrate that my wife and I are very close with the leadership there. And they have been there for us big time when we were in need.

Ok, so now the conflict. Normally I pretty much ignore most of the sermons, because I simply don't believe in a personal god. But I often am able to glean some reminders and lessons that are useful...things about forgiveness, tolerance, being selfless, etc. But recently we started going through Romans in the sermons, and I have to say that every time we discuss Pauline scripture I find how the Pastor interprets it to be very distasteful.

So it started with last week, and I feel like he is just constantly railing on and villianizing non-believers. Last week, the big take-aways were that every person KNOWS in their heart that God exists, but non-believers are simply pretending not to believe, and denying what has been made obvious through General Revelation. He gave no examples of this apparent GR except for the fact that we are all here (creation). He stated that non believers are actively at war against God. And then he made some other crazy statements like if someone asks for evidence of God, the fact that they are asking is evidence in itself. Ok, so what?...I found that sermon just intellectually dishonest, but not particularly offensive.

But this week he started really getting insulting. He related the Greek translation for the word fool (or something like that ) and explained how its the base for the English word: Moron. He said almost gleefully how the bible clearly says that non-believers are morons. He went on with saying how humans were made for worshiping God, and how the foolish atheist instead chooses to worship themselves, or every other sensual, depraved and impure pleasure of the flesh (quoting ephesians ) And he also made some trite comments about how people who worship animals by having a relationship with pets is somehow terrible too. (I have no kids, but a dog and 2 cats that I do love very much). I am paraphrasing alot, of course, but honestly I just felt extremely insulted the entire time. I walked out after the sermon, I just didn't want to be there anymore.

It wasn't always like that. When we 1st started going we were studying Mark, and obviously the gospel content was always spun with a message of love and unity, not division. I just don't understand what the point is of speaking out so hatefully against folks like me who he claims are welcomed there. I have often encouraged some atheist friends to come some Sunday because of how different this church is. But if they would have come today (this last service) I would have been embarrassed and ashamed for bringing them to the insult fest. What about this is supposed to win the hearts of the non-believer?

And if he meant it only for the believer audience, what kind of message is that?...Saying that there is nothing good, ever, in any thought/action/word/desire of the non-believer because they are godless. And that the non-believer is such a fool and moron for denying Jesus. It's a double standard, because they are a Calvinist church, and they also preach that there is nothing any person can do to affect the outcome of their own salvation, and it is only by the grace of God that a person is saved. And god elects that some people do not receive his grace by his own sovereign will. So how is an atheist a moron for not accepting God? It's not even our choice according to the doctrine!

Ok, so there it is in a nutshell. I am really hurt that my pastor who I truly love and respect could be so publicly cruel towards my own affiliation. I feel like I don't even want to go anymore...why should I sacrifice my time on Sunday just to be insulted? I am just really conflicted about what to do. I recognize that all he said is a necessary part of the theology, I know he wasn't speaking to me personally, and I don't think I am owed an apology or anything. There is so much in the bible to study, why would he focus on that which is so negative and divisive?
Lehigh Valley Man
 

Re: I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:43 am

Since you are good friends, the best approach would be to have a conversation with him. If you don't want to let him know you're an atheist, that's your choice, but you could still let him know, as wcspaz said, that his comments weren't being fair to unbelievers, but were unfair stereotypes and would be hurtful to anyone in the room who were unbelievers. Hopefully he could see the error of his word choices and explanations.

As far as Romans 1, v. 19 says that God has given clues of his existence in normal things that we all have and all have access to: a conscience (our sense of right and wrong), nature (perceiving purpose, beauty, design, order, uniformity, functionality, cause and effect, the validity of sense perceptions, reason, personality, and morality), and the story of the life of Jesus (common domain research).

> the big take-aways were that every person KNOWS in their heart that God exists, but non-believers are simply pretending not to believe, and denying what has been made obvious through General Revelation.

I disagree with this. I have found in my many conversations here that atheists and skeptics really DON'T know, and they are doing their best to examine the evidence and think it through. And it's not true that they (you) are simply pretending not to believe. You've thought about it, obviously, and aren't convinced. General revelation is there, but it doesn't make God obvious. It just makes the concept of God worth thinking through. General revelation needs to be support by special revelation to take the conversation further.

The text does say, "what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them..." The point here is not that you're pretending not to believe, but that there is an abundance of evidence to examine should you choose to. Philosophically and theologically these evidences of general revelation support theism more than they do atheism. These may have been what your pastor was referring to, though it could have been said with more diplomacy.

> The Greek word for "fool."

The Greek word in Romans 1.22 is μωραίνω (moraino), and it is true that's the etymological source of our English word "moron." But it's regressive to insist that's what the Greeks meant by it. We use moron as an insult, but it was not so in Greek culture. A closer modern analogy would be "his thinking was not what it should have been, given the evidence at hand." Arriving at an insufficient conclusion from the factors at play. Paul's point is not that these people were imbeciles, but that their minds were under the control of a power that clouded their thinking. For all their smarts, at best they were still only seeing part of the picture. (We know that "fool" in the Bible carries with it a context of the person who doesn’t see God in the equation: Ps. 14.1; Prov. 1.7.) Paul is talking about a spiritual blindness, not an intellectual stupidity.
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Re: I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby Lehigh Valley Man » Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:05 am

Thanks for your reply...I think maybe I'll just talk to him about it. He knows I am atheist, since the 1st day we met. Everyone one there knows I'm a non-believer. I don't make a show of it, but I don't hide it. I'm the one asking the hard questions at bible study. And the pastor and I have discussed my beliefs and worldview many times, in many circumstances. I otherwise would think that he truly accepts me, even though I understand that my unbelief is unacceptable in his view. I'm probably just taking the sermons too personally...isn't that the way people are?...always making things about us? I need to relax a bit I guess
Lehigh Valley Man
 

Re: I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:07 am

I do think conversation would be best. But it would also be my guess that you're *supposed* to take the sermons personally. Hopefully that's why any pastor preaches—so that people's lives are changed. It's not just abstract; it's always personal. I would be more likely to guess that he was just preaching on autopilot, so to speak, and not thinking critically enough about the terms he was using and the connotations of his tones.
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Re: I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby Lehigh Valley Man » Mon Dec 19, 2016 2:39 pm

he is a nice guy, he's dynamic, and it only sounds like yelling through the recording. Occasionally I take notes on sermons for discussing later, here are my notes from last weeks sermon (that way you don't have to listen through it) I'm pleased that my recall is pretty accurate, after taking a 2nd listen...these are the quotes that I found intellectually vacuous:

12/11/16 Sermon Notes
Romans 1:16-20

Quotes:
7:13
“There are results of His wrath to our sin at this moment in every place of the world. You think the breaking down of the human body…our bodies breaking down the way they do…that’s not how things were meant to be. But that’s a result not just of sin, but of God’s judgement. The curse that God brings to the rebellion of human beings against him, that’s nit just because of sin…understand that…that is also because of God’s judgement of sin, that’s why our bodies break down, and it is sad indeed.”

19:36
“By their unrighteousness they suppress truth. Now to suppress is to reject something, but its more than just rejecting it, its actually active warfare against it. It’s a pressing down, or fighting down; it’s a relationship of opposition – that’s what people do with the truth of God…they try to keep it down.”

21:21
“That’s exactly what Paul was talking about when he talks about the unbelief of people and their relationship to truth…they are fighting to keep it down – everything they can do to not have to deal with the truth of God.”

21:56
“If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, your relationship with God is one of war.”

23:53
“God is clear to all because he has revealed himself to all. Every single one of us and EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD, whether they admit it or not, knows that he is, knows that he is to be worshiped, and knows that he is to be served. It doesn’t matter what they tell you. It is true…even if they are denying it.”

25:03
“Every denial of God affirms that he is, whether or not the denier sees it or not. Dome might say: that’s just a circular argument, Pastor Jonathan, it begins and ends with God. And I would say: AMEN, hallelujah, you’re right. Every argument begins and ends with God.”

31:31
“Us asking for proof of God is evidence of it.”
Lehigh Valley Man
 

Re: I've been hurt by the pastor. What should I do?

Postby jimwalton » Fri Dec 30, 2016 1:51 am

Yeah, I guess I disagree with some of what he's saying.

> our bodies breaking down the way they do

Our bodies were always meant to be temporary. They were mortal ("made of dust," Gn. 2.7). They needed help if they were going to live (Tree of Life). And they ultimately have to be transformed into a different kind of material body for eternity (1 Cor. 15).

> suppression of truth

"Suppress" in Rom. 1.18 is in the active voice, and therefore the subject is producing the action. The Gk. verb is κατέχω (katecho): "Hold down; hold back; hold up; cover up; suppress; hold illegally; hold in prison." It is used of imprisonment: to bind and contain in separation; to prevent a person or power from breaking out. Bavinck says we could better translate it as "repress": the process by which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from consciousness and thus being denied direct satisfaction are left to operate in the unconscious.

How would you interpret it and translate it into English?

> “If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, your relationship with God is one of war.”

I disagree. Those who don't believe in Jesus are in enmity—in need of reconciliation, but I'm not sure I'd go as strong as "war."

> “God is clear to all because he has revealed himself to all.

I don't agree. God has revealed himself, but he's not clear (1 Cor. 13.9-12).

> circular argument

Um, uh, er, no. "Every argument beings and ends with God"? Um, no. Certainly Christians have presuppositions and first principles, as do atheists and all the rest of the population, too. There are certain things we have to assume before we can talk about anything. So a certain amount of "circularity" is a given in any conversational context. But I think he was just preaching here, not philosophizing or theologizing. I think you can't take this too far or it falls apart pretty quickly.


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