Arriving home on April 6, Patsy met me at the front door saying, “I hope you are pleased with yourself. Fox just fired Glenn Beck.”
I wasn’t pleased, I was shocked. Pathetically I pleaded, “All I wanted was to use Glenn as a sermon illustration. I didn’t mean to get him fired.”
All these years I’ve consoled myself with bromides like, “Preaching doesn’t really do anything.” “Nobody pays attention to sermons.” It seems sermons can be very effective and apparently I’m America’s most powerful preacher.
I shall explain: On Sunday, April 3 I guest preached at the National Cathedral (sermon podcast, here). My assigned text: John 9:1-41, Jesus’ healing of the blind man and the crowd’s reaction.
Attempting to ingratiate myself with the congregation, I opened with, “Despite the ugly things Glenn Beck says about your church, I’m glad to be here. Hey Glenn Beck, it’s America, and I think Episcopalians should be as progressive, liberal and social activist as they want! To heck with Glenn Beck.”
Scattered applause. I then asked, “Have you ever wondered why we crucified a nice person like Jesus? Jesus welcomed little children, loved everybody, considered the lilies. Why will we (here, in a couple of weeks) respond to his open hand with, ‘Crucify him!’ Today’s story from John’s Gospel explains why.”
I then noted how Jesus caused controversy by healing an ungrateful little wretch who squeals on Jesus and gets him into all sorts of trouble. The blind man’s parents are not much nicer than their son. A huge controversy breaks out over whose sin caused the man’s blindness. “Jesus was crucified for loving and healing the wrong people, people that nobody wanted healed or loved.”
At this point, I picked up tempo and launched into a faux tirade:
“I can’t stand Glenn Beck! Rupert Murdock’s talking dummy. Glenn Beck calls our President ‘a racist with a deep-seated hatred of white culture.’ Glenn Beck began as a disc jockey and should have stayed one. Fired from a dozen different radio stations with standards higher than Fox News. (He was fired from his Arizona talk show when he called up a radio rival’s wife on the air making fun of her miscarriage.)”
And then the crescendo of my vitriol: “Worst of all is Beck’s biographical CD, ‘An Unlikely Mormon: The Conversion Story of Glenn Beck,’ in which he has the affront to extol the ‘healing power of Jesus Christ.’ Beck says Jesus saved him from drugs and booze and made him a multimillionaire. He also claims that Jesus made him a much nicer person. You wouldn’t want to know Beck before Jesus got hold of him!” More laughter and applause.
“Are you willing to worship a Savior who would heal Glenn Beck more dramatically than Jesus has ever healed me? I’m a religious professional; why would Jesus tell a loser like Glenn Beck more interesting things than Jesus tells me? Can you love the Christ who loves Glenn Beck as much as he loves you?”
I thought it an artful performance of Johannine irony in a modern pulpit. I learned after the service that not everyone appreciates homiletical irony. Judging from the events on April 6, it appears that Fox News can’t take a joke either.
So Glenn, allow me this public apology. While I did mean to call you a demagogue, an embarrassment to our country and Rupert Murdoch’s talking dummy, I didn’t mean to get you fired. I’m a Methodist and am unaccustomed to anyone taking my preaching literally or even seriously. It was meant as an exposition of John 9:1-41. I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful with my hermeneutics in the future.
Glenn, are you big on forgiveness? I hope so.
And to all of you who, after witnessing the events of the first week of April at the National Cathedral, sent me long lists of people you want fired, forget it. I’ve learned my lesson. I refuse to work Donald Trump, the executive of your Presbytery or your bad football team’s quarterback into a future sermon.
Will Willimon is a United Methodist bishop serving in Birmingham, Alabama.