Challenges to Humanity

What Hath the Pulpit to Do with Politics? Reflections on Preaching and Cultural Engagement

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Most people can agree on two things.

  1. Don’t talk about politics.
  2. Politics and religion don’t mix.

Unsurprisingly, many people want to keep the pulpit free from any conversation about politics or even broader cultural issues. Whether commenting on hot-button or prominent cultural issues (think Critical Race Theory) or interacting with denominational developments (think women in leadership), venturing into such discussions can evoke ire and violate unspoken rules about political conversations.

Cultural engagement from the pulpit seems to grate against people because it brushes up against the modern tendency to bifurcate the sacred and secular, runs right into Thomas Jefferson’s famous (but perhaps misinterpreted) wall of separation, and dances dangerously close to losing tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.[1]

Indeed, every Sunday, preachers feel the friction between staying silent or speaking up on these issues. Should I say something about the Dobbs case? How do we approach pride month or talk about our bathroom policies? Here are two reflections to encourage preachers to engage prominent cultural issues in their sermons.

Helping your congregation think through the pressing theological and moral issues in our culture is part of your responsibility as a pastor to mature the flock.

Cultural Issues and Christian Identity

If preachers do not engage prominent cultural issues in their sermons, their congregations will suffer the loss of a distinctly Christian identity. That is, without distinctly Christian engagement, the evangelical movement begins to look more like a secular, political movement in two ways.

First, when Christian leaders do not provide theological engagement with cultural issues, people will look elsewhere for guidance on cultural issues. Perhaps this tendency is why Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson have become popular names in Christian circles alongside preachers like R. C. Sproul and Paul Washer. Depending on these political commentators for insight, Christians begin to identify themselves with these non-Christian thinkers. While reading widely is vitally important, defining your core beliefs and building a worldview around the contributions of a non-Christian thinker can begin to loosen the moorings that tether you to the historic Christian theological tradition and place you within the movement of these particular leaders.

Second, when people are not provided with theological engagement with cultural issues, they will derive their cultural convictions atheologically. Issues about immigration and social programs might be answered not by thinking about the mission of God and the mission of the church but only about free market economics. While Adam Smith and Thomas Sowell should be consulted on any economic topic, a danger arises when Christians can begin to view the source of their cultural convictions as flowing not from their Christian identity but from an areligious standpoint. When we import answers to our important worldview questions from religious systems outside Christianity, we erode the distinctiveness of our Christian worldview and identity.

Cultural Issues and Christian Maturation

Preachers should engage with cultural issues because they have a responsibility to mature their flock. In Colossians 1:28, Paul clearly lays out his mission when he writes, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Paul’s ministry provides a paradigm for every believer to understand their ministry in the body of Christ: maturing the church. For Paul, maturity includes wisdom and knowledge (Philippians 1:9-11). Therefore, being a mature Christian means being able to discern right from wrong and having a position on theological issues.

Cultural issues are nothing less than moral and theological issues. How can we see abortion as something other than a moral issue regarding the rights of the mother and child? How can marriage and sexuality be seen as something other than theological topics? As such, helping your congregation think through the pressing theological and moral issues in our culture is part of your responsibility as a pastor to mature the flock.

Cultural Engagment in the Pulpit and Beyond

What might it look like for a pastor to preach on the culture? Pastors can provide cultural guidance from the pulpit through addressing their questions. Maybe shepherding comes in the form of doing Sunday school lessons or a Wednesday night series on Critical Race Theory. Perhaps cultural engagement looks like educating your church on a biblical theology of marriage when you preach passages like Genesis 2:24 or Matthew 5:31-32. Whatever form cultural guidance takes, preachers must engage biblically and theologically with the culture to prevent the loss of a distinctly Christian identity and mature those under their care.

But the implications of cultural engagement in the pulpit extend beyond just pastors. If engaging culture biblically and theologically helps believers understand their Christian identity and promotes Christian maturity, then Christians in all positions of leadership and influence should seek to engage culture in their spheres of influence. Are you a small group leader? Perhaps you can bring up how the Bible’s teaching on gender is different from that of transgender advocates. Are you a father? Maybe you can pull out implications for cultural engagement during your family devotion time. Regardless of your sphere of influence, you can honor the Lord by engaging culture biblically and theologically.

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[1] See Thomas Kidd, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022).

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Jacob Haley

Dancer Fellow

Jacob serves in the Center for Faith and Culture as the Dancer Fellow while pursuing an Advanced M.Div at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If Jacob isn’t tucked away in the library, you can find him running, rock climbing, or playing chess.

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