Every preacher faces a few hard choices on days like today. We struggle with how to publicly talk, tweet, and blog about things like the Supreme Court’s decision concerning the Affordable Care Act.
The problem is that we have been conditioned by parishioners to steer clear of politics. We are not supposed to let people know what we think about such things, nor do we tip our hand about our political affiliations. They tell us that they don’t want our opinions on such matters, by threatening us with the presence or absence of their pocketbooks and presence. They don’t care if we disagree with their political judgments.
Just this week, I was criticized by such a person in this vein. On Sunday, I preached a sermon about the Jubilee year, and suggested that we learn how to “do justice” in our society. On Monday, I received a brief and pointed email in which a church member told me, “I don’t appreciate hearing your politics in the pulpit.”
At the time I was preparing my sermon, I didn’t conceive of it as being “political.” I was not recommending a particular course of action, nor did I suggest how one ought to vote. Specifically, he took exception with this particular statement: “It’s just plain wrong that CEO’s and CFO’s and venture capitalists make millions of dollars every day sitting in offices in Manhattan when men and women do the hard work of teaching children, driving trucks and buses, and working the soil for a mere dollars a day.” That’s the line that upset him.
In a very profound sense, he was right. That was a political statement — I criticized a state of affairs, and implicitly urged things to change. He feared, wrongly as it turns out, that I was suggesting that the State put limits on how much a person could earn; he didn’t like the implications of those kinds of politics.
But I was preaching politics. And this kind of politics certainly does belong in the pulpit.
Politics is the art of living together in community, and therefore, preaching is toothless, sterile and irrelevant unless it touches on politics, unless it recommends a specific course of action in the real world. What’s the good of talking about love, mercy, grace, fellowship, sin and salvation unless you can tie it to particular behavior and action?
One cannot avoid politics in the pulpit, in fact. Every principle of application that a preacher espouses implies a way of living in the world, a course of action, a direction.
If a preacher suggests from the pulpit, for example, that we ought to love our enemies (an undeniably Christian sentiment), that is already a political statement, for it challenges every war that we may be fighting, every prisoner that we execute, and every potential terrorist that we torture. If those things don’t emerge in the sermon, then the preacher is missing the point!
The question is not whether politics ought to be preached, but what kind of politics.
I have no beef with preachers who talk honestly about specific issues and policies from the pulpit. The question is whether the politics expressed truly reflects the politics of the prophets, of Jesus, and of the kingdom of God.
That is the issue.
Or to put it another way: preaching is the art of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, also known as the Beloved Community; and politics is the art of forming, living, and sustaining community. Preaching and politics — indisputable partners.
So what do I think about Obamacare?
Well, I’m happy that the Affordable Care Act remains intact because it protects the poorest in our society. But it falls far short of what I really hope for … free, universal healthcare for every man, woman, and child in this great country.
That’s worth preaching!