Politics in the Pulpit

[1] As the old salt Henry Horn once said to a class here at Luther Seminary: Preach the Word of God in the service, and then during the adult forum there can be political talk. The same sermon will very likely propel a full panoply of political opinions in the congregation. God is working, but not how I might prefer. We after all do have a theology of the right and left hand of God that can trust in him to use his hidden left hand to work out his purposes in the world. The will of God is hidden, and inscrutable to us mere mortals. All we can do is trust that underneath it all, God is working out his dreaded purposes, regardless of our convictions. The preacher who knows how God would vote in a certain election is going to reveal an almost fathomless shallowness which I do not care to hear. The record of these kind of prophets, with some few notable exceptions, is not good which we can see especially in the wretched preaching our greatest, and most theologically profound, President, Abraham Lincoln, had to endure from the preachers of his day. The preachers look pretty embarrassing today in hindsight.

[2] Secondly, political preaching doesn’t really work very well: the true believers applaud the courageous stand of the preacher, the opponents of the politics of the preacher are driven further away from the preacher and his or her position. Of course, we should feed the hungry, help the homeless, visit those in prison, and help the widow and orphan. But there are many ways to do this-one does not need to support a certain political party in order to do these things. Both parties have proposals to meet these perennial problems of the human condition. I would much rather argue about which way is better in the political arena than in the pew. Politics is much cleaner when it is waged in the political sphere, than when it is waged in the church where people do not know how to fight very well. As politicians always tell me, at least in the secular world of business and government, you can argue your points and be quite strong, and still get along. That’s not the model that is very often used in the church where fighting is considered evil, and yet theological or social disagreements cause permanent alienation between people. What I need from the preacher is Jesus, not Adam Smith or Marx.

Gracia Grindal

Gracia Grindal is Professor of Rhetoric at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.