This wouldn’t be a proper theology and culture blog without a comment about the cultural event of the evening, the presidential debates. Before commenting on those, however, I thought I should say something in response to the gauntlet thrown down by my esteemed colleague in blogging, the right Rev Kimberly Hyatt. On Monday she asked why we pastors don’t just tell the truth, suggesting that we might be better off preaching as academics presenting research rather than as lawyers arguing cases. Ah, if Scripture were as cleanly cut as much as scientific data can be! And if only the interpretative tools we pastors employ were as subject to peer review and replication as those used by chemists and physicists (let’s leave the biologists out of it for now). Thanks to Kimberly for using lawyers as the derogatory referent point (no offense to my lawyer friends). I mean, she could have used politicians.
Which circles me back to my lead point and a post from Adam Clymer which begins with the following warning:
I’ll let you read the blog about how politicians use misleading claims and outright lies in debates, and then euphemize these lies into “contradictions of fact.” They do it because it works and we the people are too stupid during election season to care about facts. We like who we like.
The claims you hear in Wednesday night’s presidential debate may be hazardous, if not to your health, then to your relationship to reality.
Now I would never call a congregation stupid, but “just presenting the facts” isn’t possible in a sermon without a perspective from which those facts are presented. Like it or not, Baptist facts will look different from Pentecostal facts from Presbyterian facts no matter how much Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic you have under your belt. As Lincoln said, both sides read to the same Bible and pray to the same God. Of course he also said both could not be right, but it took the bloodiest war in American history to show that.
All this to say that I think we pastors need to be more like politicians sometimes. Not telling outright lies, of course, but using what we can to persuade people, debunk the enemy and change their thinking. Give everybody the word and the lexicon to be sure, but also give reasons why you believe it says what you think it says. And if you’re concerned your opinion may be leading your flock astray, print an honest warning in the church bulletin:
The claims you hear in Sunday’s sermon may be hazardous, if not to your prior theological commitments, then to your relationship to the preacher.