Recently, a pastor shared a vlog (video blog) of himself and another pastor, where they said, "If you come to either one of our churches, you're going to hear one thing and one thing only: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No Republicans, No Democrats, no gun control. Just that you are loved by God."
I happen to know one of these pastors. I happen to believe wholeheartedly that this brother is trying to remain faithful to his ordination vows and to our Lutheran tradition. Yet, just like any family, sometimes siblings disagree in the church. I deeply disagree with this approach, at least as far as I understand the post to mean that preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ means we must avoid hot button topics like gun control, current events like politics, or controversial issues like racial prejudice.
A few caveats are important. First, preaching the Gospel doesn't mean telling someone what party or candidate to vote for in the next election. Not only is that illegal, but it's coercive. The Gospel is a promise of freedom in Christ, not a yoking to worldly powers. Nor is the Gospel a list of demands to make us righteous.. The Gospel reminds us we're under no obligation to earn our holiness because God embraces as us holy through Jesus. Finally, I agree wholeheartedly that our primary responsibility as pastors is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that God loves us.
Now, to the disagreement. What I want to say, fundamentally, is this: that we're loved by God means something for how we live in the world. A proclamation of the Gospel ought to ask what that love of God means for our lives in the political realm, not telling us how to vote but encouraging us to live abundant life we've received in our political activity. A proclamation of the Gospel ought to ask what the love of God means for us in a nation with nearly unparalleled gun violence and how that love of God relates to a constitutional right to own firearms. A proclamation of the Gospel ought to ask what the love of God means in a nation built upon the enslavement of people of color, and one that still fails to fully include people of color.
In light of that Gospel, the abundant life we're given by God entails a new way of seeing creation and living in the world. Part of preaching the Gospel, then, means we ought to ask: What does the Gospel say to the realities in the world? To the current political sphere? To racism? To the intersection of guns and violence? That, in love for us, god frees us from sin's bondage in Jesus Christ isn't an abstract concept. The Gospel isn't an isolated event. The Gospel of Jesus Christ applies to our entire lives, to the entire world in which we live.
At times, this means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will say something directly to various situations in our world, to Democrats and Republicans, about guns and about freedom, about sexuality and about money, about any and every thing. Sometimes, this may include an affirmation of certain principles, for instance, within the political sphere. But this does not mean the Gospel is confined to or held within one party. Any apparent affirmation of a given position is actually a recognition that the Gospel is enfleshed once again in our world. It's an admission that the Spirit of God is at work through us, and quite often, despite us. At other times, and most likely much more often, this will include a confrontation of positions. But this does not mean the Gospel is wholly against any or all political groups. Any apparent dispute highlights that the Gospel cannot be fully contained or expressed within any worldly institution, but instead constantly calls us to reform in the image of the God who became one of us.
The point is, we don't preach a disembodied Gospel. At least, we shouldn't. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preaching the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ means speaking truth to power, whether that position is conservative and liberal, whether that power relies on firearms or a constitution, whether that power lies in how we use our wallets or how we use our bodies.
So, my appeal to preachers out there is this: Always preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this, affirm that people are loved by God. As you do that, don't ever forget to lift up how that Gospel works in the world. Point to where the Gospel is at work in the midst of the joys and tragedies faced by the people loved by God. Reveal to where the Gospel aligns with and disrupts the debates and deliberations that affect the people loved by God. At times, the Gospel is offensive, because it forces us to see that the love of God given for all of us confronts us with people that we may not want to love. If we refuse to enflesh the Gospel as we preach, we're not preaching the God of the incarnation.