You see, year after year after year, Mother’s Day begins with a great church service where mothers are lauded and affirmed. The preacher waxes eloquent about the wonders and beauties of mothers — and we all head out to Sunday lunch with a powerfully affirmed mom in our lunch party. Good stuff.
But Father’s Day is usually different. The preacher decides that Father’s Day is the best possible time to explain to the men in the congregation how they’ve not fulfilled their paternal obligations and so need to shape up. The men leave for lunch feeling beat up and bashed. And for some of the men, this was their first visit to church in months. (I have to add that our current preacher has the good sense not to do this — but old wounds and painful memories persist for years, you know.)
Think about it. We don’t speak ill of laborers on Labor Day. We don’t speak ill of soldiers on Memorial Day. We don’t speak ill of the American Revolution on Independence Day. And we don’t speak ill of romance on Valentine’s Day. But somehow Father’s Day has become open season on dads. It is, at the least, in incredibly poor taste. And it is, in fact, a reflection of an increasingly anti-father secular culture.
Watch TV or read a children’s book, and the butt of the jokes is always the father. In the Berenstain Bears, for years Papa Bear messed up everything and Mama Bear had to come to the rescue — until eventually parents demanded that the authors stop painting fathers as bumbling oafs. But this is our culture.
Women can abort their unborn babies without the consent of the father. Women almost always win child custody battles.
And I’m sure many ministers have seen fathers do terrible things in counseling situations, and so their perspective on fathers tends to be painted by the dysfunctional families they’ve had to deal with … although, in my experience, mothers are capable of being pretty awful, too.
So I think we process what we experience through a cultural lens. When a mother behaves horribly toward her children, well, that’s the rare exception! When a dad messes up, well, that confirm what I always thought!
Now, we have a serious problem in church: there are more women in church than men — and this has been true for a very long time. I don’t know the cure, but I do know part of the cure: stop bashing men on Father’s Day. Rather, affirm men as fathers. Make sure they leave the building proud to be fathers, feeling honored. This year, don’t say a single negative word about fathers — not one. No buts or howevers. Just say good things about what it means to be a father.
You see, the Creator of universe has chosen to present himself to his creatures as Father — so much so that his children are driven by the Spirit to call him Abba. We are told to pray to him as “our Father.”
So ponder this one: why “Father”? Why Abba? And what does that tell us about men who are fathers?
Now, if the fathers (or mothers) in your congregation need to be straightened out, by all means preach whatever sermons need to be preached — just not on Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day). Give the men a safe zone — the assurance that there’s at least one day of the year when they’ll be affirmed as fathers. And maybe the boys in your church will grow up intending to become excellent fathers — just like the men in your congregation. Indeed, just like God.