One of the key decisions amid a cascade of bad ones made by Perry Noble and other NewSpring leaders was his refusal to meet with me in July 2009. For context, I could see that senior NS leaders were supervising the vicious attacks against my family, so I needed to go directly to Perry to make sure that something would be done. On the weekend that Perry returned from his youth group’s summer trip to Florida, he had to decide what to do about my meeting request. His sermon that Sunday offers an interesting insight into how Perry justified shunning my requests for help.
(Critics are free to accuse me of interpreting the following too narcissistically. Please take my word that my situation is exactly what he’s talking about. He knew it, and he knew I knew it. He even talks directly to the camera and me at the very end of the video.)
For lovers of context, you can see the whole sermon here, but for lovers of efficiency, I’ll excerpt and comment on key parts below. Keep in mind that at the time Perry preached this, he had been reading at least some of the Twitter account, having received many direct messages from the tweeter, and he knew that I had complained about serious and criminal harassment that was coming from someone from his church.
Two versions of this sermon exist, one on iTunes, the other as streaming video on NewSpring’s website. The timestamps refer to the iTunes version, unless noted otherwise. The topic was about how to deal with sin in one’s life.
Early in the sermon, Noble tells us what his thesis is:
If you become aware of a sin in a brother or sister’s life, did you know it’s your responsibility to confront them in love? And so today I want to talk to you about how, as Christians, we’re called to hold one another to a higher standard. (12:00)
Good to know we need to live up to high standards, especially because, if we don’t, we’re accursed hypocrites.
There are some Christians that love to catch other people sinning. …Here’s the problem with that: If you enjoy catching someone else’s sin, the reason, nine times out of 10, is because you’re trying to hide the sin in your own life. And so if you can magnify the sin in someone else’s life, you figure it minimizes the sin in your own life, and Jesus calls those people hypocrites and tells them to go to Hell. Yep. (15:10)
Next, Perry exhorts, to the point of exhaustion, his flock to have tough face-to-face conversations with other Christians. I’ll give you a sample of three sections, though there were more:
[God] has called us to have heart-to-heart [and] face-to-face tough conversations with people that claim they are in the body of Christ.” (39:40)
As followers of Jesus Christ we’re called, at times, to have uncomfortable, heart-to-heart, face-to-face conversations with other people that claim they’re in the body of Christ. …We are called to hold brothers and sisters accountable to the standards of Scripture. We are called to have uncomfortable conversations. And when the body of Christ will actually step up and begin to be the body of Christ, and call one another out and love and serve the world, I believe we will see a revolution… but you and I have got to be willing to have the tough conversations. (47:13)
In Matthew 18 Jesus tells us how to confront. He says if someone sins against you, you sit down and have a one-on-one conversation. If that don’t work, you take a witness with you. You go two on one. If that don’t work, the Bible actually says bring them in front of the church [and] say this person’s a sinner. The Bible says to do that. In Galatians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul had a problem with Peter, and he said “I opposed Peter to his face.” In other words, “I had a heart-to-heart conversation. I was willing to have the hard conversation.” And you and I, as followers of Christ, need to be willing to follow the action of having a conversation. (52:04)
At least he knows about the dispute-resolution process of Matthew 18. But he also knows he has an invitation to a hard conversation on his desk, so now he starts to preach himself out of his own tough conversation.
Perversely, he does this by fantasizing about the death of people who irritate him.
It’s hard to ignore some things. It really is.
Back in February when I flew to Kenya–went over there for several days, we were very tired. We get on a plane, we fly from Nairobi to Amsterdam. We get off the plane at Amsterdam. We’ve got a layover. We finally get on the plane. We get there, and we were flying to Detroit, and I just want to sleep. I’m like, craving sleep. I don’t want food (and when I don’t want food, it’s bad). I just wanted to sleep.
So I get on this airplane, and I sitting there, and this really large man gets [on] and sits right next to me, and he’s, like, right over here across the aisle, and he kind of sits down. No problem, you know. And he sits there.
He had been sitting down two minutes, and all of a sudden he started snoring. The plane takes off, and this dude–he wakes up for a few minutes and goes back to sleep–and he is snoring. And it’s not like [a gentle snore], it’s like [very loud]. Like the oxygen mask fell, and stuff like that. I mean, like, the stewardess walked by, and she looked at me and went, “I don’t even know what that is. I’m sorry.”
So I started praying for him. I prayed for God to kill him, because he was…
Don’t judge me!
Some of you prayed that for your husband last night while he snored. “God, take him. I know where he’s going. Take him, now! We have life insurance.”
So, I tried to watch a movie, and I’m trying to watch the movie and [loud snoring sounds]. It’s almost impossible to ignore, but finally, over a period of time, I learned how to ignore the snoring and kind of move on.
That’s what Jesus says we need to learn how to do. (1:15:10)
Just like that. That’s exactly what Jesus had in mind. Apparently there are some conversations and people that can be ignored and wished away, even to the point of death. How pastoral.
For his text, Perry is using Matthew 7:6 to exhort his flock to ignore the pigs and the dogs, who, it turns out, are bloggers. Here’s his argument:
The dogs would attack you. The dogs were wild. (1:18:30, from the video)
The dog is equated in the Scriptures to religious people who are obsessed with themselves and their religion, and not obsessed with Jesus, and Jesus said we are to ignore them. (1:21:35)
Some of you have gotten in fights, and arguments, and you have found websites, and you go on discussion boards, and you’re having ridiculous fights over the Internet with people who don’t matter. Listen, seven people go to their website. Their momma don’t ever visit it, alright? And you’re caught up in fighting. This is all I’m telling you. Don’t cast your pearls to the dogs. “You’re calling them a dog.” Actually, Jesus said that. It’s in the text. You do not have to defend this church. If this church is of God, a blogger or a bitter church person can’t shut it down; they’ll just make it stronger. We’re not called to fight these people. (1:22:36)
I wasn’t actually asking Perry to defend the church, and I wasn’t attacking him. I was telling him that I was being attacked by one of his own.
To underline the point about not fighting, he tells another personal story about someone he wanted to assault in Sam’s Club.
The other night, Lucretia and Charisse and I went to Sam’s, because we needed cologne and trash bags. That’s why God made Sam’s, and where else can you buy cologne and trash bags? So I’ve got Charisse, and I’m holding her. Lucretia’s like, let me go and get the trash bag, and I’m like, let me go and get the cologne. I’m kind of standing there holding my little girl, and this guy walks by me with a buggy, and he looks at me and he, like, gives me a go-to-hell look. Now, let me just stop and say this. That’s the best way to describe that look. I get that look all the time, and I’m fine with it. I just smile, and hah. Can’t! Jesus. And so, seriously, that’s what goes on. And I’m holding my two year old little girl and we’re just sitting there and I’m talking to her about Sam’s and I’m just breaking down why you have all this stuff in this one place, and I’m just kind of talking to her and we’re having fun, and he stops. I watch him, and he turns around and he comes back by me and he looks at me and he says, ‘Are you Perry Noble?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ And this man, in the middle of Sam’s, proceeded to insult me like I’d never been insulted. It didn’t bother me that he did it to me; it bothered me that he did it in front of my daughter.
[Video version: Everything in… I’m talking about raging anger. I’m talking, I wanted to sit Charisse down and say, “Honey, there’s a story in the Bible in Nehemiah where he beats the crap out of people. Daddy is about to live this out for you. Watch this. Hah.” But I, in Sam’s, right here in Anderson, I had to bite my tongue, take my little girl and just walk away. I didn’t say what I wanted to say, and I’m still not saying what I wanted to say. And it broke my heart that night, because for the first time I realized one of these days I’m going to have to sit my little girl down and explain to her people hate your daddy just because your daddy preaches at NewSpring. That’s the only reason. It infuriated me, but you know what? I’m not called to correct people in Sam’s because if we get caught up in that we can’t get caught up in what God wants us to get caught up in.]
And I’m going to have to explain to her growing up why stuff like this happens. Some of you are like, what did you do? Thank Jesus I didn’t do what I wanted to do. Because I wanted to be like, “Hold on, honey. Sit right here and turn your head. I’m about to go Samson.” I didn’t. I’m just saying. But at that moment, I had to say, you know what, my job as the pastor of this church is not to get involved in unnecessary arguments, but keep my eyes on the vision, keep preaching Jesus, keep lifting up his name, and watch Jesus change an entire community. And if people want to take shots, praise God they can take their shots, because you’re messing with a man who knows he’s not perfect. The church knows they’re not perfect. That’s why we’re going to preach Jesus. So where are you at? Because if you’re caught up in those fights, I’m just telling you, please, please, please stop it. Focus on Christ. …We’re not called to fight battles, but even deeper than that, is there someone you need to have a tough conversation with today? (38:55)
This, if you’re keeping score, is at least the fourth demand that people have a tough conversation. Finally, we get to the purpose of the sermon, which was to excuse Perry from his lack of concern for my family. Between the morning and the evening sermons, he has talked to his friend, Steven Furtick, so he adds this to the final message of the day:
Now you know who needed to hear that more than anybody. [Points to himself.] I was on the phone with a friend of mine, pastor Steven Furtick, up at Elevation Church…. We talk every Sunday afternoon. Sometimes we encourage each other; sometimes we talk each other off a cliff. It’s really cool. But I was telling him, I was like, I needed this section [about dogs] in the message tonight. I said, I don’t know if my church needed it, but I needed it, because, you know what, I’ve got to be honest with you. There have been times when I’ve wanted to lay some hands on some people. (1:24:44 on the video)
So what do we end up with here? Perry puts his violent temper on display at least three times (man on the plane, man in Sam’s, lay hands on some people), but somehow still says that we’re not supposed to fight. And certainly not meet and have a tough conversation with someone who is actually being attacked.
Perry’s message was convincing. He still hasn’t had that conversation.
(Next post, we’ll look at this sermon from Maxwell’s perspective.)