Christians: Don’t “Preach” at Non-Christian’s Funerals

Last night, a good friend texted me a screenshot. It was the Facebook page of a mutual friend who died suddenly and very young last week, leaving behind a large community of stunned people grieving his loss.

As is often the case, the man’s profile had become a makeshift gathering place for mourners, who checked in to post photos, share memories, and give tributes—but this wasn’t the image my friend shared with me.

It was of a Christian friend of the dead man, (who by all accounts was not a Christian), proselytizing on his virtual memorial.

He wrote:

David was a good man with a good heart, who understood that giving is better than receiving. I will miss him greatly.

(Sounds nice.)

But it is exactly times like this that we come to the reality that we can’t wait to get our lives right.

(Uh  oh…)

David set an example that we need to be better people. And we need to take that example and go further.

(Oh no, he’s not gonna go there, is he?)

We need to be better spiritually.

(Wait, PLEASE don’t go there!)

I may never see my friend again. I hope that before things went wrong, he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

(He went there.)

And there it was; the move I’ve seen a few hundred times: a supposedly well-meaning Christian, preaching at a dead non-Christian’s wake or memorial service—and I felt sick to my stomach.

There’s something so inherently disturbing about watching someone monopolize that sacred, fragile moment to deliver a sermon that the deceased person might surely have contested while living—and at a time when they have no possible way to contest it; when they are incapable of offering a rebuttal. It is the height of selfishness, because it insists on getting in the last word over a dead friend.

And then, the man did something perhaps even worse than that: he preemptively scolded the mourning onlookers who might rightly take offense, lecturing them on how to care about another human being (you know, like Jesus would do):

Some may be upset that I’m using this situation to “preach,” but if you just lost your friend and you truly, 100% believed you knew how to protect your other friends and yet you were afraid to say something??? Then how much do you really care about your so-called friends?

This is the go-to move for far too many Christians in these moments:
damning someone’s life with faint praise, as if being kind and loving and generous are nice, but somehow insufficient in themselves;

claiming you’re speaking out of compassion, while being completely oblivious to the feelings of other people;
saying you’re doing something “in love,” yet being almost shockingly unloving in your timing and delivery;
using someone’s casket as a soapbox, to implore people to turn to a God, who they implicitly suggest might have already rejected their dead friend.

I’ve seen this on tone deaf social media posts, I’ve listened to opportunistic preachers at funerals, I’ve heard it in awkward conversations at cemeteries. I know how deeply wounding it is when Christians seize the attention in a tragic moment for their own purposes.

It’s one thing if the deceased person professed a specific religious worldview and was explicit in sharing that faith while living; if they were clear about the desire to make their death a moment for evangelism.

But often, Christians give little thought to those things; choosing instead to punctuate the dead person’s life—with a sentence they decided to write for them.

I’m certain this man sermonizing on his dead friend’s page believed he was doing the right thing; that he is fully convinced he is being a good and faithful servant, that he is doing the work of Jesus.

I wish I could make him understand that he’s hurting already hurting people, that he’s reminding them why they run from Christians, that he is not giving people good news at all.

Christian friends: preach on your profiles, write the sermon you want spoken at your funeral, instruct people to explicitly share your faith convictions after you’re gone.

But when people who don’t share your faith pass away, simply be present for those who are mourning.

Let your spiritual convictions be evident in your kindness toward them.

Let your compassion be your testimony.

Let other people’s lives be their legacies—as they lived them.

Don’t put your sermons in their mouths.

Don’t add a spiritual postscript where there wasn’t one.

Stop preaching at non-Christian’s funerals.

 

 

 

 

62 thoughts on “Christians: Don’t “Preach” at Non-Christian’s Funerals

  1. After the end of WWII. Many nations, including America, were forced to implement a policy to settle as many ethnic Germans back into that obliterated abattoir simply in order to keep their population from completely collapsing. You have to be aware at some deep level that your fellow Christians are condemning themselves to an immolation so complete that not even the ashes will remain. Just an empty black void which countless generations for centuries, if they speak of it at all, will only do so in hushed and fearful tones. The reckoning is nigh.

  2. Ahhhh….my MIL did this while my Dad was ill and on life support. We were all trying to come to grips with the decisions we needed to make to honor his wishes and she fb messaged me to tell me, basically, that he was better off dead and that she was praying that he would have the chance to repent before he passed.

    I’ve never been so stunned, hurt and rage filled in my entire life. I gave her some choice words and have basically not spoken to her or had anything to do with her, that was 4 years ago. A kick in the face is the absolute last thing I needed and that’s what I felt like I received.

  3. Thank you for this. If these Christians had any clue about how many people they were turning against their religion – their so-called ‘care’ is really only self-righteousness. Not only should they keep mum at other people’s funerals, they should keep mum at other people’s misfortune. I once had a self-righteous Christian say to me that the devil was in my house and that I needed to find the Lord quickly. My mom was ill, in her 90’s with dementia and I was caring for her on my own and it was very difficult. A prayer would have been nice but instead, this woman took the time to tell me that this was my fault, that I allowed the devil into my house. Another time a friend of a friend got into my car. We were all going to an event together and I was driving. She never met me before and asked if I was a Christian. Before I could answer, she said, “because I don’t know if I could do business with someone who isn’t.” I had to bite my tongue and refrain from stopping the car and saying ‘well maybe you shouldn’t accept a free ride from one either!” I said nothing and just drove her there and home safely and took a wide berth forever after. I used to drop my elderly parents off at church and go back to pick them up. I would sit outside and watch in amazement as the doors would burst open and the same few people would rush out, pushing and shoving to get to the newspaper stand first and I would think ‘ you didn’t even stay for the end of the service, the communion is barely down your throat and did you HEAR anything that was said in there at all? cuz I’m pretty sure they didn’t tell you to trip your neighbor so you could say you bought the first newspaper! It was disheartening and off-putting to say the least. I just cannot believe that God will say “ok all you who went to church every Sunday are safe [no matter if you were a complete jerk the rest of the week] and people who are kind and good and helpful will go to hell because they didn’t go to church on Sunday.] And if these are the kinds of people who at church, I want no part of it. You have been a voice of reason for the past year and if this whole disaster of politics has done anything good, it has brought you to a lot of people who would not know about you otherwise.

  4. I was raised in a southern community and it didn’t matter if your church was Baptist, Methodist or other, they all preached the same stuff! I have attended many funerals that rotated around the message, not the memorial. The hypocracy is astounding. My uncle was baptisted on his death bed, unable to speak. He was a wife beater and child molester. But because he was “saved” at the last moment he turned into a soldier for Christ. I could barely sit through the service! As my mother always said, funerals are for the living. And if that depth of lie made anyone feel any better about his life, then I offer them my apologies, but I think not. In the community where I live now we have few fundamentalist churches so funerals are less difficult to sit through!

  5. Yes I hate when a captive audience is used as an occasion to preach. It shouldn’t be done at funerals or at football games.

    Also, wouldn’t it be nice if Pavlovitz would say something positive occasionally? He’s made the point ad nauseam that Trump, Trump supporters, and Evangelicals are very bad people who deserve as much contempt as possible, but isn’t there something more to do than hate bad people?

  6. I’ve seen it and just wanted to walk up and punch them in the face.

    My Father in law was a member of some non denominational fundie hell fire and damnation John 3:16 type church and his son told the preacher if he made the service into some kind of altar call he’d throw his ass out bodily.

    He complied.

  7. I am a Christian. When I came across the article I was a bit stunned so I chose to read it. My major takeaway was surprise at how the author and commenters views preaching and proselytizing as selfish. I can assure you it is not. Why?

    This is Paul addressing the church of Philippi.

    Philippians 1:12-14
    I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

    Paul was imprisoned for speaking the truth of the gospel. Did he act selfishly? Not at all! He served the Lord faithfully by testifying about Jesus and people hated him for it. Was it in his selfish interest to preach and be imprisoned? No, that would make him insane to wish to be persecuted. He was willing to suffer immensely for the sake of preaching and proselytizing regarding the gospel.

    Christians throughout the world are persecuted and killed for their beliefs. This happens frequently to this day even.

    The truth is that the message of the gospel offends people and people simply don’t want to hear what offends them. It is not about being selfish.

    Christians do often make the mistake of speaking the truth without love. Ephesians 4:15 commands us to do both. God uses imperfect messengers to convey his message of salvation but don’t let a messenger’s poor delivery pollute the meaning of a message.

    I can think of no better time to share the truth of the gospel than at a non Christians funeral. Why? Because I am firmly convinced it is the truth. If I hide that truth from others to avoid persecution THIS is what makes me selfish. The manner of how we share is important but please don’t make the mistake of believing Christians should not preach the gospel everywhere and to everyone. That would be akin to asking a Christian to stop being one.

    Luke 8:16 (Jesus speaking)

    “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light“

    • I’d only remind you that Jesus points out (later in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus) that his resurrection will do you no good if you can’t be bothered to read Moses and the prophets. I would also point out that these words were penned decades after Jesus’ death by the early church to cosmopolitan Jews who weren’t always known for their meticulous religious observances…

      • Shnarkle – I’m not sure what you’re implying. Are you suggesting preaching the gospel is of no use or value in our society? I’ll assume you are for the purpose of my response but if you’re not then my apology.

        Jesus was making a point at the end of this story. It’s the same point he made in the parable of the sower that was more expansive.

        Some people who “hear the Word” do not “hear the Word.” That is why he says what he does in Matthew 11:15 and Mark 4:9. They simply don’t listen to it and it’s like the saying of “In one ear and out the other.”

        These brothers of the rich man had already “listened” to the Word according to the scripture. They had also rejected it. There was no need to provide a second chance when the first was good.

        I would agree with the idea that preaching the gospel to those whom you know have already listened and rejected it would not be beneficial for the believer. Jesus instructed the disciples to depart from whatever town did not receive them in Matthew 10:14. This is an exception case where staying and preaching was discouraged.

        What I would disagree with is the idea that saying preaching the gospel in a society would be similarly wrong. That I don’t agree with. The following verses carry imperatives to preach the gospel throughout the Earth:

        Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 10:7, Acts 10:42

        Sharing the gospel with someone who is at a funeral may be considered unkind only if it were not true.

        If a nonbeliever could suspend their disbelief for a moment and consider the gospel perfectly true… people live eternally in heaven with God or die eternally apart from him in hell… would they not then desire to immediately find out how to secure the former and avoid the latter KNOWING that they will have one outcome apply?

        If this is the case then the only loving thing someone else with this truth could do would be to share how to secure eternal life.

        Yes, I understand my example is a hypothetical however the point I want to leave you the reader with is that as a Christian we firmly believe this is the truth and we desire to share this so that others might be adopted by God. There are some who share with selfish motives (pastors who want to be rich, powerful, etc) but those who are genuine share out of a heart to see others obtain salvation and peace from our God.

        In my writing I may convey a sense of boldness or arrogance but I am a broken sinner in desperate need of salvation and am no better than the vilest murdering person residing on this Earth. The only thing that can save me is God’s free gift of salvation and not my individual merit or “righteous” acts.

    • Daniel. There are appropriate and inappropriate times to do even good things. The stance you take in your message above suggests that you think the gospel is a baseball bat that should be used to maul people. In the New Testament, I do not see anyone using the gospel in the manner you seem to suggest. The idea that the gospel should be used as a club is a Christian fundamentalist idea—one that makes people run away from Jesus rather than come to him. You have a lot to learn about the Christian faith, and i hope that you will some day. You can start by learning about what is wrong with your own belief system by reading at my blog. Begin with the “About” and “My Profile” sections:

      https://faith17963.wordpress.com/

      Jesus is still out there calling for you—if you are willing to leave the BS behind you and give him half a chance.

    • If you preach at my Buddhist parents’ funeral, I don’t need to ask the police to escort you out. I myself will drag you out of the room.

  8. Charles,

    Thanks for taking time to respond to my comment. Where specifically do you decipher that I suggest Christians preach the gospel “as a baseball bat that should be used to maul people”?

    I think you should reread my comments. I actually explicitly state the opposite so I’m rather confused by your comments. Please reference this:

    “Christians do often make the mistake of speaking the truth without love. Ephesians 4:15 commands us to do both.”

    Sharing/preaching the gospel doesn’t need to be a “turn or burn” message. Paul didn’t preach that way. Many Christians in our society do, hence my comments about them making the mistake of speaking the truth without love. Do you believe that sharing the gospel is in and of itself wrong for a believer and if so how do you justify this?

    I don’t believe that there is ever a time where preaching the gospel in love would be inappropriate for a believer. What I mean by inappropriate is to say “biblically unjustified” or “sinful” rather than being deemed socially unacceptable.

    Your comment about me learning regarding the Christian faith is intriguing. To make such a comment you must already possess a keen understanding of what I know and don’t know. Yet you do not know me at all… perhaps you look down on me for my sincerely held beliefs?

  9. As a pastor I have been asked to officiate a number of funerals of people who to my knowledge did not profess any particular faith.
    If that is the case I don’t address their spiritual state. Rather I speak words to comfort the family and talk about the hope I believe we can have in this life and for the next. That has been to my knowledge well received as I continue to be contacted to perform funerals. From my perspective it is not mine to judge others. I leave that to God who is far more just and merciful than I am.

    • I should have added at the end of my post – John 3:17
      God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! Contemporary English Version (CEV)

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