An Open Letter to Pastors: Child Sacrifice on Church Altars

An Open Letter to Pastors: Child Sacrifice on Church Altars February 29, 2024

Pastors with children of their own may be sacrificing them to a false god, without even knowing it.  Read on to see what I mean…

Pastor with child on church altar
AI image generated by the author on Limewire

One Good Molech Sermon

Every pastor has at least one good Molech sermon, vividly describing Canaanite child sacrifice by laying the infant on the red-hot arms of the fiery metal idol.  It’s good for that cringe effect from your congregation that rivets them to their pews and lets you know they’re listening.  It might get you in trouble from a young mother who didn’t want her toddler to hear stories like that in church—but you remind her that you gave fair warning, and encouraged parents to send their kids to Children’s Church, especially this Sunday.   Your scripture text was likely Deuteronomy 12:29-31:

The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.”  You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.


Idolatry as an Excuse for Genocide

You may have used this passage as an explanation of how evil the Canaanites were, explaining why God judged them so harshly as to command the Israelites to commit genocide against them.  Or, you might have used the same scripture to condemn the genocide of abortion, comparing mothers who make that choice to parents who burn their children as sacrifices.  When reading about the ancient Molech cult, I’ve often wondered how people could be so cruel, so evil, as to sacrifice their children.  But maybe they weren’t evil.  Maybe it was something else.


Loving Parents Who Fear the Future

Instinctually, every parent loves their children.  These weren’t moms and dads who hated their kids or who were so filled with Satan that they craved the blood of their offspring.  No—these parents were duped.  Certainly, whoever dreamed up the Molech idol and its heinous sacrificial method was rotten to the core.  But the people feared that the God who called them to the land of milk and honey might abandon them to pestilence and poverty.  They convinced themselves that giving up their children was the only way to ensure prosperity in the present and fertility in the future.  The Canaanite religion misled them to fear disaster and mistrustful their God. So, they sacrificed their children’s life and breath in exchange for false promises and manipulation.


Child Sacrifice on Church Altars

Now, here’s what hits me hard.  Pastors with children of their own may be sacrificing them to a false god, without even knowing it.  Much like the good people who sacrificed their children because they feared that God wouldn’t meet their needs, pastors turn to workaholism out of fear that they won’t get everything done.  They fear that if they don’t, their parishioners will become displeased with them.  If their church members don’t like them, they might lose their jobs.  If they lose their jobs, how will they provide for their children?

So, while they’re trying to provide for their kids, they sacrifice them to endless nighttime committee meetings, Saturdays spent at church yard sales and parishioners’ anniversary parties, and dinnertime hospital visits.  They think they’re taking care of their families through their obsessive work while forgetting that God never expected them to lay their children on the burning arms of the church altar. The difference is, for pastors, the false God isn’t named Molech.  The false God is called The Church.

Just remember—even when Abraham was willing to offer Isaac as a child sacrifice, God told him not to do it. If the Father of the Faithful didn’t have to sacrifice his child, you don’t need to do it, either. Any god that demands child sacrifice is a false god. If the church requires this of you, you should reconsider who you’re serving.


The Church is a Terrible Mistress

Don’t get me wrong.  The Church is beautiful.  She is the Bride of Christ, dressed in white.  She is the building of Christ, established by Jesus himself on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  The Church is the Body of Christ, made of many members.  But—as one pastor’s wife told me, “The Church is a terrible mistress.”  In the worst situations, pastors find themselves pulling away from their spouses and children, all the while demanding more and more perfection from their families to please their demanding lover, the Church.


My Confession

I confess, as a pastor tending the flock, placing priority on the church, I have…

  • Rescheduled “date night” due to a hospital visit;
  • Answered a church member’s phone call in the movie theater with my daughter;
  • Met with deacons and Sunday school teachers concerning my child’s behavior (when he was the one who was bullied)
  • Told my son that he had to attend youth group because non-attendance could affect my job.
  • Taken my young children on countless hospital and nursing home visits, thinking that I was spending quality time with them while serving the church at the same time.

Of course, there are times when ministers need to respond quickly to the needs of their parishioners.  And pastoral families, for the most part, understand this.  But too often pastors put their church’s needs ahead of their families’ needs, and in doing so they lay their loved ones on the sacrificial altar.  We take it to the extreme when we read Proverbs 24:33-34, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” The church isn’t going to fall apart, and you won’t fall into poverty if you take care of your family.



When You’re Afraid of Being a Disappointment…

Granted, some pastors take too much advantage of the fact that they set their own schedules, and don’t have anybody looking over their shoulders.  Some pastors make a part-time job out of a full-time position.  But mostly I’ve seen it work the other way, where bi-vocational pastors try to make a full-time job out of their church, and where full-time pastors work way too much overtime.  Sometimes it’s their own zeal to win their neighborhood for Jesus, but more often it’s a secret fear that they’re not doing enough, and a relentless desire to please people.  When you’re afraid of being a disappointment, it’s easy to make your parishioners your priority, and inadvertently sacrifice your children on the church altar.



You Reap What You Sow

As a result, ministry friends, let me say—you reap what you sow.  Be careful that you don’t impose your church’s unrealistic expectations on your family.  By doing so, we become like the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matthew 23:4).”  Instead, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).” 

As one pastor’s spouse told me about the minister in the family, “I wish they would just give us as much grace as they give their church members!”  It’s a stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks statement, and it’s an indictment against pastors who can sometimes get priorities wrong, and sacrifice their families on church altars.  My prayer is that the fires of Molech would be far from your homes and that you would have the guts to draw hard lines when it comes to your church’s demands.


For related reading, check out my other articles:

About Gregory T. Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for fifteen years. I am one of fourteen contributing authors of the Patheos/Quoir Publishing book “Sitting in the Shade of another Tree: What We Learn by Listening to Other Faiths.” I hold a degree in Religious Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, and also studied at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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