Should politics be discussed from the pulpit?
As with most questions of conscience, there are only two wrong answers: Always and Never. Yet, this question has challenged most preachers throughout history.
If we read Scripture with a view that asks whether or not preachers should engage with political issues, we see the prophetic voices of the Old and New Testament uniting to say that sometimes we must.
Politics, social issues, and character in public leaders are all items that God cares greatly about. After all, we see them addressed in great detail through his Word.
Are you missing a prophetic element in your preaching ministry by avoiding necessary issues?
A Compelling Example
Perhaps the best example we have for our current day is that of John the Baptist. He was a voice crying in the wilderness; the one who preached the Gospel in beautiful clarity. He was a New Testament prophet. John preached, “repent and believe,” but he also saw Jesus for as Lord of all Creation; the one so glorious that John felt unworthy to even untie the sandal of the Savior (Mark 1:7).
But folded within John’s messages of repentance of sin, belief in the gospel, and the call to baptism, was also a message that would ultimately have him executed. It was, quite evidently, an example of a herald preaching truth to power.
Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. – Matthew 14:3-5
Herod, the Governor of the region, had unashamedly taken his brother’s wife as his own and John publicly denounced this act as sinful. John was acting as a faithful preacher of the Good News.
Think about it. John the Baptist is ultimately imprisoned, not for preaching the good news of Jesus, but for publicly rebuking a government official.
But the ministry of John the Baptist can’t be reduced to a political preacher. The most important message he preached was ‘repent and believe’. His ministry was never overtaken by politics or having social policies cloud his ministry direction. John’s primary call carried a preeminent message of preparing the way for the Messiah.
It Won’t Be Easy
It’s clear John’s prophetic challenge towards the Governor had a cost. He spent the remainder of his life in prison, eventually being executed because he upset the earthly powers over him.
John’s demise reminds us of an important lesson. It is unlikely that we will choose to speak truth into politics or policies and not lose something: popularity, friends, support, or congregants. In some situations, maybe even your life. The Bible is filled with examples of proverbial pulpits who have spoken wisely and honestly and experienced the repercussions. The prophets who called out kings for their disobedience to God were beaten (Jeremiah 20:2); some were executed (Hebrews 11:37); Jesus angered the leaders of his day by speaking against their concern for their families and the poor (Luke 11:42); Paul, who used his opportunities before rulers to boldly preach the truth of the Gospel, eventually lost his life at the hands of Nero.
If a preacher chooses to raise his voice against government authority, he may find himself the target of public power.
A Common Friend
The Spirit of Christ that indwells us is the same one that motivated those heroes to speak truth to power. So if we flee the call to godly engagement, we may be missing the claim that Christ’s call makes upon us inspiring good words that lead to good works. (Matt 5:13-16, Luke 6:49)
The power of the Gospel is one that defines, motivates, and encourages all to the good works that God has prepared for us, and those good works must include, at times, this call to public engagement.
To be clear, there is no specific prescription for what this must look like. For some it may be from a more public platform. Others will raise their voice within the local church. Some will use soft words, others a loud rebuke. But there are dark deeds and desperate times where the prophetic voice of God’s people must be heard.
Why Is It So Hard for Me?
All this is well and good. But this stirs a question within me: With such a rich history of gospel-motivated engagement within political and social spheres, why is there such a strong opposition in my heart (and maybe in yours) to speaking out on the necessary social and political topics today?
Surely, I think, I counted the cost of ministry before I entered. Surely, I tell myself, I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. And certainly, I am a brave and strong man of God who is free from having the smiles and frowns of my people control me.
Sadly, no. This is not me.
The more I look into my heart, the more I see that I am a weak and cowardly man. I am not one who wants to feel the cost of faithfulness. Politics and social issues are something I don’t want to talk about. But, I must come to terms with the reality that there will be times that politics or social justice issues must be addressed.
How can I preach the prophets, major and minor, and not discuss the ways they stood before kings, queens, and leaders honestly decrying their faithlessness? How can I read Jesus’ words and not lead people away from finding security in political identities and figures?
So, if I would accept this call to preach God’s Word, then I must speak His truth when the times demand it. In understanding it, I like the analogy of money. I don’t like speaking on money. I don’t like preaching about it. I’d prefer to avoid it for many reasons. But mostly because I fear being compared to the money grabbing preachers that are out there looking to fill their lives with comfort and convenience.
Yet to be a faithful, loving, and caring shepherd of the church, I must occasionally speak about money. If you’re committed to teaching the whole counsel of Scripture, you will too. In the same way, politics and social issues are topics we will inevitably address if we are truly devoted to teaching the whole counsel of God.
Reliance and Repentance
My request is simple. May we pray for the boldness of the Holy Spirit when our sermons should include the prophetic call of God to wisely address political and social issues within our communities. And as a result, may we see God’s Spirit soften hearts, and lead to repentance the lowest and greatest in the whole land, just as the King of Nineveh did when he heard the Lord’s word against his wickedness (Jonah 3).
It is God’s work through us that brings about change as He wills. May we be found faithful in preaching His word; in every season, on every biblical subject, and no matter how arduous.