Speak to the current moral dilemma facing the country (or dividing your community) without making matters worse.
That has to be one of the most difficult minefields a pastor ever has to tread.
One misstep and he’s a goner.
Twenty years ago, it was President Clinton’s infidelity that was dividing the country. In the same decade it was the O. J. Simpson trial. These days, the issue is sexual harassment (or any of its various manifestations: sexual molestation, intimidation, assault, etc.) by men in positions of power.
A man–always a man–runs for prominent public office and someone stands up and says, “He attacked me.” Or, molested me. Touched me inappropriately. Took advantage of me. Raped me.
The media flocks to the accuser and stories are written. Sleuths check out her story and some corroborate it while others trot out family members who say she is a chronic liar or family members of the accused to say they’ve never known him to do anything like that.
Then, next step. Other women step up and say, “He treated me the same way.”
Quickly, the matter becomes page one across the country. Leading the nightly news. Fueling talk shows. Dividing everyone on Facebook. Splitting families.
Defenders are enraged. Supporters of the accusers are offended by the way their friends have accommodated themselves to the culture and forgotten Jesus’ call to defend the helpless and bless the children.
So, the poor pastor decides this matter must be addressed in next Sunday’s sermon. What is he to do?
What in the world is he to do? How can he speak to this business without taking sides? And if he takes sides–either side–what good will he do? And what price will he pay?
How can he speak to the controversial issue of the day without further dividing his congregation? That’s our question today.
First, there are two mistakes things a pastor can make…
First: Fail to mention the controversy at all. This will confirm to many in the congregation the irrelevance of the pulpit, that pastors do not live in the real world.
Second: Assume that your congregation is all of one mind on this and take a firm stand on one side or the other. In the more liberal churches (sorry for the label, but the reader will understand), the pastor may assume everyone is energized by the accusations of the women and agree the accused should go away quietly. In the more conservative churches (i.e., conservative in doctrine, practice, and politics), the pastor might assume everyone is angry at the accusers and supportive of the man. Both assumptions would be in great error.
Almost no congregation is monolithic (all of one kind). Even in the most conservative of churches, there will be Bible-believers who are more socially liberal. Also, there will be women in almost any church who were victimized but kept silent, and while they will never speak up and identify themselves, they will forever lose confidence in a pastor who is quick to brand the accusers as liars.
The poor pastor. What is he to do?
I’ll take a stab at answering that.
One. Let the pastor spend much time on his knees asking the Father that very question.
This means a willingness to do anything the Lord says. Otherwise, there’s no point in asking.
Two. The pastor may decide that “I have no word from the Lord on this matter.” It would be in order to say that to the congregation in the service. This will not satisfy everyone. Many in the typical church will have their own view as to the “clear moral position” and no patience for anyone on the other side. But most people will appreciate a pastor with the good sense to wait on the Lord and not run ahead of him.
Three. When and if the Lord directs him, the pastor might want to do some or all of the following….
–Recognize that good and sincere believers will take opposite sides of many of these issues. So, he could speak to both sides.
–Address the issue in prayer, asking God to direct, to give wisdom, to be glorified in these matters, and to bless America.
–Speak to the moral issue involved while not addressing the specific details happening at the moment.
–Find biblical principles involved. In many cases, those principles will apply to both sides of a controversy.
–If the pastor has a great story that sheds light on the issue, this is the place for it. But that too is risky. A wise pastor will try out the story on a few trusted advisors, starting with his spouse. Does it work? Does it help? Does it speak to the issues? Does it suggest something we should do? And perhaps most importantly, “If you were me, would you tell this story?”
–Does the Joseph and Potiphar’s wife story in Genesis 39 speak to the current issue dividing us? Or the matter with David’s sons Absalom and Amnon and their sister Tamar?
–A few in every congregation will need reminding that to decide is not violating Matthew 7:1 “(Judge not.”) That scripture refers to condemning, not decision-making. We make similar choices all the time. Can I trust this teen to watch my children? Can I believe this politician enough to vote for him/her? You made a similar decision about joining this church: Is it wise, right, safe, godly?
This is about discernment, not condemnation.
–Call for love. We are to be known to the world by our love for one another, said our Lord (John 13:34-35). And not by our political unity or social philosophies. If we love only those who agree with us on controversial issues, what have we done? Even lost people do that? (See Luke 6:32-34)
Lord, give wisdom to the leaders of your flocks, please. Thank you.