I know we have all had the experience of having someone from the congregation shake our hand following the sermon and say, “I felt like you were preaching that sermon just for me.” It is usually meant as a compliment and we usually feel blessed, and sometimes amazed, that God was able to speak a word of good news to someone through our sermon.
However, I have also had times where someone has accused me of preaching about their personal issue when, in fact, I had not. For example, I had a man approach me after my sermon and ask me for the name of the person who had told me that he was having an affair with his secretary. I mean, what other reason would there be for me to preach about the sin of adultery no matter that the text, for that week, was David and Bathsheba.
The word of God, proclaimed in preaching, can often speak deeply to people and stir up guilt, anger, shame, healing and joy. That is the point of preaching. And this leads me to my topic of this blog entry: preaching during an election year.
I don’t have to tell you that this election year is filled with emotion and that people on both sides of the political fence are feeling frustrated, confused, defensive and fearful. They are inundated with Facebook posts, debates, commercials, and unwanted phone calls and the last place they want to hear about politics is at church. It is naive to assume, however, that they will leave all of their frustration and fear at home when they come to church. You might encounter people who assume that your sermons have a political bias. They might hear things through their own political filter that they would not have heard in a non-election year. Much like the man who had the affair and thought that my sermon was singling him out and speaking to him specifically, you might have people assuming that you are trying are to convince them to vote one way or the other.
Below is a list of 5 things to keep in mind as you prepare to preach during this political season:
1. Recognize that you have a political bias.
We do not live in ivory towers of theological thought. We live in the world and we are affected by the ads, fears, uncertainty and concerns that all people face during elections. I am sure you know which party you are leaning toward and supporting, so be aware your own suppressed political bias. Being aware of it and naming it will prevent you from subconsciously reading the text through your private political lens.
2. Consider using a lectionary or moving through a book of the Bible during the election season rather than a themed sermon series.
Sometimes we preach a series and use texts that go along with that theme. During an election season, however, the themes you choose might seem like you chose them to support one political party or another. And if we are honest, the themes we select might subconsciously be chosen to support our political agenda. I strongly suggest that you use the lectionary texts or select a book from the Bible to study rather than themes especially during the most hotly debated times of the race.
3. Speak the Truth.
Scripture challenges us to move closer to God’s kingdom and sometimes that means a message will emerge in your preparation that you fear will anger one side of the political crowd or the other. Preach it anyway. You cannot edit God because of fear.
4. See any moments of anger expressed by a member of your congregations as an opportunity to provide pastoral care.
If, after you preach, someone approaches you and is outraged because you took a political side, it probably has more to do with that persons fear than with your sermon. Follow up with them after they have had time to calm down,and I bet you will discover something is going on in their life which has caused them to lash out.
5. Remember that separating politics from religion has a Biblical basis.
Jesus told his disciples, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” While there is certainly an overlap between the church and government, and while the decisions we make as Christians affect our government, Jesus, when given the opportunity to enter into the political discussion, pointed his followers back to God. He could have been distracted from his primary mission by getting angry at Rome and discussing for hours on end all the ills of the Roman government and how Rome could be repaired. Instead, he refused to waste time on the discussion and pointed his followers back to God.
Can you imagine our congregations spending as much time discussing what God calls them to become as they do debating politics? During this political season, your sermons point them back to God even when the discourse of our political season distracts them. Preach well and trust that God will speak any truths that need to be heard.
To learn more about Leanne Hadley’s work please visit her website: leanne-hadley.com or on her Facebook page: Leanne Cares about Kids.
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