So did you notice that on Sunday your preacher was silent on that really big current event? You know, the one everyone was talking about? No statement, no prayer, nada. Took the stand and pleaded the fifth. Dropped the ball when they could’ve dropped the mic.
Why not say something?
It’s complicated. Here are a few reasons preachers don’t speak up when some people want them to speak out.
- Okay, they blew it. Sunday afternoon they went home knowing they missed an opportunity. Their fault. No excuses.
- Addressing current events might not fit within their theology of preaching. Karl Barth is credited with saying the preacher should hold a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Most preachers don’t read Barth. Even fewer read a print newspaper. Some have a theology of proclamation that doesn’t have much space for acknowledging front page news.
- They might not have a well-developed point of view yet. The preacher worked Monday and Tuesday to polish the message on Deuteronomy 6. The rest of the week was consumed with counseling, hospital visits, and administration. They might not be prepared with articulate, wise words by Sunday morning on their own text and topic, much less some debate Tucker Carlson started on Friday night.
- Ministers might not care (as much). It’s not that the minister is heartless, but instead that it is impossible for one person to care for the things every single individual in a church cares about. One member grieves natural disasters and someone else really cares about school board issues and someone else really follows Supreme Court appointments. Preachers are often generalists, but everyone has their limits.
- It is not clear what to address. It’s easy to say we should address major events of injustice. But which ones? Do we only mention local natural disasters, or should we also mention the global ones? All shootings or just mass shootings? People get pinched by gas prices and the falling stock market, but should that be lamented in church? Do we comment on all wars or just the ones that involve American interests? Should we speak out against China’s communism or India’s caste system or Venezeula’s dictator-driven meltdown? What about local crime? Should we mention all deaths of innocent victims or only the ones that were killed by someone in an official position? All incidents of police brutality or only when the victim is Black? Should we publicly grieve for aborted babies? I’m not trying to muddy the waters, but instead simply acknowledging the waters aren’t very clear.
- Timidity. Yep. It can be true. Sometimes it’s tough to be bold, especially for someone who worries if a wrong word here or there could jeopardize their employment. Being bold is easy from the pew, but harder from the podium.
- Churches are politically diverse. Everyone doesn’t agree on everything. Women don’t all think the same things about feminism or abortion, and Hispanics don’t agree on immigration or Trump. Anyone who reads the newspaper knows this (just ask Karl Barth). Unity in the pews often means diversity at the polls. Preachers often know this more than the average members, who can often congregate in echo chambers.
- Preachers might be getting cynical. They’ve noticed a trend in the culture toward performative acts of virtue signaling, raising awareness, and hollow statements that don’t accomplish much. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against announcing prayers/good works with fanfare. Perhaps preachers are reluctant to add that secular litany to the sacred liturgy.
- They did. You weren’t there. People attend church less than they used to. Members who grew up coming whenever the doors opened are now texting a request for the streaming link. Just because someone in church didn’t hear it doesn’t mean it wasn’t said.
At the end of almost every message, the preacher stands before the church and offers them grace. It’s the definition of the good news and the very thing each of us need. It covers not only our egregious acts of rebellion, but also our clunky words and missed opportunities. Sundays remind us that we all could use some. Even the guy with the microphone.