We are in the process of reviewing our church’s insurance policy. Yesterday I learned that companies now provide coverage in case someone listens to a sermon, either in a service or even on the church’s podcast, and sues the church for mental or emotional distress caused by the message.
I have gone through a series of reactions to this news. My first inclination was to remove all my sermons from our church’s website lest some outsider listen to a message and claim emotional damage from what they hear. Who knows when I might inadvertently trample on someone’s fragile psyche? It’s a scary thought.
Then I thought about situations where a preacher could justly be accused of causing emotional distress. For instance, when a sermon exposes certain confidential information about a parishioner, or when a message incites violent behavior against a person or group. Preaching can certainly be used in an abusive manner.
But my primary response has been one of disbelief. Are the only safe sermons these days those that soothe and salve and stroke our sagging self-esteem? Are we to exchange the surgical scalpel of God’s truth — which is designed to judge the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) — for a sermonic version of a Q-tip?
You see, I recognize that there have been more than a few times across the years when a sermon has created “mental or emotional distress” for me. For instance, when a message exposed hidden sin in my life. Or showed me that I needed to forgive someone who had inflicted deep pain upon me. Or called me to let go of some cherished idol in my heart. How dare that preacher meddle with my life!
Of course, there’s nothing new about all this. In the past, people may not have sued God’s spokesmen. Instead, they were known to throw them in wells (like Jeremiah). Or saw them in two (like Isaiah). Or cut off their heads (like John the Baptist). Our method may seem more sophisticated, but the message is still the same: tell us what we want to hear, or else!
I have an idea for our church’s next staff position. It will be an “Itching Ears Editor”(see II Timothy 4:3) to go over my sermons with a fine toothcomb before I preach them and weed out anything that people might not like. After all, who knows what someone might do if they would happen to fall under conviction?