I remember, as a pastor, checking the news and getting quite a shock a few years ago. I opened USA Today back in March of 2021 and was greeted with this headline: “Missouri Pastor on Leave After Derogatory Sermon About Women, ‘trophy wife’ Melania Trump” 

To understand my reaction you need a little context. It would be rare for me to spend more than 20 minutes a day absorbing the news. My approach, particularly in the last 10 years, has been to get in, get what I need, and get out. I watch news shows so rarely that I literally can’t remember the last time I sat through a complete evening news broadcast. If there is something I consider big or particularly interesting going on, I will linger and research and spend some time trying to get through the reporting to the story. 

To get my news, I will hit a random sampling of the headlines in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, AP, BBC, or Aljazeera, with an occasional foray into Fox News and MSNBC. If I watch the news at all I most like the style, engagement, and delivery of Norah O’Donnell of CBS. 

I know what they say about unsolicited advice, but as a pastor, let me give you some. If a TV in your home is tuned to a station like Fox News or MSNBC for more than 30 minutes every 24-hour period, you should consider turning it off. I would ask you to consider if the tone of the content of those stations, no matter what side of the political aisle you reside on, is helping you be closer to Jesus or fulfill your calling to serve Him.   

The story centered on a 1 minute 31 second video uploaded to Twitter of a sermon preached in February 2021 by Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark at the First General Baptist Church in Malden, Missouri. Intrigued, I watched the clip. In my humble opinion, it was a train wreck from start to finish. This was clearly a case where, if there was any positive point to make (which was highly questionable given his approach), it was completely destroyed by the package it was delivered in. Since this blew up online, Pastor Clark took a leave of absence. I distinctly remember hoping there were people in his circle who were caring for him in what had to be a difficult time for him and his family. 

As bad as the content was, that wasn’t what concerned me. Pastor Clark is not the first – nor shall he be the last – pastor to utter things from the pulpit that have … how shall I give my opinion gently … way more to do with his personal darkness than the light of Jesus. I wish I could say with integrity that somehow I was in a position to cast the first stone. But when it comes to others preaching, I long ago dropped my stone and walked away. 

I found myself shocked and frightened, because I realized we live in a world where a soundbite from a bad sermon in the random town of Malden, Missouri (Population: 4,277 – 3 hours south of St Louis), can become FRONT PAGE NATIONAL NEWS. The story was picked up by CNN, The NY Times, Politico, AP, etc, and from there spread across the world with stories on websites in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Russia to name a few. 

Even 25 years ago, his comments would have had virtually 0% chance to make it past the local restaurants of Malden after Sunday afternoon. Now he was being ridiculed, stereotyped, and demonized literally all over the world. His family reportedly received death threats. Some may argue that he only had himself to blame for becoming the poster boy of that week for sexism and misogyny. It is true that he was not blameless. He is a grown man and a pastor, and he bears responsibility for his words and actions, particularly while preaching. If judged by even the loosest Christian and biblical standards, he wandered way out of bounds. 

But in my opinion, the price he and his family had to pay is completely out of proportion to his actions. It concerns me that no one appeared to be talking about the injustice of it from that side. Thousands of people seemed to be perfectly at peace offering their judgment of his character, physical appearance, and fitness as a pastor, husband, father, and member of the human race. I took the time to browse through at least 400 comments on several sites. Not a kind one among them. I would have settled for at least balanced treatment. I didn’t find it. Granted, he screwed up in a big way for 1 minute 31 seconds, and even if it is indicative of a pattern in his life, does it warrant worldwide derision and the end of the life he built up to that point, flawed though it might have been? Modern technologies amplify a frightening ability to escalate the impact of our negative (and in some cases positive) responses to each other and the consequences that go with them.

One day, while Jesus was teaching in the church, some religiously and politically motivated Pharisees dragged a woman caught red-handed in adultery before him and asked Him what they should do with her. The Scripture tells us that, on top of the humiliation of being caught in adultery, the woman was now being used by her accusers as a religious and political pawn to try to trap Jesus. We have no clue who she really was, what her life circumstances were, what factors put her in the arms of another man, or if this incident was a moment of weakness or a pattern. We do know that she bore some responsibility for her situation. What a different story it would be if Jesus decided to parade her around the whole nation of Israel as the poster woman for all that was morally wrong with the country. As though in direct opposition to that narrative, Jesus’s treatment of her was much more out of balance because it was so extravagantly gracious. There was a chance for redemption. 

I can envision an appropriate response to Pastor Clark having been something along the lines of having to sit through several very uncomfortable conversations with women from his church as they told him how his words negatively affected them. Follow that with a breakfast meeting with some of the elders/leaders who let him know in no uncertain terms that he crossed the line and his behavior was unacceptable to the church and the Gospel. He would be required, should he choose to, to issue some form of repentant apology to the congregation. If a pattern of this kind of behavior had been identified, then the elders would work out a plan with/for him to get the help he needed to address the underlying issues. That plan would ensure the resources were available to carry it through and leave no doubt that, if he didn’t choose to do the work, his future employment would be in jeopardy. Then an elder would take the responsibility to walk through this with him to keep tabs on his progress. That seems redemptive to me. There is accountability, consequences, an avenue of restitution, grace, and the chance to work on what is broken and grow. 

I’m concerned, because we seem to live in a culture where we have an overabundance of religiously and politically motivated rock-bearing Pharisees and a critical shortage of extravagant grace. I’m concerned, because we seem to have forgotten that we have all put enough 1 minute 31 second examples of brokenness on record to qualify us to be the next face on the poster. I’m concerned, because we seem to have gotten comfortable being perfectly at peace picking up rocks and using others as pawns. I’m concerned, because it was this exact mix of factors that led us to crucify the God who came to rescue us, the bearer of extravagant grace. 

We would have been wise to be more careful who we crucified then. We would be wise to be careful who we crucify now. It takes faith and courage in a world full of Pharisees to put our rocks down and take up a heart that doesn’t condemn. It’s harder still to speak the truth in love and offer extravagant grace to those who are clearly in the wrong. And yet it’s what every human heart hopes and longs for, whether sinner or Pharisee, whether they know it or not. 

If you need me, I’ll be over here, trying to put my rocks down. 

May his name be praised. 

Yours in the Journey,

Pastor Tim