Evangelical pastor Max Lucado’s sermons and dozens of best-selling books offer words of comfort and encouragement to his followers. On Wednesday night, he told a small group gathered at a Southtown ice house about an experience that helped form his capacity for empathy.
Lucado told an audience of more than 100 on Wednesday night that he and several other young men were sexually abused by a mentor who later threatened them into keeping silent. He called the experience at age 12 the “stormiest” season of his life.
“He took five of us one weekend on a long camping trip, and as he unpacked his stuff, he pulled out several bottles of whiskey and began to drink his way through the bottles,” Lucado told the audience. “I will never forget what happened in those tents. I felt like a soiled rat.”
Lucado, who built Oak Hills Church into a megachurch with multiple locations, told his story at Friendly Spot Ice House as part of Pub Theology, a weekly speaker series hosted by local pastor Gavin Rogers and Christianity Today writer Bekah McNeel. Lucado told the Rivard Report that he has never seen himself as an activist but feels compelled to share his story of sexual abuse in the era of social media movements #MeToo and #ChurchToo, which aim to highlight assault and often-overlooked abuse cases.
“Like many of you, I have been stunned by the #MeToo movement and the #ChurchToo movement, so I took advantage of this opportunity to share something I had never shared and, by doing so, found that sharing my story is in some way is providing some healing for others,” Lucado said.
Lucado also shared his views on President Donald Trump, whom he first criticized in a 2016 blog post titled “Decency for President.” In the post, Lucado condemned then-candidate Trump for belittling women and people with disabilities and for name-calling, saying such behavior is unacceptable for those who claim to be Christian.
“I don’t think people come to the church where I preach to hear my view on politics,” Lucado said Wednesday night, “and I not have said anything because it’s not my business what [Trump says or claims], but I felt the need to point out that this person holding up the Bible is not holding up the sentiment.”
Lucado touched on themes he addressed in the 2016 blog post: how decency matters to life and the presidency and how Trump changed his attitude toward pastoral involvement in politics.
“The person leading the free world [does] not pass my decency interview,” Lucado told the group. “We could have done better picking a leader. [Trump’s] views do not align with the Christian faith.
“It would be none of my business, I would have absolutely no right to speak up, except that he repeatedly brandishes the Bible and calls himself a Christian.”
Since 1988, Lucado has preached at the nondenominational Oak Hills Church, which has five locations in San Antonio and one in Fredericksburg. He has written over 100 inspirational books since 1985, dozens of which have appeared on national bestseller lists, including Traveling Light, It’s Not About Me, 3:16–The Numbers of Hope, and Fearless.
Mary Cordova said she was inspired by the words Lucado shared with the crowd.
“It was refreshing to see that he would stand up and say – this happened to me, this isn’t right, we have to pay attention and do something about these things,” Cordova said, referring to sexual abuse, discrimination, and violence. “It’s sometimes hard to connect to faith leaders because they are coming from a [narrow] view where something is like a law and there is no room for talking about it.”
Following the hourlong conversation, Lucado answered questions from the audience that ranged from how he works to encourage women to participate in the ministry to fighting racism and discrimination, including toward members LGBTQIA community.
In each response, Lucado highlighted his understanding that part of living the word of God is knowing when to admit that you can do better and when you have to stand up for something that isn’t right.
“In order to do ministry well, I have to be willing to own those moments where I could have done better,” he said. “People in leadership positions need to ask more questions so that they understand how prevalent a problem is and how it impacts someone. I can have empathy for something like [childhood sexual abuse] because it happened to me, but I can also have empathy because I listened.”