Preaching Political

Blog Post by the
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org

 


I sent a letter to the presbytery last week as a response to the Stockley trail in St. Louis. I received more responses to that letter than anything else I’ve written. Most responses were positive and affirming. A few responses took issue at my claims of injustice and racism. I really appreciate all responses as an opportunity for us to dialogue with one another. This is the way our faith and community are shaped and formed. We are a connected church that does our best work respectfully agreeing and disagreeing, and doing it all in love.

But what happens in a church when the congregation disagrees with a political sermon the pastor preaches? How should members of a congregation respond when the pastor takes them on a path they do not want to go?

Last week Daniel Schultz wrote an article entitled Rev. Rob Lee Lost Congregation for His Anti-Racism Speech: Here’s Why He Should Have Packed His Bags First.

Schultz tells the story of Pastor Rob Lee, a descendent of General Robert E. Lee, and how his remarks from the pulpit against racism got him fired from his UCC church. Schultz believes Lee made a critical mistake in how he approached the congregation. “One of the cardinal rules of working in a church is that you never, ever—ever—tell them they’re doing their faith wrong, even if they clearly are, unless you have your bags packed and the car warmed up.” Schultz believes pastors can talk about difficult political issues, but it must be done with the right attitude.

The pastor cannot demand change, but can explore ideas and different directions. The path must be smoothed with affirmation and uplifting. He writes, “But the trick is to do it in a way that leaves followers feeling like they’re being summoned to their better angels, not being faulted for what someone perceives as their worse devils. That’s not coddling racists. It’s a pragmatic recognition that leaders who want to create social change need something other than ‘Speaking The Truth Boldly’ in their toolbox if they want to be successful. For better or worse, pastoral ministry is about creating change through the power of relationships. It is a very long game, and one that can be lost with one wrong step.

Through the building of relationships, we can all move forward together in our walk of faith. It’s easier to listen to someone we love, even when we disagree with what they are saying. But as a preacher, I must admit, it is a difficult line to navigate when talking about emotionally charged issues. I would love to have to explore this issue further with pastors, and members!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

13 Responses to “Preaching Political”

  1. Mike Willock on

    I understood that ministry was about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. We comfortable need to be afflicted, especially concerning issues of racism. We also have to keep in mind that the police have a difficult and dangerous job – one most of us are not prepared to do and would not want to do but we are glad that someone does.

    Good work, Craig. Thanks for calling our congregations to a common prayer last Sunday.

    Reply
  2. Diane McCullough on

    Thank you for your great leadership and your loving spirit. It is a an example and a reminder to all of us in trying to follow Christ’s wish for us.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn A Stewart on

    Since Ferguson happened, I know there have been many efforts and meetings with churches, civic organizations, political leaders and law enforcement. The result was good. The right to peaceful protest was acknowledged. The definition of peaceful protest was brought to reality when bottles and bricks were thrown. When an attempt to stop traffic on an interstate was thwarted explanations of why this was no longer peaceful (access to hospitals would have been blocked) were given. Also, their were identifiable leaders that could be conferred with and who did their best to remind participants of the goal of peaceful protest. When the original group of people started leaving around nine o’clock the first night, people that had not accepted the terms of protest began creating havoc.

    The second and third night followed the pattern of the first night.

    I was disappointed but welcomed the change that had occurred through people using positive dialog. A beginning that I pray will continue and expand. There were many arrests but no serious injury or deaths. Property was destroyed but not burned as in Ferguson. Boarded up buildings were transformed into public art.

    This was a beginning for St. Louis and an example for all of us. Thank you God for showing us the way and opening up understanding.

    Reply
  4. Sheila Mapes on

    Thank you, Craig, for educating members of this Presbytery about how you experience what we call “normal” here in MO and IL. You do not allow us to walk away from recent racially-charged events unchallenged. As someone who daily experiences racial tensions, your perspective is just what we need to hear– painful though it may be for us to hear and you to write. I am so grateful for your ministry to us.

    Reply
    • Craig Howard on

      Shelia,

      Thank you for your words of encouragement and efforts to help us face our own racism through Dismantling Racism and White Privilege.

      Reply
  5. Miriam Foltz on

    Craig, I appreciate your reminder here. It’s important to remember that as tempting as it is view the pulpit like a “bully pulpit” – a place to proclaim our own personal understandings and experiences of the “rebel Jesus” – it’s important to remember that Matthew left his taxtables behind and the Samaritan woman became a disciple of Christ because of his invitational relationship to both – not by condemning or berating them.
    And yet… you never answered your own question – “how should members of a congregation respond?” You answered the question – “how should pastors be pastoral and not abuse the pulpit?”. But this is a pressing time when many “good Christians'”behavior reflects not the open-hearted listening of the disciples but more the condemnatory stance of the Pharisees – they hear of the justice-work of Christ (setting the captives free, giving sight to the blind etc.) and say it must be stopped, for fear of…
    I think it’s important to spend more time on your unanswered question – how should congregations respond? (A big update in the Rev. Lee situation – as the article you linked to notes – is that it’s unclear about whether his church council even asked him to leave. Lots of unanswered questions there.)
    But it’s important for congregations (and pastors too!) to do some self-reflection at this time. How have we made Christ in our own image? What are the reasons we come to church – to be made comfortable? To never be challenged to grow or change at all because we are without sin? (*Calvin rolls over in his grave.*)
    Let’s sit with the unanswered questions more and admit that they make us nervous and uncomfortable. But maybe the call to follow Christ is nerve-wracking and discomforting?

    Reply
  6. John Harrison on

    Craig, yes, thank you for this reminder. It is indeed a difficult line to walk, but the reality of relationships is sobering as we walk it, and it is a long game that will win in the end. I find it much more productive to speak out of what we are striving toward rather than what we are running away from. Even the seeds of discomfort need to be sown in love.

    Reply
  7. Craig Howard on

    Miriam,

    The question for congregants depend on why we attend church. I believe we should seek transformation and the opportunity to improve on our baptism, and grow in faith. This means being challenged, and constantly asking if the Holy Spirit is trying to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, help us to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and challenge us to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace (from Brief Statement of Faith). If the Holy Spirit is moving, as congregants we should listen.

    Reply
  8. Rick Schaefer on

    Rev. Howard:

    When bracing contentious subject matter, the setting is key. From the pulpit, it’s dictation. Seen it done, been there. This denomination seems quite open to discussion of contentious views, perhaps obsessively so. The process is important to our broader understanding and compassion for each other. With this in mind, a round table setting, in person or via this blog, gives each contributor a voice. These recent events remind us of how destructive and divisive reactions to perceived (or actual) injustices impact our mission for genuine love.

    Rick Schaefer
    Clerk of the Session,
    First Presbyterian Church Ste. Genevieve

    Reply

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