Preaching Across Divides
Ecclesio.com invited me to contribute an essay for their week of conversations around the theme “Preaching Across the Divide(s).” Below is an excerpt from my essay that is part of a conversation between four other writers – Amantha Barbee, Casey Thornburgh Sigmon, Scott Clark, and our host, Aimee Moiso. We’ve each been charged with reflecting on preaching in a season of social, political, economic, racial and theological division.
(Ecclesio.com is a website that hosts conversations with scholars, pastors, activists, and leaders of the church across the world. Since its founding in 2010, ecclesio has hosted over 150 conversations on a wide-ranging group of topics facing the church, or that the church should be facing.)
Challenges of Preaching Across the Divide
The challenge of addressing controversial issues from the pulpit was one I faced repeatedly as a parish pastor for sixteen years preaching in three different ministry settings – suburban (mainly white and middle-to-upper class), urban (mainly African-American working class) and rural (mainly white lower-to-middle class). While the urban congregation I served welcomed preaching justice issues, the two white congregations had a wide range of reactions, from affirming to pointedly negative.
Finding a “middle position”?
The dilemma is accurately described by a colleague of mine, who once confided:
“On the one hand I don’t want to alienate my parishioners by saying something in a sermon that might anger them. But I also feel like I’m abdicating my pastoral and homiletical authority by not saying anything at all. At the same time, I can’t pretend that I’m in some kind of middle position on this issue. Because even after looking at this from many angles, I have definite thoughts about this topic. I know I need to at least speak to it in my sermon. But I don’t know how to do it without stepping on a landmine.”
It is worth taking some time to consider why people get so contentious when talking about controversial issues. . .
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Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
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