“John Fountain speaks bad about the church,” they say.

The preachers’ criticisms fall numbingly on my ears as I vow to keep speaking as a “free” man.

“So you’re the infamous John Fountain,” an esteemed pastor-theologian some years ago remarked to me upon our introduction at a conference where we were panelists.

OPINION

“Huh, what?” Those were my thoughts.

Instead I looked quizzically at him as he sat smugly in an inglorious cloud of self-importance and religiosity.

At an event some years ago where I was emcee, some random pastor remarked that my writing about the church was bound to make people become atheists.

I thought: “How? My issues with ‘the church’ are only with man, not with Christ. So worry about yourself, bruh, and the abuses and cruelties inflicted by churches and bad pastors. That’ll chase more people away than John Fountain ever will.”

Instead I stood stunned and speechless.

One day while I was minding my own business in a local café, a “pastor” who recognized me from my newspaper column asked with a lemon-sour face, “What qualifies you to speak on the church?”

I might have asked him the same about being a pastor. He persisted, inquiring about my credentials with rebuke. I recoiled under his rapid-fire interrogation. I thought about telling him to, “Go to hell!”

Finally, I shot back, “I don’t tell you what to preach from your pulpit, don’t tell me what to write from mine.”

He promptly walked away and sat down.

I resolved that day to be more instant with my response from inquiring preacher minds that question my motives, my passion, or my right to critique the church.

For the record, I love the church. I’m just sick and tired of church mess.

And I am unimpressed by the “man of God’s” various and sundry theology degrees. For what good is exegesis, hermeneutics and homiletics to the poor, the widow and the orphan if you have not love? Gobbledygook.

Can theology or being schooled in the Socratic method of argument heal a broken heart or the plight of a people languishing in poverty and pain?

Do clergy collars and dangling gold crosses equip someone to love or serve? Do most preachers today address the failings of the church at large, now wallowing in the swamp of church-mega-mania and toxic bling-bling Gospel?

Do preachers still preach truth from the pulpit — a liberation theology that lifts a people? Or do far too many preach “baby food” sermonettes that keep members hopelessly dependent and spiritually stunted — forever learning but never coming into the knowledge of the truth — ensuring a warm body in the pew, the continued flow of tithes and offerings.

One need not bear the seal of apostolic approval to think out loud for themselves, to feel, or cry for the condition of the people. Only a heart, a brain, a soul, a voice, love, and knowledge of the Gospel truth. Those are my credentials.

Recently, a pastor, minutes before I was to give the keynote address at his church, raked me over the coals over my writings as we sat at the speaker’s table.

“I understand,” he said, offering me up an excuse for my writing transgressions.

“The Sun-Times pays you, so you have to say what they tell you to say … ” he said.

Huh? Come again …

As always, I went on to speak from my heart freely that day — just like I write.

Weeks later, I sent the pastor the church’s check — given to me as an honorarium — back to him with a message that I also shared that day: “Nobody pays me to say or write what I say.”

Nobody.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com