Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Father's Day - 2007

We are once again nearing the annual celebration of fathers in America. Unfortunately, the practice of bashing men and Dads with particular sharpness is often part of the 'celebration'. Don't believe me? Just today, CNN online has a rundown of 'hapless Dad' moments as a special present for fathers this weekend. Oh the joys of being a Dad, one of the last remaining socially acceptable punching bags we have left in this country!

Now one would think that the church would have long ago spotted a golden opportunity to counteract and contradict this attitude. One would especially think that the evangelical church, which often claims with particular zeal its desire to be a dramatic alternative to the culture, would be leading the charge in affirming husbands and Dads. One would think that evangelical churches could figure out how to love the Dads in their church for one Sunday a year without any strings attached, and without echoing the constant drumbeat of criticism and even disdain that fathers are regularly exposed to outside the church walls. One would think.

It is common knowledge that there is an enormous difference in tone and purpose between the average Mother's Day and Father's Day sermons. During my first full semester in seminary, I took my first preaching course. This course had about 50 guys in it, and at some point during the semester, the professor (who was an active preacher himself) touched on this dynamic in passing. He casually asked the class what Mother's Day sermons look like. We all said that in our experience, these sermons were affirming, encouraging, and very loving. In other words, the tone of the sermons to the Moms were exactly what they should be. Then the professor asked the class what Father's Day sermons look like. Virtually the entire class immediately said that these sermons were bashing, blaming, accusing, and very negative. The professor wasn't really trying to make any particular point here, but clearly, a point got made. A class filled with guys from all over the country all had the same story to tell about their Father's Day experience in evangelical churches.

I know Dads who will not go to church on Father's Day precisely for this reason, and I have often been tempted to join them - and I'm not a Dad. I mean, why in the world would a Dad want to go to a house of worship, quite literally a place of sanctuary, to hear a Christianized version of what the TV, the movies, the blogs, and the culture are attacking him on everyday? Does he really need to hear a pastor tell him that his shortcomings are directly related to his wife's problems, his children's problems, the church's problems, and the world's problems? Do pastors really think they're saying anything original when they bombard the men in their congregations with these kind of guilt trips? Do pastors have any idea how much they sound like the very culture they claim to be opposing? Are pastors and churches even bothering to ask these questions themselves?

I will admit that preaching a positive and Biblically-based sermon on Father's Day is no easy task. It is very difficult to find good human models of fatherhood in Scripture. I will also admit that Dads shouldn't be given an exemption from having to hear difficult stuff from their pastor just because they regularly are exposed to a much coarser version of the same thing outside the church walls. But all of this misses the point. It may sound obvious and self-evident, but it bears repeating. As best I can tell, Father's Day was established as a celebration of Dads and what they do. Is this really the best time to deconstruct the perceived inadequacies of fathers? If somebody gave a 30 minute speech on someone else's birthday about all of that person's perceived shortcomings, it would be viewed as crass, hurtful, inappropriate, and completely out of bounds. Why? Because a birthday celebration is exactly that - a celebration. How in the world can churches be so oblivious as to think anything else with regard to their messages to fathers on Father's Day? Have we really lost that much discernment?

So on this Father's Day weekend, I say, with no strings attached, without reservation, and with pure joy and appreciation, 'Happy Father's Day' to my own Dad, my father-in-law, my brother who is now a Dad, and to my brother-in-law who is also a Dad. Thank you for being a Dad, and don't listen to the Dad-bashing, whether it comes from CNN or a sermon. Lastly, I urge pastors to set a much better example in their preaching than merely mimicking the culture. Many of the Dads in your congregation deserve better, and God the Father demands better. This whipping horse has been whipped enough.


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