By Gordon Atkinson

Eerdmans, 179 pp., $14.



TV Preachers

This Real Live Preacher explains why the guys on TV make him feel like a “jack-booted, lock-step, weak-minded Jesus Nazi.”

By Gordon Atkinson

I saw a TV preacher the other day. I was flipping through the channels, like men do, and there he was. A haircut with a floppy Bible and a Plexiglas pulpit. He was pacing the stage like a rapper, arms moving and talking a hundred miles an hour.

TV preachers fascinate me to no end. They have so much emotional energy. It’s tiring just watching them.

I wonder if they pay high interest on their emotional debt, like I do. The body is a loan shark. You WILL pay premium rates to pull that kind of intensity at the time and place of your choosing. You will pay or lose a pound of flesh. This is something I know about.

Of course, if they’re faking, they’ve made other arrangements. There are black market bargains to be had. Dark covenants can be cut, but let us not speak of such things.

This particular TV preacher could flat do it, too. He had that intangible thing that people have who can connect with audiences. Stand-up comedians have it, the good ones anyway. Motivational speakers have it. The guys in infomercials have it. Clinton had it. Bush doesn’t.

I know what “it” is, and “it” is dangerous as hell, let me tell you.

So I watched this guy for a few minutes. I was amazed at the number of religious catch phrases, buzz words, and spiritual slogans he could pack between two breaths. There was no way my mind could keep up with his mouth.

It was like hearing George Carlin recite his long list of dirty words. You can’t keep up. By the time you’re done laughing at one, he’s rattled off six more. Eventually you just give up and fall back on a rolling bed of laughter. You drink in the cadence of his voice. You hold what you can and let the rest go. You give yourself to Carlin, letting him keep up with where you’ve been and where you’re going.

That’s what it’s like with these fast-talking TV preacher types. You either turn them off or give them something you know you should keep for yourself.

I listened for awhile with my mouth open. At some point I became aware that I was moving my face in slow circles. Counter-clockwise, I’m sure of it. Clockwise doesn’t feel right.

According to the ancients, you should never leave your mouth wide open. My bad, I guess, and there was no one to say gesundheit either. An evil spirit must have hit the moving target because my soul started to feel bad. I’ve gone over it a hundred times in my mind, and that’s the best way to say it. My soul felt bad. Real bad. It was like depression, but with a dash of Tabasco panic. A panicky tang to heighten a very dark mood.

And then I heard that voice that sometimes comes to me. I only listened for a moment before I slammed my mind shut to him. But he got his shot in.

“What are you looking at, asshole? That’s you. He’s a preacher. You’re a preacher. I mean, he’s better at it than you, but you’re the same animal. Take a look in the mirror, preacher. Like what you see? You’re a jack-booted, lock-step, weak-minded Jesus Nazi. You hack. You pimp.

You pusher. You can soften the message, pretty it up like you do, make it sound more sophisticated, but . . .”

I spoke a powerful word against the voice. I said, “NO!” And I turned off the TV while I was at it. I have learned not to listen to that voice. I have also learned that it takes a couple of hours for the depression to fade. That’s okay. I stopped being in a hurry some years back.

But this is the truth: Whenever I see a TV preacher, I cannot believe that I’m a preacher too. I cannot believe those guys are colleagues.

Stop right there. I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want you to say it.

Do not tell me that I’m different. Do not tell me that TV preachers are con artists, but I’m not like them. Do not tell me that.

Yellow freakin’ fear is the only thing keeping me safe. It just might save my soul, if my soul can be saved. Even as I write this I wonder if anyone can preach and be saved. Check that. No one can preach and be saved. Can’t happen.

Of course, what’s impossible for me, might still be possible for God. So God is my only hope and refuge. A very present help in times of trouble.

Be afraid, preachers. Be very afraid. Never forget what you could become, may yet become, may have become.

I cannot tell you how I know this, but I KNOW that I must not distance myself from the TV preachers. I must claim the same calling and run scared for the rest of my life.

I must open my mouth wide and force their reputation down my gullet, swallowing hard, then snapping my teeth like Val Kilmer did in “Top Gun.”

If I meet someone who asks what I do, I must say, “preacher,” and nothing else. I must stand quietly and make eye contact. I must never say, “But I’m not like those TV preachers.”

It has to be this way.

My life will tell my story, or my story will not be told. No words allowed, preacher. You’re too good with words, and you know it.

I am a preacher. For twenty minutes a week, I preach. When I finish preaching I sit down and am ashamed. But I am willing, for someone must proclaim the day of the Lord.

The Preacher

Gordon Atkinson is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Tex., and creative director of The Aspen Group, a web design and hosting company. Besides filling cyberspace, his writing has appeared in England’s Tank Magazine and in the compendium Best Christian Writing 2004.

Excerpted from, by Gordon Atkinson. ©2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission; all rights reserved. To order this title, contact the publisher at 800-253-7521 or visit

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