Preaching Jesus in a politically-charged climate.
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I pastor a church made up of (at best guess) 40% Democrats, 40% Republicans, and 20% unaffiliated. In short, that's a rather politically inclined (and charged) church community. It creates, I admit, quite the homiletical headache. Broadly, the Democrats desire me to teach more on the "systemic" issues of society—ecological degradation, racism, and marriage equality. The other half, however, wish I talked more about "personal" issues—repentance, sexual fidelity, and methods for a healthy prayer life. Just about everyone is looking for something different; a reality that might just drive just about any preacher insane. It certainly does me!
It's an important question: how does one preach faithfully in a politically-charged climate?
The gospel is political
We must begin with a simple truth: the gospel is political. Into the old creation, Jesus Christ descended that he might establish a "new creation." There, it is written, "the old things will pass away." (2 Cor. 5:17) This new "administration of grace" (Eph. 3:2) would instigate swift and immediate change. Jesus' Kingdom, he would say, was "at hand." (Matt. 3:2) It was not far off or long coming or speculative. It was here and now. Paul, for this reason, would call Jesus the "Second Adam," (1 Cor. 15:45) the One who does away with the kingdom of the first Adam, which brought death to the story of creation. In sum, Jesus' work undoes this entire "kingdom of darkness," "transferring" (Col. 1:13) a people into this new kingdom. The way it is done is not a mistake—he would "die on a tree" (Acts 5:30). It is not without weight that the narrative of death would be undone on the very thing where it began—a tree. The political overtones are not insignificant. In short, one might say Jesus came to make creation great … again.
As preachers, we recognize that the pulpit plays a unique place in the life of faith. For it is here that we understand our words to be an invitation into this new kingdom and new world. Preaching invites us into God's kingdom that is always "at hand." It is there that we "hold out the word of life" (Phil. 2:16) to a dark and dying world.
That perennial danger lurks when we misappropriate our task and hold out anything other than this "word of life"—our opinions, conjecture, or speculations. This couldn't be truer than in a politically charged culture like our own. Theologian Leonard Sweet, in his book Giving Blood, has identified what he calls one of the worst things a preacher can do: "[T]o give people the sense that their worship experience has been hijacked—hijacked by politics, by personal agendas, by individual druthers, by private vendettas." But when we prop up our own political conclusions regardless of what the text says we demonstrate that we love our own preaching more than God's people or even God himself. That raises the question: how do we preach about the politics of Jesus while staying faithful to the task of the "word of life"?
A. J. Swoboda: