Calling Out Pastors
Scroll through the last 24 months or so and make a list of what the world was talking about. The issues, people and events that cast themselves onto the main stage of our collective psyche, dominating conversations and arresting the attention of the epicenters of culture; meaning, media, the educational system, the government, the judicial system, the arts and more.
Critical Race Theory
Black Lives Matter
Now, there are several observations that can be made about this list. First, they were all either moral or truth issues. In other words, what they represented was something related to right or wrong, truth or falsehood. Which means second, they were all deeply spiritual issues. Third, as already mentioned, they dominated cultural conversation. The world has been openly wrestling with these issues, which means the world has been engaged in a deeply spiritual debate.
Ready for the fourth observation?
When it comes to these moral/truth issues that are spiritual in nature and are dominating cultural conversation, the one group of leaders who has been the most silent, seemingly trying to avoid said cultural engagement at all costs,
… are pastors.
And yes, as a fellow pastor, I am officially calling you out.
Have you done a message or series on racism? #MeToo and sexism? Conspiracy theories? Christian Nationalism and the storming of the Capitol? The “T” in LGBT? Or have you done everything in your power to avoid these topics?
God has granted a great trust to us as shepherds to not only care and feed and protect our flocks, but to also reach out and engage a post-Christian world that is dealing with more issues related to right and wrong, good and bad, moral or immoral, than at almost any other time in recent memory. It is a moment where we can be relevant or irrelevant, salt and light or cast on a dung pile.
So why aren’t more of us seizing the cultural moment?
According to a report released by the Barna Group, nine out of 10 Christian pastors say, “Helping Christians have biblical beliefs about specific issues is a major part of their role as clergy.” Yet half go on to say that they feel they can’t speak to these issues. According to the study, they feel “limited in their ability to speak out by concerns they will offend people.” In 2019 when the survey was taken, this meant specifically speaking out on issues regarding homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and sexual morality. I would dare say that since that time, issues related to social justice, immigration, religious freedom and politics have climbed up the ladder a bit.
So here’s the apparent dynamic at play: Pastors very much know that they are called to speak out on the issues of the day. But they don’t feel they can speak out at the risk of “offense.”
Can we just go ahead and translate that?
It’s called fear.
They fear making people mad. They fear losing people. They fear conflict. They fear losing their job.
And they are letting fear win.
Friends, it’s time to be courageous. Yes, you will offend some when bringing biblical truth to bear on cultural issues. And yes, some will get mad, some may leave, it may spark conflict, and yes, you may need to fight for your job.
But isn’t that what you signed up for? To take up your cross? You are not called to survive. You are called to be faithful to your calling.
I am reminded of an early adherent to the Protestant Reformation who, in 1526, said:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”
Now is not the time to flinch.
James Emery White
Griffin Paul Jackson, “Half of Pastors Worry Speaking Out on Social Issues Will Offend People,” Christianity Today, April 5, 2019, read online.
“If I profess…” This is often attributed to Martin Luther, but erroneously. It is said to actually come from a follower of Martin Luther, April 2, 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), p. 321.
If you would like resources on speaking to the issues of the day, including messages given at Mecklenburg Community Church on everything from #MeToo to racism, politics to all things transgender, visit churchandculture.org/culture.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.