Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Preaching on Post-Election Sunday

On Wednesday morning after the election, pastors woke up for the first time to see if their candidate won or lost. Many of them rolled over saddened, celebrating, or simply in an ongoing state of confusion for the current election cycle.  Then they woke a second time; however, this time on behalf of the congregation. Waking again materialized in grief, for pastors knew some would be celebrating, some sad, and many continually confused.

Pastors wake up twice most mornings. The first time is for themselves; the second time is for you. Waking up again on Wednesday was painful for most pastors, and the days between Wednesday and Sunday were grueling. Pastors wondered how to faithfully preach to, pray and care for you. We know the gospel is disorienting enough on a normal Sunday, let alone on this Sunday.

How Media Misses the Pastoral Perspective

The New York Times published a story on “Sermons after the Election.” They played on the dominant stereotypes of clergy, save one – a woman preacher. The pulpits included all the common players of church pulpiteering, yet none of the clips captured the depth of power and pain preachers carry when they walk the sermon.

The clip begins with the classic pro-America pastor proclaiming, “God has not turned his hand against us; God turned his face toward us.”  Then the classic mainline Protestant pastor with a rainbow etched on the church sign and three stripes on the sleeves of a Geneva gown. He proclaimed that Wednesday’s results were a violent reaction to the more recent and hospitable move toward an inclusive United States. A conservative Hispanic pastor gathered at a flag and prayed with hands raised high, proclaiming “Lord, God we pray for our nation, our leaders, and our future, Lord God.” And finally, a Roman Catholic priest, a mirror image of Vizzini from The Princess Bride, proclaiming that we just need time for a long cry, otherwise it will come out sideways on us and those around us. 

But the pastor with biblical presence was a robust African American. He proclaimed, “Most of us woke up on Wednesday morning and quoted Jesus when he was standing at the withered fig tree....." He made a dramatic pause and then quoted Jesus from a more recent translation.....‘Damn.’

I was surprised by the lack of a female preacher in the story, yet equally upset by the content of the edited sermons. They lacked the presence of biblical words or pastoral wisdom. The preachers included did not seem to know their people. They presumed a shallow understanding of the human experience. Now, I don’t expect The New York Times to understand the richness of the pastoral vocation. Pastors relate to people with names, faces, losses, triumphs, beliefs, and complexity. However, the lack of pastoral wisdom in this news story helps to reduce evangelicals to raging fundamentalists and Christianity to a show of cheap emotion. There is indeed warrant for this in American religion, but it is not the practice for most pastors or congregations in the United States.

What Did Pastors Actually Say?

I am curious about the actual pastoral words consigned to the churches this past Sunday. I believe most were prophetic and pastoral, wise and winsome. I believe emotions were acknowledged and injustices named. Calls to action were not simply from Romans 13 nor Revelation 13. Responding was neither celebrating a miracle nor fearing Armageddon. Responses emerged from naming reality and calling forth faithfulness and hope. It’s not easy; it’s complicated. It’s preaching.

I think it would be worthwhile to document portions of sermons from this past Sunday that sought to wrestle biblically and pastorally with the elections, both the election season and the election of Donald J. Trump. What did pastors, professors of theology, and denominational bureaucrats say on Sunday to make theological wisdom available to the church? Would you be willing to submit sermons (or portions thereof) that sought to make theological sense of the election season and its results? Please submit actual text, video clips, or links. I’m not sure what will come of this offering, but at least the internet will have one page that stores the painful and difficult work of preaching on a very peculiar Sunday.