Yesterday, the young clergy leadership forum heard from Bill Mefford, the GBCS point person for immigration reform and other controversial causes. Bill shared with us that he actually spent most of his career as a local pastor to people in the rural midwest and Texas who would disagree with most of the things he’s advocating now. He said the most solid foundation for being able to speak prophetic Biblical truths in your congregation is for people to know that you love them. They can’t get that from the generic benevolence of a handshake and a warm smile. They need to be pursued and valued.
I think a lot of times the reason people recoil when we preach sermons that sound “political” is because they feel shamed and caricatured (“You haven’t taken the time to know and understand me and it sure does sound like this straw man you’re bashing is what you think I am”).
It’s very important to me to find something I can affirm about the values of the people in my congregation as I’m talking to them. I might not always agree with the application of these values in terms of issue positions, but I believe that God has given everyone in my church gems of truth that I need to take the time to go out and gather. My role is less to bring truth down to them from Mt. Sinai and more to name the truth that the Spirit is already breathing in their midst.
In our conversation with Senate chaplain Barry Black yesterday, he pointed out that many political debates are right against right, not right against wrong. I understand Chaplain Black to mean that neither side is purely malevolent even though both sides have blind spots and make decisions that cause evil to happen. Our political differences are usually differences in how we rank and prioritize values that we share a lot more than we realize. Very few people hate family or freedom or compassion or equality; they just apply and rank these generic fundamentals differently.
Anyhow, if you have real relationships of trust with your congregation, then you can speak prophetically without people thinking that you hate the good and true things that they are right to love. Of course another thing Mefford said is that he would never preach a political sermon because preaching the gospel is political enough. I almost fell out amening him for saying that. I’m firmly convinced that ugly politics start from an ugly theology (Christian or otherwise). Whatever theology makes us overly confident about our own infallibility and the total depravity of the other side is the root of most political evil that we need to kill.
It doesn’t matter how wrong the other side is, if your theology has covertly filled you with spiritual pride, then you will betray the truth that God has given you to share and become the monster you think you’re fighting. If we can kill this theology of infallibility for me and depravity for others, then we can talk about things like guns, sex, unborn babies, and federal budgets with humility and compassion. Ephesians talks about speaking the truth in love. Love is the means by which space for the truth is created. That’s where we have to start.