John Pavlovitz, the blogger/pastor behind “Stuff That Needs To Be Said” first came to my attention when a Facebook friend shared his January 2017 “Let the Record Show…” post in response to Trump’s election. I read it out of interest and respect for my friend. Plus, at first blush, it looked intriguingly over the top.
Some days I wish I hadn’t. John Pavlovitz’s post is a thoroughly overwrought partisan political piece of poo for which I can only attribute my friend’s sharing it to severe post-election angst. Curious, I visited Pavlovitz’s Facebook page. After a few months of reading his posts and interacting with him and his followers, I’ve come to these conclusions:
1) He doesn’t genuinely engage those who challenge him, but instead replies reactively with childish taunts of trolling and shutdowns rather than defending his positions.
2) He’s so angry over the Trump presidency and with those who support him that he employs emotionally overcharged comparisons and tactics to oppose them (Trump is a terrorist; GOP wants to deprive poor people of health care; Christians hate LGBTQ folks).
3) He’s drunk with his own social media popularity and views it as a validation for the liberal, emergent church-based theology that got him fired from a pastor gig.
I don’t care much about his political postings on his website and social media pages, but I care very deeply that he mangles scriptural truth and misrepresents Jesus in order to weaponize him.
Pavlovitz tries to lend credibility to his political (and spiritual) attacks on Trump, Republicans, “Evangelical” Christianity and 2,000 plus years of accepted theology by citing years of pastoral experience.
In his roles as pastor in “the resistance” and “social justice warrior,” he resists an illegitimate and odious president and the evil evangelicals who support(ed) him. And while he’s at it, he champions the marginalized (as defined by his Democratic party).
I pray for Pavlovitz. And for some reason I feel a kinship—maybe because of our similar ethnic backgrounds/former Catholicism. Or maybe something about his idealism and passion makes me feel for him because he’s chasing his tail by mistaking political activism for spiritual mission.
Speaking of the spiritual, Pavlovitz doesn’t seem to understand Jesus at all. To him, he’s all love, all the time. Of course, Jesus is love. How can he not be—he allowed himself to be tortured and crucified in order to take the sins of the world literally on his back. Because he loves, he died for us, but he’s so much more than merely love: He’s the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah.
Lion and lamb
As C.S. Lewis’ Lucy in The Chronicles of Narnia asks and learns of Aslan (Jesus):
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Pastor Pavlovitz doesn’t write about Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. He writes of him as his standard for social justice. To justify his attacks, he assumes a self-appointed role as temple table over-turner and compares his angry rants to Jesus’ outrage over merchants’ peddling their wares in the temple of his “Father’s house.”
In Pavlovitz’s view, Jesus is only dangerous to John’s perceived political enemies. Instead of seeing him as Savior, he sees him as merely a model for social activism. Pavlovitz seems to repudiate Jesus’ loving sacrifice and willing atonement because both do not fit his desired perception of God.
Messy is the new sin
It seems that Pavlovitz prefers a loving Jesus who doesn’t hold us to any standards other than that we “fight” for “the marginalized.” Instead of acknowledging sin and our fallen nature, Pavlovitz propagates the emergent church’s version of sin as a “messiness.”
What does that even mean? Okay, we’re messy, but why? What causes us to live messy lives? What drives us to murder, steal, kill, cheat and commit a world of other messy sins against each other?
Pavlovitz fails to acknowledge the source of evil and rejects sin by turning it into an amorphous and innocent messiness. Instead of following Jesus by taking him at his word, acknowledging a universal, self-evident truth that we are broken because of our propensity to sin, helping others embrace a loving, sinless and holy Savior, he rejects the very reason Jesus became a man, lived a sinless life, and died so that we might live.
To Pavlovitz, Jesus is less a savior and more a slingshot to slay his giants. And though he writes about mercy, he only expresses it toward those he and his party consider marginalized. He doesn’t seem to understand mercy’s ultimate expression nor does he accept our need for it in response to a holy God.
Consider Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant who owed his master 10,000 talents, the equivalent of 160,000 years of wages (as one talent was worth 16 years of wages). This would be like a $60k per year employee owing his employer $9,600,000,000. Obviously, neither debt could ever be paid.
By law, the servant could be given life in debtor’s prison. But because of his tears and please for mercy, his master’s heart was touched and he forgave the servant all he owed. The staggering debt was wiped out with mercy.
God’s mercy wipes clean ledgers and settles accounts. It dissolves debt and saves those whose hearts are open, tender, and penitent. His mercy is powered by love. And it’s the essence of grace. Mercy is something Pavlovitz says he feels and shows to others who are politically marginalized, but how can he when he doesn’t accept it from God?
It’s easy to write about loving others, but I don’t see any hope in Pavlovitz’s posts about death. Nor do I see any love in his obsessive attacks on Trump. Nor in his incessant attacks on other believers. We’re all sinners, but if Pavlovitz doesn’t believe in sin, how can he see himself as one? And if he believes that truth is something one feels is right for him or her—even when one’s truth is diametrically opposed to another’s truth, how can truth be true?
Stuff that truly needs to be said
Here’s an unavoidable truth: We simply cannot do enough or be good enough to atone for our sins and sinfulness. If we could, Jesus died for nothing. HE is the only one good enough to atone for our sins, and He did so out of love and mercy.
Some people are like the unmerciful servant (sinner) who failed to show mercy to his fellow servant (and fellow sinner), but instead had him thrown into debtor’s prison because he owed him next to nothing (a single day’s wages)—and this AFTER having been forgiven of his staggering debt. It shows that he didn’t have the slightest concept of mercy, but instead was a grasping, greedy, graceless person.
I don’t think Pavlovitz is like this. I use this parable as a way to illustrate God’s wonderfully loving and forgiving mercy and grace—a concept that I struggled with as a cradle Catholic for years (and still do so a little). I had the toughest time viewing God as a loving, forgiving, smiling, merciful Father-God who loves me no matter how much I disappoint Him. But my struggle makes me appreciate His loving mercy all the more.
God as child abuser
From Pavlovitz’s words, it seems that instead of embracing God’s love and mercy, he has embraced this lie: If God allowed or appointed his own Son to die and atone for our sins, he is guilty of “child abuse.” This is a humanization and rejection of God’s perfect nature. And it’s a favorite justification of emergent church leaders for their (only) loving (yet politically progressive) Jesus.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why a just, loving, perfect God is so repugnant to them. We want our judges to be just arbitrators of the law and issue just verdicts. We want parents to establish boundaries of behavior and hold their children accountable for their actions. I’m confident that Pavlovitz is a good father who has standards of behavior for his children. Here’s my question to him: Why wouldn’t a much better (perfect) Heavenly Father have standards for us?
God’s standards derive from his perfection and are for our good. His mercy flows from his love for us (like any good father for his children). And His grace, through his Son’s willing and loving sacrifice, covers our sins. What a beautiful love story. What an amazing grace.
Sadly, Pavlovitz, like the unmerciful servant, doesn’t seem to understand our need for God’s grace. Not because he’s grasping and greedy, but because he’s graceless. And he’s graceless not because he writes that way, but because he lives without God’s grace.
For Pavlovitz to accept God’s grace means that he must accept that He is holy. And to accept this means he must accept the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins in order to satisfy this holiness. And because he has humanized God, he no longer sees Him as holy. He has lowered God in his mind by rejecting his nature and replacing it with one that he can accept.
Pavlovitz has also replaced Jesus’ Great Commission (sharing God’s mercy and grace with others) with a Captain Ahabesque obsession and silly “resistance” to a foolish president. This is like trading a diamond field for a dunghill. And this is the difference between living life with forever in mind and settling for the vanity of the here and now.
What I mean by vanity is what Solomon (the man to whom God gave the gift of wisdom) meant by it: Anything we strive for in this life that—compared to God’s plan of redemption and eternity—is valueless and a waste of time. Vain pursuits distract us from truly loving others and from sharing God’s mercy and grace.
Picking the wrong fight
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for the marginalized. Faithful Christians (and non) hid Jews during the holocaust and defied an evil tyrant. But they also did so without losing sight of the ultimate plan. Can we agree that someone’s eternal soul is more important than a tax reform or an immigration ban?
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer defied Hitler not with snarky words about his hair or heart, but with a rock-solid adherence to truth and resistance borne of faith, not fantasy. Bonhoeffer was part of a real resistance to a genuine evil. He didn’t play politics; he played for keeps and died for embracing truth and resisting genocide.
Compare Pastor Bonhoeffer’s mission and sacrifice to Pavlovitz’s:
One was a pastor who died for his faith; the other is a poser who peddles politics to the faithless. One sacrificed everything to stand against true evil; the other plays political pastor in a wannabe resistance. One was imprisoned and executed for fighting genocidal fascism; the other suffers with ideological fear and anguish brought on by a presidential election defeat.
Pastor in a resistance? Pavlovitz wouldn’t know a real reason to resist unless it kicked him in the teeth.
Fighting the right fight
Instead of joining a worthy fight against a real enemy—the one who’s behind genuine evil—I’ll say it: the devil, Pavlovitz dismisses his existence while branding a buffoon of a president evil. He can’t have it both ways. If evil exists, and I think most agree that it does, from whom does it come? If Trump is evil, is he evil on his own? Can Trump be stupid, as Pavlovitz asserts, and also a diabolical genius who is the source of his own evil? How can a dumb schmuck like Donald pull his own strings?
Witness the glaring lack of logic in Pavlovitz’s positions: He’s sees bogeymen in the oval office and behind pulpits, not because he’s illogical, but because he’s blinded by a partisan political frenzy of anger and fear.
Here’s a prime example of Pavlovitz’s arrogance and delusion. From a recent meme on his Facebook page titled, Cultivating the Activist Heart of Jesus:
“When professed Christians call me a ‘social justice warrior,’ as if I’m supposed to be insulted, I just ask them to read the gospels to see who I’m taking my cue from.”
Let’s break it down.
First, Pavlovitz’s use of the word “professed” connotes hypocrisy. It implies that if a Christian disagrees with his take on Jesus as social justice warrior, he or she has not properly read the gospels.
Second, he assumes that Christians who call him a social justice warrior mean it as an insult rather than as a misapplication of his gifts. Everything is a petty fight to him. His snarky social media style resembles an arrogant teenager rather than a mature adult … or pastor.
Third, Pavlovitz ignores the real enemy and instead makes enemies of Christians because he conflates their opposition to his mangling of truth with political opposition of conservatives and republicans to his progressive positions.
Social justice is political, not spiritual. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, not a party pawn like you. His justice is over sin and death; it’s not consumed with presidents and politics.
Don’t try to lower Jesus Christ to the level of your ridiculous resistance and identity politics. And no, pastor—the gospels do not back you up, and the only cues you’re taking are yours.
I’m a Christian and have the read the gospels. Nowhere in any of them do I see a Jesus who acts or speaks like you. I see a Jesus whose words beautifully transcend ugly politics, supposed social justice and an us-versus-them war of words and stuff-than-needs-to-be-said ego trip.
I see a Jesus whose mission is essential and profound and not all like your silly social media rampages. Jesus is after hearts and souls; you’re chasing likes and shares. You aren’t taking any cues from Jesus; you’re taking them from your own deluded and deceived heart.
Let’s think this through:
If God is God, is he sweating a Trump presidency? If He’s God, does he applaud Pavlovitz’s obsessive vilification of another sinner? Does God think a political party’s platform involving social justice is more important than his plan of ultimate justice and universal atonement?
Do you think God approves of this aspect of Pavlovitz’s party’s platform—that killing unborn babies is okay? This is another issue, but it illustrates a colossal contradiction of his social warrior mantra of fighting for the least of these.
I’ve read too many of Pavlovitz’s political rants and attacks and can’t imagine any of them coming out of Jesus’ mouth or with his approval. I think Jesus would say what he said to one of the disciples when they wanted him to lead the resistance against Roman rule, and I paraphrase:
There will come a time when I’ll return to set all things right, but it isn’t now, and it’s not in the way you want or think. I’ve come to lay down my life, not take up a sword.
Pavlovitz is a former advertising art director. This is another similarity between us—we’ve both worked in advertising, which is why I know that he knows how to get clicks with his blog, Facebook and Twitter posts. I can also tell by the graphic quality of his memes. His wife is also an art director.
There’s nothing wrong with knowing how to get clicks. And there’s nothing wrong with applying one’s artistry to create quality messaging. Here’s where John goes wrong, in a nutshell:
Pavlovitz creates posts, comments and memes in order to “resist” Trump, Republicans and Evangelical Christians because he thinks they threaten all that is good, right and fair in the world. Are there Evangelical leaders who shouldn’t be? Of course. Rotten Republicans? You bet.
But there are also progressive pseudo-Christians and dirty Democrats—like Pavlovitz’s golden girl, Hillary. How about a bit of balance and reality, pastor? Better yet—how about joining the real resistance?
A Christian’s enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Pastor Pavlovitz’s are Trump, Trump, and Trump. Or to be more accurate—Trump, evangelicals who voted for Trump, and GOP members who voted for Trump.
The truth is that Pavlovitz’s bogeymen threaten the goals and ideology of his political party and emerging church dogma. But they simply are not the monsters he portrays them to be.
Pavlovitz wages his holy war by blending hatred and passion with advertising and marketing methods to caricature his perceived enemies. He does so by creating false equivalencies, straw men, silly exaggerations and outright lies while pushing a political agenda and his career as a writer and pastor in “the resistance.”
Pavlovitz is not acting as a pastor; he’s acting as a political activist. He touts his ministry experience to lend weight to his work, but as he likes to write (and as Jesus said): We can know people’s hearts by their fruit.
So be it. John Pavlovitz’s fruit can seem fresh and needful, but it’s gratuitous and rotten because it issues from a heart poisoned with fear, hate and politics. It’s absurdly over the top and unworthy of thoughtful discussion.
Stuff that needs to be said? Not so much.
8 Replies to “Stuff that needs to be said about John Pavlovitz”
As a believer, you don’t seem to be following Matthew well here. You have a disagreement with a brother and instead of settling it through scriptural means, you blast it on your page. That seems to not be very Christian.
Patrick, you and I agree on very little politically it would seem. I personally think that you let the Trump “evangelicals” off too easily. The people who call themselves Christians and support a man who has been married 3, divorced twice. The people who support Mr. Trump after the vulgar, horrid things he has said. The people who worship Christ on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night but then on a Tuesday in November 2016, they marked their ballot for THAT man because they truly believe Christ would do the same. You can ride Mr. Pavlovitz about his version of Christ all you want but until you call out the Trump contingent you are sounding a bit like a clanging cymbal.
Mr. Pavlovitz enjoys his own press. I think much like you and all who have a “public” figure do. We enjoy stirring up controversy. We have fun in the debate. That’s okay. I think debate is healthy. I think making people think about issues of social justice is vital. You sound very similar to the folks I studied during the Vietnam War who had real issues with Mr. Johnson’s war on poverty or affirmative action. Social Justice is an angle of who Christ was. He turned tables, he spoke to women, he had women, children in his ministry. Those who were voiceless. Those who were downtrodden. Those who society said were not valued.
I become uncomfortable when private disagreements become public matters. It is unseemly. Mr. Pavlovitz has an email address. You could have used it to have your feelings heard. You may receive accolades for this rant, but they won’t be from me. You have a right as an American to express your opinion, that wasn’t removed by the last President nor the current one. The question is as a believer of the God who loves, extends grace, shows mercy, and does challenge, is what you wrote thoughtful, edifying, and redeeming?
I support both your right and Mr. Pavlovitz right to speak and write. I believe we must do so without personal attacks or soiling the name of Christ in a knock down drag out. I have a feeling you won’t agree with me and that’s okay. We are still brothers. Because of the shed blood of Christ that we have both received I will see you in Heaven. That’s tremendous news. That’s the good news, the news we should be declaring.
As I mentioned in the post, I attempted to engage John via email, his blog and Facebook for months. My post is not about any personal disagreements, it’s a blog version of back and forth email exchanges with one of John’s readers who initially asked me this question:
“When you have time could you tell me if you think the way John Pavlovitz speaks about Jesus and how he thinks we should live our life is wrong? Thank you in advance. I am truly interested.”
I’m comfortable with how I answered this person’s question and how I’ve (hopefully) exposed John’s misrepresentations of Jesus. Am I tough on him? If being tough means telling the truth about him, then yes. If he, as a pastor, is misrepresenting Christ and trying to use him as a weapon—albeit without realizing he’s doing so—and leading others down a dark path, I’m compelled to point it out, as I have in the post. I’m not sure what you refer to in Matthew, but Paul has a lot to say about confronting false teachers in his epistles. I didn’t call John a snake like Jesus did to some religious leaders of his day. I still like to think that John’s doing what he’s doing in error while thinking he’s onto something.
I think you’re making a lot of assumptions about Christians and Trump. If you refer to certain evangelical leaders who vocally support him, you and I may agree. I think I mentioned evangelical leaders who shouldn’t be in the post. I remind you—the subject of my post is Pavlovitz and how he misrepresents Christ as less than he is and as a political weapon, not the hypocrisy of Christian Trump voters … or hypocritical Hillary voters like John, for that matter.
I’d say your assessment of Jesus’ social activism is a bit like John’s, and in my opinion, misses the target.
I’m not after accolades. I honestly feel compelled to expose someone who’s doing a lot of damage to truth and the perception of Jesus and his true mission and identity. I’m confident that I’ve represented Christ and God correctly in my post. Could it be that you and I see him much differently and that this is your real beef with my post about John?
I agree with you about proclaiming the Good News of God’s love, mercy and grace.
Patrick, Mr. Pavlovitz and I do agree on a lot. I see danger in allowing a political party to be so aligned to the church that claims Christ. Could he be a “watcher on the wall”? You can claim him as a false prophet. You claim that he weaponizes Christ. Looking from my perspective I could see the same in many of the Trump evangelical supporters.That’s the reason I bring them up. There is a parallel argument for Mr. Trump’s supporters and Mr. Pavlovitz. I will ask the question, when will you do a critique on the wing of Christianity that continues to support Mr. Trump?
Matthew 18:15 was specifically what I was thinking of. Quoting, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Instead of going to him privately and leaving it there, you have used your forum to call him a false teacher.
In the era of social media when everyone wants a platform and needs to argue. But do we? Shouldn’t we as sons of God be about being peaceable? In this moment of history, when though exaggerated tensions are high across the globe, across the political spectrum, across the body of Christ, shouldn’t we find the high ground? Shouldn’t we look toward commonality? Shouldn’t we be about unity?
Again, thank you for your gracious spirit. I think it would be fun to meet you in person. You are a good man. You are leading your life with a heart turned toward Christ as is Mr. Pavlovitz as am I. Be well and thank you for living authentically.
As you chastise Patrick for confronting Pavlovitz publicly, you totally dismiss that Pavlovitz makes his living publicly lumping Evangelicals into basket of depravitywhile proclaiming to the world (via social media) the searing evil of Donald Trump. You call that confronting privately? Leftists crack me up- they attempt to take the high moral road while their time is spent in the gutter of spewing hatred and judgement toward those of different political views .
Jesus is my savior-he won’t let me down. Trump is a president I voted for based on political issues and my view of the constitution-but Trump’s humanity will continue to disappoint me-because he is a sinner like me. Unlike liberals, I don’t elevate politicians to god status, nor lose my mind when my candidate loses an election. Life goes on and God is in control.
Have a great day.
You look pretty good for someone who died in 1945 you were a German taken into a concentration camp and you became a resistor to Hitler then murdered by the Nazis
so who are you really.? bet you won’t post this will ya !!
I don’t understand what you mean? Please restate.
I get it: you don’t feel loved when he calls out certain kinds of behaviour, perhaps because his criticisms hit a bit too close to home. Therefore, to show him what real unconditional Christian love means, you had to call HIM out. By name.
That is some flawless logic you’ve got there.
Nah. You’re not getting me. What is real unconditional Christian love, in your view?