Scared to Talk Politics in Church?

Maryland pastor Brian McLaren's sermons run counter to the 'radio-orthodoxy'


| September 23, 2004


Pastor Brian McLaren has found it difficult to preach about election year political issues in his Spencerville, Maryland church, especially when it runs counter to the doctrine of the 'radio-orthodoxy' -- the loose band of conservative radio preachers that tend to orate on the 'prosperity gospel' and the dangers of liberal secularists. The small town preacher's Sunday message of love for one's neighbors and of God's tolerance can be forgotten after a week of 'greed and fear' radio sermons.

Pastor McLaren has tried ignoring the election. He's tried encouraging the flock to vote without telling them who to vote for. He's tried sermons that only raise issues that everyone agrees on. This year, McLaren will try a fourth option: 'preach and educate on the moral issues related to the election about which my congregation is not already in agreement.' So how does a pastor talk about election year issues important to both the church and the government without polarizing the congregation?

In the 1960s, preachers in the deep South faced a similar dilemma if they sought to sermonize on racial integration to unsympathetic white audiences. Speaking out in the South might cause a congregation to dissolve, even if it gave the preacher credibility in the North. Why not try to change some minds? 'This year,' pastor McLaren writes, 'I'm looking for a better option than either thundering self-righteousness or avoidance. It will involve risk. But it will also involve patience and gentleness and respect.'

McLaren plans to encourage respectful dialogue and preach 'prophetic' sermons -- ones that use the gospel to highlight themes of universal love and tolerance over provincialism and fear. He is planning a 'Presidential Dialogue' wherein congregants on both sides share why they support their candidate. He also plans a discussion group for the televised presidential debates. 'Whether the best candidate gets elected in November or not,' writes McLaren, 'I hope through this process that Christians in our country will be wiser, more thoughtful, and more biblically formed and Spirit-guided after the election season than they are now.'
-- Harry Sheff

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