Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

The Right to Remain Silent

Note: I wrote the bulk of this some time ago and it never was posted. Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed do seem to me to be worthy of consideration and so I am posting it here even though the issues and events referenced are dated.

Men and women facing arrest have the right to remain silent. Preachers, apparently, do not.

For some Christians alarms ring constantly on the cultural front and if preachers do not preach to that alarm we are cowering in fear and shirking our God-given calling.

There are many ways I fail in my calling. I question my fitness for ministry weekly, if not daily. But do I fail as the alarmists tell me I do when I do not speak to every cultural issue or crisis? I don’t think so.

A couple years ago, I addressed this subject, and so to cover the same territory is redundant. And yet the demand that preachers preach “to the current crisis” continues to surface.

There are many reasons to resist that demand, not the least of which is the ignorance that often swirls about issues when they first break onto the scene. Lack of information should breed care. It often does not.

We have this week alarmist fingers pointing at Houston, Texas, where, we are told, government is flexing its authoritarian muscle in subpoenaing sermons from pastors. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, a man with the ears of many and at times good insight, says that

A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.

I’m stunned by that. Absent from his post is the reality that the pastors in question SUED the city of Houston, and the subpoena is simply part of the discovery phase of a legal proceeding that the ministers themselves initiated. One may still find the city’s reaction an over reach. But we do no one any favors, and especially those who are looking to our leaders to be thoughtful men, when we leave out pertinent details in our reporting of it.

Just this morning news broke that a city in Idaho was threatening to fine or jail a couple of ordained ministers for their refusal to perform a gay marriage. Again, this is an issue worth watching. The implications could be broad. From some posts (an example is here) one can easily get the impression that the city is going after all Christian ministers. But the couple in question do not pastor a church but a for-profit wedding chapel. They are a business. Again, issues abound, but the alarmists do us a disservice in screaming loudly in our ears and omitting information crucial to the issue at hand.

And if we all do not feed out of their hands and march to their drum, our very credentials as faithful men and women are questioned. That is wrong.

We were told on Twitter this week by one respected evangelical writer, Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas), that

Every pastor in America should preach about [the Houston subpoenas] on Sunday. If your preacher won’t, find another church. This is real.

I get that Metaxas’ has a thoughtful perspective on history. Though his book on Bonhoeffer was awful (I seem to be the only one on the planet who thought so), he has thought deeply about how Christian leaders should respond to government’s power. But men of good conscience will disagree on this. To lay down a litmus test of fidelity to my calling on this issue is grossly irresponsible.

Biblical preaching will often intersect with issues of public debate. And it should at times stimulate public debate. But the degree to which public debate influences the nature of one’s preaching will be effected by far more than what the alarmists find alarming.

Often I’m silent because I don’t know enough about the current crisis to speak intelligently about it. But mostly I’m silent because the issues are ones on which good people differ and which do not strike at the heart of my calling to preach the gospel.

Even here, I am told that I am wrong. When World Vision some time ago first agreed to offer employment to partners in gay relationships and then immediately reversed itself, I felt that there were a couple of ways of assessing that decision from a Christian point of view. Russell Moore, however, could see only one way and stated (quoted by Justin Taylor)

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Really? That is, quite frankly, absurd. (Sometimes I wish my sense of propriety would lose its grip on me and allow me to use a stronger word. Such a comment deserves a stronger word, an expletive, even.)

Give your pastors the right to remain silent. Give them the promise of your prayers and your support. Pray that they would be wise and courageous. Be there when they preach, love them in their brokenness, and accept their gentle shepherding. But don’t demand that they follow the alarmist herd.

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4 Comments

  1. Stephanie

    Randy! How dare you be logical under such dire circumstances! The sky is falling!!!!!

    • Of course, I should add that all my brave talk, whether logical or now, does not take into account the realities that I see as critical. I can have a bit of an alarmist inner life that will creep out now and then.

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