Politics and Preaching
This is really the first election year that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the speeches and debates from the two main Presidential candidates. Usually, the only campaigning that I let into my system are the television commercials and that’s only because the DVR hadn’t been invented yet. This year, as I have taken in all these speeches and “debates” I’ve realized that there is something to be learned for pastors and people who teach or preach on a regular basis.
Watching these two candidates has made me ask this question: As pastors and teachers does our preaching give way for conversion or does our preaching simply make those who disagree with us disagree more?
I have come to realize there is a strong difference between how I used to preach and how I preach now. I used to preach, and still sometimes do, in a manner similar to these conventions, speeches and commercials. When I was done, those who already agreed with me cheered me on and told me, “That was one of your best sermons.” But, those who disagreed with me would not have said, “You really made me think.” Instead, they probably just wrote me off, or even worse, tuned me out halfway through the sermon.
Why the different reactions? Because my sermons were too much like those of our wonderful politicians. As I’ve watched them, it has become clear that there was no way someone who is a strong Democrat would be able to watch McCain or Palin and say something like, “Hmm, that’s a good point. I never thought about it that way. Maybe I should think carefully about that.” Conversely, no one who was a strong Republican would have been able to listen to Obama and Biden and say, “Wow, that’s an interesting point. I should think carefully about that.”
No, the reactions were… well, you read them in the papers, the news websites and friends’ blogs. You’ve heard them talked about awkwardly and sometimes ignorantly in your workplace.
“The Democrats are socialist liberals and will ruin our country!”
“The Republicans have ruined our country for 8 years and they are war mongers!”
Why these reactions? I think partly because these speeches, like my early sermons, aren’t so much geared at conversion of people’s thoughts, but rather to show why and how one side is right and the other side is wrong. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak about things with conviction. In fact, without conviction there would be no point of me continuing to preach and there would be no point to hearing these men and women talk. But, a huge challenge to those who preach (and, dare I say, those who speak in political settings) is to make your case for your conviction in such a way that allows the other side to begin to see why it is important that you think the way you do.
The reality is—the Democrats are right on a lot of things and so are the Republicans. Neither party has a corner on the market on “rightness.” Of course, the two sides will never fully agree with each other. But, I can’t help but think that there is room for a lot more respect.
What I am talking about here is the difference between being a bully with your words and carefully shepherding with your words. When I get done preaching, I honestly would rather hear someone say to me, “Your sermon was very thought provoking” than to hear, “Your sermon was awesome.” When someone says, “Your sermon was awesome,” it usual means they already agreed with me and I just reinforced their previously held belief. When someone says, “That was thought provoking,” it means I really communicated well and made them think differently about a topic in which they disagreed with me on or one that they hadn’t thought of before.
It’s easy to effectively communicate with those who already agree with you. It’s a whole other challenge to communicate effectively with those who disagree with you.
Oh, and by the way, ticking them off isn’t necessarily effective communication. I heard a few times that “Obama really took McCain to task” or “Palin really laid the smack down on Biden.”
Well, your side thinks that’s what happened.
But their side just thinks that other person is an idiot.
I have to wonder, when this happens, how much is really accomplished?