Malpreaching: Who Pays?

A recent court case in Florida shows that the minister should begin to watch the law-courts. Having believed a sermon on the blessings that would follow upon consistent tithing, a man sold his assets and contributed a tenth of the proceeds to his church. When the hoped-for material blessings were slow in coming, he brought suit against the preacher to recover what he said was his fraudulently obtained tithe.

What we are facing is the prospect of malpreaching suits on a wide scale. After all, if a doctor has to pay damages for having carelessly or ineffectually cared for his patient’s body, should not the preacher be forced to account for carelessness or ineffectiveness in treating the patient’s soul? As long as the preacher confines himself to promises whose fulfillment judges and juries can verify only once they themselves have passed into the Hereafter, from whence they can no longer award damages, he runs little danger. But when he starts to promise blessings in the Here and Now he is asking for trouble.

Regrettably, the insurance companies show no enthusiasm for writing malpreaching policies. In addition, probably few preachers could afford to pay the premiums. (A typical physician in New York, according to a recent report, will pay $14,000 for malpractice insurance in 1975.) Perhaps the ministry will be forced to conclude that prevention is better than insurance. They could refuse to accept new parishioners. Or they could limit their practice to certain spiritual specialties where the danger of a potential misstep is reduced. (What, for example, is the spiritual equivalent of dermatology?) They could insist on spiritual consultations, with at least three ministerial specialists sharing the pulpit ...

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