"But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." Matthew 9:36
US Sheepherding Experiment
Recently, TWW was criticized from the pulpit of a well-known mega-church regarding a post from over 2 years ago in which we believed that a pastor was misusing a metaphor about sheep. Said pastor made sure (in a rather loud voice) that we now understand that he considers himself one of the “idiot” sheep. We are gratified to hear that said pastor counts himself amongst the idiots out here but that is not the only point we were trying to make.
We do not believe that the metaphors of sheep and shepherd in the Bible were meant to convey that God thinks we are a bunch of idiots. In fact, we do not see any Bible verses in which God’s dearly loved children are called dumb or idiotic sheep. The Scripture is replete with verses of how a concerned and loving shepherd will guide his sheep. In fact, He will run after even one sheep who has gone astray.
When my son was about 18 months old, he preferred to run, not walk. Consequently, he would often would trip and fall, necessitating trips to doctors along with a fair number of stitches. I would try to keep up with him, often failing miserably, to protect him from his inevitable bangs and bruises.
One day, I laid him down for his nap. My 4 year old daughter and I were in the next room, playing some music and exercising. I heard the child alarm go off and found my front door wide open. That often happened on my windy street and I assumed I had not shut the door tightly. As I walked back upstairs, I peeked in on my son and, to my horror, discovered that he was not in his crib. I realized what had happened. I ran hysterically outside, screaming his name. There were so many dangers-homes being built, pools being filled. I did not know which way to turn.
As I ran inside to get my car and call the police for help, my phone rang. A dear friend, who lived two streets over, found my son, merrily running around her cul du sac in his t-shirt and diaper.
He was safe! I ran to get him, bawling my eyes out. When I got to him, did I call him dumb or an idiot? Of course not! I picked him up, covered him with kisses, marveling that he was devoid of any cuts or bruises. I loved on him and was so grateful that he was alive and unharmed.
Theoretically, he did something stupid but he was only a small child and did not understand the dangers. And that is how I believe God responds to each one of us who recognize Him as “Abba”, “Father,” “Daddy.”
I think many may be unaware of the dubious origin of the dumb sheep metaphor. Did you know that it has its roots in the discredited shepherding movement of the 70s? This movement was known for its excessive and abusive authoritarianism. The idiot sheep symbol had a devious purpose back then. It was used to elevate the shepherd, also known as the pastor, and to demean and control the sheep(the rest of the congregation).
Dr. Steven Lambert has written extensively on the Shepherding Movement and its harmful effects on the flock. The following is what he wrote about the “sheep” in an article called “Charismatic Captivation”. Here is the link.
“Finally, there were the “sheep” themselves. All of the former (referring to the leaders) comprised the superior class of “Shepherds,” while those submitted to their care in their churches were the “sheep.” In many cases, this metaphorical moniker attributed to the saints of God was not used in the same affectionate sense as it is used in the Bible and even by Jesus Himself to describe the very special personal and caring relationship between a shepherd and his sheep that typically exists among nomadic sheep-herders.
Rather, many of the Discipleship/Shepherdship adherents came to maintain a very condescending and demeaned view of believers as “just dumb sheep,” as many came to call them, dumb sheep, whose ability to reason was next to non-existent, which prevented them from knowing what was best for them. Therefore, it was the role of the shepherd, under this widely-held concept concerning “underling” believers, to tell the dumb sheep what to do, where to go, and to basically make their decisions for them, because the sheep were just too stupid to be able to do all this for themselves.”
Did this belief die away with the shepherding movement? Considering the fact that CJ Mahaney, a friend of this unnamed pastor, has ties to the old shepherding movement, it is not unreasonable to assume that this influence still exists today. In fact, CJ Mahaney is a good friend of Al Mohler and has given quite a bit of money to Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.You might be surprised to learn the following bit of information.
Tom Rich, of FBC Jax Watchdog, sent TWW a kind note the other day. Here is what he had to say about current day “shepherds.”
“This goes back to the view that these men have been taught at the SBC seminary…Al Mohler let the cat out of the bag at the FBC Jax pastor's conference earlier this year. The pastors are NOT dumb sheep, we pew sitters are the imbeciles, as Al Mohler said:
"…we believe that those who teach and preach the word of God are God-appointed agents to save God's people from ignorance." Al Mohler, FBC Jax, Feb 2011
As you know, Al Mohler is the rock star leader to the Calvinistas in the SBC. How much clearer can it be…they actually believe that we need them, that the God of the universe specially appointed them to come here and save us from our stupidity. They are not "us" – they are special, they have special connections to God.”
There is a crassness associated with today’s authoritarian leaders. They present mankind as a bunch of slimy worms who are barely tolerated by a Jesus who hangs on the Cross, angry that He has to sacrifice Himself for such beings. It is almost as if they present Him saying, through clenched teeth, “I can’t believe I have to do this for such ingrates.”
They present a mean view of God. Dare I say that they, too, in their pronouncements can sound rather mean as well? In fact, Taylor Swift says it quite well in this song.
You see, most people I know are all too well aware of their faults, sins and failings. In Jesus, they find a loving Savior who forgives their sins and kindly shepherds them through this world and into the next. This is called grace.When I became a Christian at the age of 17, I was already familiar with my own failings. I was excited to find a Savior who wanted a loving relationship with an awkward teenage girl who lost herself in Jane Austen and science fiction. Had I been told that I was an idiot who was “lucky” that she was one of the elect, I would have run in the opposite direction.
In fact, there could also be a dangerous side to constant condemnation of the “sheep.” Jonathan Edwards, a hero of today’s Calvinistas (a group to which the unnamed pastor and Al Mohler belong), preached a hard Gospel during the First Great Revival. This quote is from George Marsden’s book found on Wikipedia.
“Over the summer of 1735, religious fervor took a dark turn. A number of New Englanders were shaken by the revivals but not converted, and became convinced of their inexorable damnation. Edwards wrote that "multitudes" felt urged—presumably by Satan—to take their own lives.
At least two people committed suicide in the depths of their spiritual duress, one from Edwards's own congregation—his uncle, Joseph Hawley II. It is not known if any others took their own lives, but the suicide craze effectively ended the first wave of revival, except in some parts of Connecticut." (George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), p163-168)
I have read one too many stories of people deeply hurt by current day churches. Some of these people have found their way to TWW- tired, questioning, broken down and beaten up by one too many leaders who treat them as if they are pond scum. They are told they are lucky to be saved as well as blessed to be informed just how rotten they are by egotistical preachers and leaders.
To these dear people, we are here to proclaim a wonderful Gospel. Jesus not only offers you unlimited grace and total forgiveness, He pursues each of you because He deeply loves you. He is the Great Shepherd and He willingly gave His life for His beloved sheep. Never, ever will He call you idiots.