Preaching is Pointless Unless It’s Political


Every preacher faces a few hard choices on days like today. We struggle with how to publicly talk, tweet, and blog about things like the Supreme Court’s decision concerning the Affordable Care Act.

The problem is that we have been conditioned by parishioners to steer clear of politics. We are not supposed to let people know what we think about such things, nor do we tip our hand about our political affiliations. They tell us that they don’t want our opinions on such matters, by threatening us with the presence or absence of their pocketbooks and presence. They don’t care if we disagree with their political judgments.

Just this week, I was criticized by such a person in this vein. On Sunday, I preached a sermon about the Jubilee year, and suggested that we learn how to “do justice” in our society. On Monday, I received a brief and pointed email in which a church member told me, “I don’t appreciate hearing your politics in the pulpit.”

At the time I was preparing my sermon, I didn’t conceive of it as being “political.” I was not recommending a particular course of action, nor did I suggest how one ought to vote. Specifically, he took exception with this particular statement: “It’s just plain wrong that CEO’s and CFO’s and venture capitalists make millions of dollars every day sitting in offices in Manhattan when men and women do the hard work of teaching children, driving trucks and buses, and working the soil for a mere dollars a day.” That’s the line that upset him.

In a very profound sense, he was right. That was a political statement — I criticized a state of affairs, and implicitly urged things to change. He feared, wrongly as it turns out, that I was suggesting that the State put limits on how much a person could earn; he didn’t like the implications of those kinds of politics.

But I was preaching politics. And this kind of politics certainly does belong in the pulpit.

Politics is the art of living together in community, and therefore, preaching is toothless, sterile and irrelevant unless it touches on politics, unless it recommends a specific course of action in the real world. What’s the good of talking about love, mercy, grace, fellowship, sin and salvation unless you can tie it to particular behavior and action?

One cannot avoid politics in the pulpit, in fact. Every principle of application that a preacher espouses implies a way of living in the world, a course of action, a direction.

If a preacher suggests from the pulpit, for example, that we ought to love our enemies (an undeniably Christian sentiment), that is already a political statement, for it challenges every war that we may be fighting, every prisoner that we execute, and every potential terrorist that we torture. If those things don’t emerge in the sermon, then the preacher is missing the point!

The question is not whether politics ought to be preached, but what kind of politics.

I have no beef with preachers who talk honestly about specific issues and policies from the pulpit. The question is whether the politics expressed truly reflects the politics of the prophets, of Jesus, and of the kingdom of God.

That is the issue.

Or to put it another way: preaching is the art of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, also known as the Beloved Community; and politics is the art of forming, living, and sustaining community. Preaching and politics — indisputable partners.

So what do I think about Obamacare?

Well, I’m happy that the Affordable Care Act remains intact because it protects the poorest in our society. But it falls far short of what I really hope for … free, universal healthcare for every man, woman, and child in this great country.

That’s worth preaching!



  1. TR

    I agree with you… As an individual you are allowed to have a “political side” and speak what comes from your heart. My question would be, how can one preach politics without excluding anyone? God loves unconditionally, but unfortunately there are conservatives who aren’t sure if God loves liberals, and liberals who aren’t sure if God loves conservatives.

    • wesmagruder

      This is a delicate matter, for sure. I would suggest that humility is key. Also, I try to chart a course that asks, first, what does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus? Sometimes the answer sounds liberal, sometimes conservative. I DO avoid bald, explicit recommendations of specific candidates or political parties. That’s never a good idea, because those are precisely the entities that let us down. Instead, preachers need to keep the focus on the intersection of the kingdom of God and the world. I think it can be done without excluding people, but rather challenging them to reconsider how they think about issues.

  2. Kelly Whitley

    …a very wise humble true servant of the Lord once told me that ministry is ineffective, unless you’re stepping on toes every now and then. He said just to remember to keep the focus on Jesus and the things that would have concerned Jesus – caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, loving the unloved or forgotten, and putting our trust and faith in God instead of in man.

  3. Jan Nelson

    I sat up and took notice in church when you made the statement about the CEO’s pay, and then you quoted Anne Lamott. Aah…….a kindred spirit

  4. Jim Manning

    Careful Wes, your beginning to sound more like our ancestor, John Wesley, when he claimed “The World is My Parish.” when he faced the bureaucracy of the English church. Your “Preaching is Pointless Unless it is Political” and especially your “Serving Communion To Muslims” seems to imply that you feel the message of Jesus is far greater than the turmoil within the UMC and the present perversions of the Christian Religion. I don’t think Jesus expects you to try to “convert” the Muslims. Your voice is dangerous but so desperately needed today. It might even help lead toward what some used to refer to as the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    “Catch The Vision”-Let us all “Build Bridges of Understanding”
    and help make the World A Better Place!
    Let’s create a world -where people of every religion, every race,
    every culture, every political persuasion, every nationality and
    every background, can join hands and hearts to help create a
    much better world where we can all live together in peace and
    prosperity, freedom and justice, goodwill and dignity.

    God doesn’t limit Himself to “God Bless America.”

    Jim Manning
    Dallas TX

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