During health-care reform efforts this summer, it was suggested that pastors preach on the topic. This sounds like such an easy and simple thing to do—if you are not a local church pastor! Preaching on hot-button issues is never easy.
I serve a church that has sought to welcome all people, including Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, rich and poor. Sixty percent of the congregation members are Republicans; 40 percent are Democrats. When preaching prophetic sermons, I’ve learned to ask myself if I merely want to irritate people, or truly influence them.
Congregants will leave church frustrated if they feel you took a complex subject, oversimplified it, made a “straw man” of their views, and then offered your political views under the guise of preaching scripture. Few change their minds as a result of these kinds of sermons.
If you actually want to influence people, it will take more than a simplistic sermon. Here are a few different approaches to addressing controversial issues with your congregation:
When I have used this approach, I’ve seen people who held strong convictions about an issue change their mind. Even when someone’s views did not change, they gained a greater appreciation for those with opposing views.
Will some people leave your church when you address controversial issues? Yes. I’ve got a stack of e-mail and letters on my desk expressing anger, disappointment, or disillusionment that I would speak to the issue of health-care reform. But when we seek to address controversial issues in a way that is intended to influence, rather than merely irritate, most people will respect your approach and at least consider the position you advocate.
Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and the author of Confronting the Controversies: A Christian Looks at the Tough Issues.