“Should you say what you sincerely believe is true in a sermon, even if it means your church might lose members?”
That’s the weighty question we faced at a clergy workshop I attended recently. Needless to say, the consensus was, “It’s complicated.”
I’m pretty sure that St John’s lost a couple of members due to my preaching around the issue of marriage equality. That was a long time ago, in the earliest stage of the debate. And as Jered points out, we also gained members from our stance on this. Nonetheless, preaching conscience vs. congregational temperament is tricky, and an issue that many clergy are facing right now.
Some hold the belief that the Church must not say nothing to upset people in their spiritual lives, nothing to make them squirm or detract from the purity of the worship experience, from the personal prayers and the ancient liturgy, as if people should be insulated within church walls for an hour each week from what is happening outside of them so they can be at peace.
Is the church called to be this kind of sanctuary? I suppose you could argue it either way.
Of course, the Church should not endorse one candidate over another, but many denominations have no trouble treading into political/cultural waters. The Roman Catholic Church is clear on its opposition to abortion. Evangelicals preach against same-sex marriage and push for prayer in public schools. As usual, Episcopalians try to walk the middle ground.
The answer for me is Scripture, particularly the Gospel. Whatever we say must be informed by the text and presented in that context. As Episcopalians, we also believe that the teachings of the Church as well as our own reason and experience influence our interpretation of God’s word. Which makes it more, well, complicated.
Last week, the St. John’s clergy read a letter signed by dozens of Episcopal clergy declaring their support for any individual or group that is victimized by governmental policy or personal actions. “We see you,” we said. I was proud that we took this position.
But in addition we must talk about national mood and policies that might result in this victimization, about the people who support these policies and create them, about the concerns of those who vote for them, and what to do in addition to offering sanctuary.
There is so much I would like to say on Sunday that I can’t. So much hurt I want to voice that I shouldn’t. So much fear that I have that I must temper. And realizing that the Church can lose as many members from NOT taking a stand as from taking one….
When I started to prepare this sermon, of course I turned to the text and there it was: words so perfectly in tune with the times that they could have been written yesterday. It’s not a cozy Advent message but Advent isn’t all that cozy anyway for some of us. I see you.
See you in church.