A Preacher’s Prayer
Jesus, spare us from those who make you unrecognizable when preaching in your name! Amen.
Lord, like St. Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16); however, we preachers of your gospel are surely an embarrassment to you at times when we contort your word.
As a priest, I ask, how long, Lord, must the Christian faithful endure preachers who simplistically suggest your “word” as an alternative to the flu shot?
Or suffer from “Christians” who scream and beat “homosexual demons” out of individuals for hours, like the incident in a North Carolina church?
Or tolerate preachers who promote their doomsday survival kit of food and supplies for an approaching period of “tribulation”?
Or be subjected to reckless homilies that foster division, partisanship, and extremism?
Shameful preaching, of course, isn’t limited to the Christian faith.
Recall in 2005, for example, how fanatical Nigerian Islamic leaders proclaimed the polio vaccine to be a conspiracy by the United States against the Muslim faith, saying the vaccine was intended to sterilize believers. Consequently, the disease quickly returned and spread to other polio-free countries.
Ideally, Christianity is challenged to supersede partisanship and division, and its preachers are called to proclaim foremost the gospel according to Jesus Christ.
Realistically, though, how to prevent the pulpit from becoming a soapbox for political loyalties?
How to prevent preachers from being a special interest group of a political party, especially in today’s climate when partisanship foments extremism?
Preachers are not apolitical, nor are we all centrist in our ideologies. Like those in the pews, we have our biases, which distort the gospels, intentionally or not.
In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes, “Once people join a political team, they get ensnared in its moral matrix.” People see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them they’re wrong. Try arguing with ideologues by taking a view from outside their matrix. You can’t. Essentially then, radical political partisanship allows for little advancement outside extremists’ comfort zone or matrix.
This reality challenges preachers to avoid reaffirming the convictions of like-minded believers in their congregation and turning the pulpit into a platform for the gospel according to Fox News or The Huffington Post.
In 2017, Pope Francis said when Christians “take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, [we] become Christians of the ‘right’ or the ‘left’ before being on the side of Jesus.”
That’s because Christ’s message doesn’t align completely with any political party, despite preaching to the contrary by religious leaders of all political stripes.
This commentary on preaching reminds me of the novelist and Catholic convert Walker Percy, who said two types of people come out of Louisiana: preachers and storytellers. Of the two, Percy advised that storytelling is the better part.
“The world has too many preachers,” said he.
I obviously opted for the lesser of my home state’s types of folks, for heaven’s sake!
But fundamentally, Christian preaching is storytelling when preachers faithfully tell congregants the story of Jesus Christ to calm fears and strengthen hopes.
Lord, help me faithfully preach “on your side”—to the right or left of nothing but you. Amen!