Preaching Issues (part1): Politics and Religion
My first inkling that I had a problem with politics in the church was in the Nov. 1992 Presidential Race. As the weeks drew near for the election I occasionally included some moral issues related to the election in some of my sermons. Mind you, I did not preach a political series, but as I preached, if I saw an opening for something about the pro-life position, I spoke out against abortion. Not a whole sermon, but a line here and there.
Perhaps I need to begin with stating where I am coming from theologically and politically. I was a raised a fundamentalist Southern Baptist, I went hunting by myself the first time when I was 6-7, I proudly voted for Reagan in 1980 and ’84, and served as an Infantry Officer in the US Army. Theologically I have moved out of fundamentalism and into Calvinism, but hopefully without the attitude. In short, I am a conservative, Reformed Baptist, pro-gun, pro life, Reagan Republican who supports the war on Radical Islamofascism. I kind-a sort-of don’t think the church knew what they were getting with me, nor did I know what I was getting with them.
As the election drew near I started to hear from the people that they were supporting Bill Clinton believing that Pres. George H.W. Bush needed to go. I called for a special prayer meeting the night before the election. I advertised in from the pulpit, placed it in the calendar of events in the bulletin and when that night came…two young families showed up and that was that. In an informal survey I conducted the overwhelming majority of the church voted for Bill Clinton not once, but twice! Not one of the younger folks voted for Clinton, but only 4-5 of the older folks voted for Bush. Now I was never a fan of Bush the elder (or younger) and felt like that was one of Reagan’s larger mistakes. I admire George HW Bush as a true gentleman, a warrior, and fine moral man. But his politics always seemed a bit weak to me. Like father like son. But I was astounded that my church overwhelmingly voted for Bill Clinton, twice. This is one of life’s great mysteries, how could Christian people vote for somebody who is pro abortion, pro homosexual, pro socialism, etc. ?
When I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 1985-89 I took a couple of classes that opened my eyes to the fact that Baptists were very messed up when it came to politics. I took an Ethics class called Christians and the Political Process during the fall of 1988 when George Bush was running against Michael Dukakis. It was a small class of no more than 10-12, but I was 1 of 2 conservatives in the class and the only other conservative was a girl who would not say anything. It was me against the other 10 plus the teacher. I gave ’em what for that semester, the odds were about right. But I was really shocked at how liberal the students and professor were.
Now here I was in in 1992 and my church was filled with liberal democrats voting for a liberal Baptist like Bill Clinton. When only a couple of younger folks showed up for the election prayer meeting, I got the message.
After the election, in January was the annual National Right To Life Sunday. I preached a strong pro-life message. I distinctly remember the woman leader of the church coming to me after the service to tell me she did not think preachers ought to preach on “Issues” because it confuses people and hurts people’s feelings because “You just don’t now who might be in the congregation that day.” Specifically she told me about a woman in the church, she left out the name but I figured it out eventually, who had to have an abortion because of a birth defect in the child that had afflicted two of her other children. I got talked to by this woman again a few years later for preaching against drunkenness because a woman in the church was married to an alcoholic. I got talked to about preaching against racism because “some people feel differently about it than you do”. I got talked to about one sermon where I addressed the issue of unwed pregnancy because one of the ladies in the church had a daughter who “had to get married”. Every time I preached about an “issue” I got told why I shouldn’t preach about it.
Now I understand there would be a problem if I only preached about “Issues”. I was not a topical preacher. I preached some topical series, but overwhelmingly I preached expositional sermon series from books of the Bible. So where was this church coming from?
They believed that the only sermon that should be preached on Sunday morning was the old time revivalistic, evangelistic, salvation sermons that they grew up with. Every Sunday morning they wanted a revival service “Because you never know, peacher, when some lost person might be in the congregation.” Now I grew up pretty much under that kind of preaching. I knew exactly what these folks were talking about. And I had seen what devastating effects that kind of preaching had on people. It was an emotion based style that stirs the hearts of the congregation,warms their souls with fond memories of revivals in their past and produces weak Christians who never get discipled, never get a Christian worldview, and don’t know anything except a weak gospel message.
I will deal with this in a later blog on preaching but for right now let me say that my definition of “Gospel Preaching” includes the whole counsel of God’s Word and teaches us the full Gospel which is not just about coming to Jesus but how to live for Jesus every day. My preaching about “Issues” was an effort at confronting our world with its sin, attempting to get Christians to think biblically and live out the Gospel. My church disagreed. My church wanted to have their ears, egos and memories tickled with nice, emotionally charged, revival sermons. They were not interested in hearing the whole Word of God for the Whole Man.
I remember one year during the Sunday School lessons a lesson was in the book on abortion for National Right to Life Sunday. The lady who would always tell me what not to preach was the older ladies’ class teacher. She refused to teach that lesson and changed to another lesson entirely. She told the class that it was not pertinent to their age group. She did the same thing when there was a lesson on alcoholism because, again, there was a lady present whose husband was an alcoholic and she did not want to make her feel uncomfortable. This is the lady who ran the church. She was the real pastor and opposed me from the very first day. She was one of the most helpful and energetic and talented women aroun, and I dare say, that if she and her husband had not been there for that church, it would have closed in the early 1980’s. She and her husband were great workers and leaders in the church. But I intruded into their space from day one I guess. They are wonderful god-fearing folks with a fantastic family, but opposed me on everything and eventually led the final charge that got rid of me.
When she asked me why I preached on issues I told her that I knew the older folk did not really like to hear those things, but that there were young folk in the church who needed to hear these things. If the youngsters and youth did not hear it from the pulpit ministry, but only heard the world’s viewpoint as taught in the public schools and portrayed in the media, they would suffer. She just shook her head and disagreed.
What I have observed with the older generation is that, because they grew up and lived most of their lives in a religious society, most in small towns as farmers, where going to church and having a revival was the only means of entertainment most of them ever had, they just assumed that their values, morals and biblical understanding of things would automatically be passed on down to the next generation and the next. They absolutely could not understand that in today’s schools you have homosexual teachers, classes on how to put on a condom using a banana as a teaching tool, that yo will see kids having sex on the school bus, and in dark corners of the school during the school day, that the kids will listen to music portraying the use of drugs, sex and even murder and rape as being good, etc. etc. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.
Basically the world around them had changed and left the older generation of Baptist Christians in the dust. They desperately wanted to hold on to something of value from days gone by, so they attempted to control my preaching. My sermons in “issues” reminded them that times had changed, even in the church, and that disturbed them. Eventually, their side won, and I had to leave.
Saturday, February 2, 2008– These are the stories of my battles as a bi-vocational pastor of a small, elderly, tradition bound, Southern Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. 1992-2007. In the church’s 50 year history, I am the only pastor to have stayed beyond 3 years. Across Tarrant Baptist Association this church has long had a reputation of being a “problem Church”. These stories will leave out my former church’s name and I will only use real names of people when I am speaking positively of them. My goal in writing these stories is to find some healing and peace of mind and to sincerely try to figure out what went wrong. This church is not all that unusual, sadly it is actually typical of churches founded in the 1950’s. My stories could be repeated by hundreds of pastors from hundreds of churches. Though this church is still meeting today, it died a long time ago. All of my efforts amounted to CPR on a corpse. Yet, I believe staying faithful to the task to which the Lord called me may have somehow given Him some glory and perhaps a few people were blessed along the way.
Today I temporarily depart from the general theme of “Worship Wars” to a more specialized aspect of our worship, Preaching. With Super Tuesday coming up this next week for the Presidential Primaries I thought I could go ahead and write about preaching on Political Issues. Here is the bottom line: I was and remain absolutely convinced that the Pastor has an obligation under God to preach biblical sermons on the important moral issues of the day. This necessarily involves mixing politics and religion. This is part of the prophetic calling on the Church, the ministers and the average Christian. If the Church fails to confront the evils of their day with the Truth of God’s Word, then we fail in one of our essential tasks. Part of the faithful proclamation of the Gospel is to confront sin with the Truth of God’s Word.
The other part of the bottom line is that my church was led by a group of old women, and a few old men, who absolutely disagreed with everything I just said. My church (that is, the dominant group of lay leaders- not the majority) did everything they could to stop me from preaching about moral/political issues. Here is that story.