A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pastors, Theology, Politics, and Controversy #1


The blogosphere is now abuzz over the recent dismissal of United Methodist pastor, Chad Holtz and his postings on such controversial issues as hell, homosexuality, and politics. And once again, many Christians have chosen up sides into the tired and boring and uninteresting conservative and liberal camps, using this situation as fodder to bash the other side. I have never met Chad personally. He and I are Facebook friends. What we share in common is that we are both United Methodists and that I am a graduate of that fine institution of higher learning, Duke Divinity School, while he is currently a student there soon to graduate... which also means we share a mutual love for the Blue Devils (Yes, we are in mourning today). I enjoy reading Chad's blog. He is thoughtful and his posts are thought-provoking. I do not always agree with him, but he is a sophisticated thinker who communicates well. (Full disclosure: I emailed Chad to let him know I would be  mentioning him in this post.)

I do not know all the details of why Chad was dismissed from his current congregation in North Carolina. He claims that it was because he made public his views on controversial issues. His District Superintendent says the situation was more involved. The news media has picked up the story, so we can be sure they will cloud the facts until no one can see anything with clarity. (Whenever I get on the subject of journalists, I always like to refer to Tom Wright who says that the media is great at putting 2 and 2 together and coming up with 17.) I have no doubt that Chad is being honest when he gives his side of the story, but if there is another side... if there is more to the situation, we will likely never know. (And I am not really too interested in knowing all the details either.)

My concern in this post is not commentary on Chad's views, but to ponder a little how pastors express their views on theology and politics in a public way, particularly in this age of social media. Some will say that they should not. I disagree. To insist that pastors muzzle themselves on the things most important to all of us is to suggest that the gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with the things that are most important to all of us. If we entrust pastors to interpret Scripture and our traditions for us on a weekly basis, surely that includes matters that pertain to doctrine, and ethics, and politics. Moreover, in the very Bible we want pastors to preach and teach on, there is a boatload of controversy present in its texts. The prophets did not preach a word of the Lord that was only a matter of one's own internal spiritual pilgrimage, but they shook the rafters of people's sensibilities with their call for justice. St. Paul found himself in prison on more than a few occasions and in the book of Acts we read that he got tossed out of several towns for "making trouble." And let us not forget Jesus was crucified for treason. One does not get strung up on a cross by running around telling people, "Hey! I got a great idea! Why don't we... love each other?"

My point is that if the gospel is true, and I believe that it is, then it intersects through all the avenues of life. And if Jesus is Lord, and I believe he is, then there is no sphere in which his Lordship is irrelevant. We cannot entrust our pastors with the incredible responsibility of being biblical in their preaching and teaching and affirming Jesus' lordship, but expect them never to say anything that is controversial. Christianity was born in controversy and it has thrived in adverse and difficult circumstances.

I am not suggesting for a moment that pastors should not be accountable for what they preach and teach (regardless of the venue). The faith we have and the faith we share IS the faith of the church. Pastors are their congregation's resident theologians, but they are not Lone Rangers who can fire their theological and political bullets shooting up the ecclesial town wherever they please. At the same time, the faith that we have received is not a faith with all the loose ends of doctrine and life all neatly tied up to be received by the perfect church family in which there is never any controversy nor strange relatives we wish would stay in the attic... rather like an old episode of Leave It to Beaver.

I have been a pastor for twenty-six years. I have never shied away from controversial topics, whether it be in theology, ethics, or politics. I have been blogging for six years now and rather frequently deal with subjects that are controversially charged; and judging from the number of hits on my blog each day, for some reason, many folks seem interested in what I have to say (some things are indeed mysterious). Indeed, it seems that the hits dramatically increase when I wade into controversy. In all these years as a pastor, I have managed to hack off only a small handful of folks with my views, even though more than a few have taken great exception to my perspectives. Now it could very well be that I have simply been lucky, but having navigated such potentially dangerous waters for a while now, I have some thoughts on how pastors should deal with controversial issues and express their views on such important matters.

I will turn to that subject on Monday.


John Byron said...

It is always a sad thing when pastors are unable to express their questions or their doubts. We do no one any favors when we force them to be silent.

john frye said...

In this day of social media, everyone is a theologian. Sad.

John Meunier said...

I'll be interested in your views, Allan.

After reading Chad's posts about the flag, homosexuality, and hell, I think he might have helped himself by being more aware of the ways his words sound to those who might hold different theological convictions than he does.

I get the impression you follow up posts will be more about the general issue than Chad's particular case, but I think the manner in which we engage with controversial issues does matter.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John, yes... it's all about manner, it's all about approach, it's all about posture.