Preaching. Image by Boston Public Library via Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Has it really been a year since my last contribution?
Good thing not much has happened in the past year :-)
For me these past months have been revealing as I have seen myself be my best and worst in these times of social, political, and cultural turmoil. Decisions and actions by the President of the United States, the unveiling of white nationalism, and theological statements being made that run counter to my understanding and experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are simply rage-making.
If you are anything like me, this has been an exhausting time in the life of pastoral leadership and then added to this reality is the responsibility to step into the pulpit and preach, sometimes expected to act as if nothing has changed ... as if we are above being angry. No matter the initial or perspective of a community, we must fight the urge to “remain calm” at the expense of complicity. Anger is natural, healthy, and in many ways can fuel movements of social change.
While I do realize that many have always preached a message of social justice and righteous indignation, for many pastors and congregations, this is new territory -- at least new to there being such blatant and recurring instances where a righteous word is needed from the pulpit. For many being angry has been part of their preaching experiences, or at least it has not been encouraged to be seen as an important and motivating factor.
The privilege that is it to choose not to engage in what is going on in the world is becoming more and more difficult to uphold. This is a good thing and whether is it around race, gender, or a myriad of other areas of human experience, a reality that we must all confront at some point in our life in some area of our pastoral leadership.
That times of finding seclusion and safety in our congregations has come to and for many pastor, congregations, and quite frankly, the world needs and deserves more from churches who have historically stood against injustice.
As I step into the process of preaching in these times when I find myself genuinely angry about what is happening in the world, I try to keep a few things in mind as I challenge leaders, organizations, or communities. If for no other reason, I keep these things in mind in order to honor the responsibility to be in the pulpit, a responsibility that a community of people have called me to steward with care. Yes, people will get mad at things I may say, but I must take care that my intentions are about moving a people toward something ... and not just to piss them off.
Acknowledgment of humanity: At no point will I deny the humanity and createdness of another human being. Yes, people must be held accountable for their words and actions, but at the end of the day, created by God is created by God and is not something that we can grant bases on agreement or understanding.
Unequivocal solidarity: In an attempt to not make people uncomfortable, I often feel the pull to soften a statement or try to lift up “both sides” of an issue. This is one thing when debating what color carpet should be installed in the narthex, but when it comes to standing with those who are being attacked, oppressed, and marginalized, we must not waiver in our solidarity.
Admission of struggle: Whenever I am too sure of anything, I often lose sight of the nuance of any situation. I also run the risk of sounding smug or believing that I am “beyond” those who do not already agree with me. Acknowledging that engaging in struggles is not always easy, especially struggles, that we have not been compelled to be part of in the past, is vital and will go a long way in moving conversations forward to action.
So there you go, a few thoughts for you as you step into the pulpit for those times when you run the risk of your anger getting the best of you. Instead, preach the anger in a way that brings about the best of the community who has called you to lead them.
P.S.: Thanks to the Facebook crew for offering topic suggestions for this and future columns.
Bruce Reyes-Chow's Working Preacher column, "Preaching Wholeness," is all about proclaiming harmony and hope in a world of division and discord.