Should the News Influence My Sermons?

by Wesley Allen, Jr. on Friday, November 11, 2016

Should the news influence my sermons? Should my sermon address the latest event?

This question was sent to me a little while back. Had I not procrastinated, I could have answered the question in the abstract. I could have brought out the apocryphal Karl Barth quote about preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I would have talked about the gospel as including concern for the political life along with concern for the individual and ecclesial life. I could have talked about my recent book on preaching and the human condition. I would have talked about balancing the pastoral and the prophetic. In other words, I would have answered Yes in the broadest and most congenial of ways.

But I did procrastinate and since that time a new term has entered our vocabulary: “President-elect Trump.” Mind you, I do not imagine Donald Trump to be the anti-Christ any more than I thought Hillary Clinton might be the messiah. And I recognize that many people hold political positions different than mine which have just as much a claim to being faithful to the Christian tradition as do mine. But I do believe the church, the whole church across political lines, must give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume he is a man of his word. Until we see otherwise, we must trust that he believes and will do as he said during his campaign.

  • We must trust that he thinks Mexicans who have come to the US are rapists and drug dealers.
  • We must trust that he thinks a woman who challenges him must be menstruating or just seeking ten minutes of fame.
  • We must trust that Trump thinks he has the right to grope women, and that it is appropriate to measure women by their looks, even his own daughter.
  • We must trust that he thinks it is ok to mock persons with disabilities.
  • We must trust that he plans to deport millions of immigrants.
  • We must trust that a President Trump plans to discriminate against the high percentage of America-loving Muslims to protect against the few who might be terrorists.
  • We must trust that he will negotiate isolationist trade deals that might help American businesses but will crush the poorer of American consumers.
  • We must trust that he thinks a judge of Mexican heritage cannot offer a fair ruling.
  • We must trust that he will establish “law and order” in a way that says Blue Lives matter in a way Black Lives do not.
  • We must trust that Trump is willing to use and provide to others nuclear force to assert his will in international affairs.
  • We must trust that he thinks global climate change is a hoax.
  • We must trust that someone who thinks name calling is an appropriate campaign strategy will think it an appropriate mode for leading the American government.
  • We must trust that his refusal to disavow racist support of his campaign means he will accept their support during his presidency.
  • We must trust that he thinks dictators are good examples of strong leadership.
  • We must trust that he means it when he says women who seek abortions should be punished.
  • We must trust that he has no problems with his running mate’s stance on the need for members of the LGBTQ community to undergo reparative therapy.

Were today’s newscasters talking about President-elect Clinton, the answer to whether preachers should address the news would certainly still be Yes. In our liturgies, we pray for our political leaders, whoever they are; and in our sermons we should address the government’s policies that run counter to the Christian social ethics, regardless of who is in office. But if we take President-elect Trump at his word, our work is especially cut out for us in the coming years. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that only days after the election, the news is reporting numerous cases of violence and hate speech directed at Muslims and African Americans using Trump’s name. While some may not want to hold Trump responsible for acts he did not directly do, preachers know that words matter, and his words have inspired such action whether he intended it or approves of it or not.

Christian preachers cannot claim to proclaim God’s good news and let a presidency or populace that reflects the values listed above go unchecked. While different preachers and Christians might view political issues differently and stand at very different places along the political spectrum, concern for “the least of these” is not a progressive or conservative stance. It is a theological one. We cannot faithfully offer Christ adoration and devotion and hold our breath silently in the next when the command to love our neighbor is trampled so vigorously in the public sphere.

Christ consistently preached a vision of God’s reign. Terms have meaning by the way they stand over against other terms. “Yes” means one thing when contrasted to “no” but something slightly different when over against “maybe.” “Woman” means one thing when it is over against “man,” another when it is over against “girl.” “The kingdom of God/heaven” is often misunderstood as being a contrast between heaven and earth as if the issue at stake is spiritual versus earthly. But when the term was originally used, it was intended to stand over against “Caesar’s reign.” It was a contrast of ways of ruling the world. The reign of Caesar is power-based, death-dealing, protection of the status quo for the privileged. God’s reign, on the other hand,

  • It is a vision of the will of God for the earth that stands in contrast to corrupt, human power that promotes inequalities that benefit those at the top of the socio-economic ladder.
  • It is a vision of peace that stands in contrast to the threat or use of violence to assert the will of one group over another.
  • It is a vision of love that stands in contrast to hatred, prejudice and discrimination.
  • It is a vision of justice that holds all equally accountable for their actions and words.
  • It is a vision of mercy that lifts up the poor and downtrodden.

To preach God’s reign is to preach against the vision of America and American leadership that has been cast by much of what President-elect Trump has said during the lengthy and ugly campaign. To preach God’s reign is to let the news influence what is said in the pulpit in the most serious of ways.

I pray that the kinds of things noted above that Donald Trump said were campaign rhetoric and will not define his presidency. I hope it was all bluster and hyperbole to manipulate the media and the public in order to get elected. Until we see otherwise, however, preachers must trust that he is a man of his word; and out of our love of God and of God’s children in this country and around the world, we must be willing to speak a different vision for the world rooted in God’s word. In our sermons we must express such a longing for God’s reign that our congregations cannot help but pray and work for its advent.

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