an unfortunate development

in a couple of weeks i will begin a new sermon series called "ripped from the headlines." you can check out the entire series outline here. the point of the series is not to anger people or show them the right way to think about issues, but to ask how we form opinions about important questions. the first sermon in the series is the politics of faith. i will explore whether a candidate's personal faith is really worthy of being a political issue. in other words, vote or not for john kennedy on the issues, not because he is catholic; ditto for mitt romney who is a mormon; ditto for barack obama, whose former pastor, jeremiah wright, said some pretty sharp-edged things in a few sermons on youtube.

this weekend i was to visit wheeler avenue baptist church in houston to hear dr. wright preach in person. he has preached a revival every year there for 20 years, and it happened that i would be in town this weekend. but today it was announced that dr. wright would not make the appearance for security reasons: for the church, his family, and himself.

there is little point to posting a link to websites showing dr. wright's sermons. they have been played over and over again on the news and the internet. anyone plugged in anywhere has heard something of what he said. there are significant issues for preaching that have come about through this episode:
  1. is it fair to evaluate (judge) a preacher and the church h/she serves based on a few soundbites of sermons?
  2. does one choose a candidate based on her/his pastor/spiritual guide?
  3. what role does the media play in stirring up emotional reactions by voters?
  4. are there cultural differences at play here that we may not understand?
  5. is the media fair in its treatment-- not only of dr. wright (almost certainly not) but of the other candidates' faith?
this last question is of major importance to me. john mccain was endorsed by john hagee of san antonio. i have heard pastor hagee preach many times on t.v. while very skilled as a communicator, his messages are packed full of hateful rhetoric. he has openly berated the catholic church and considers hurricane katrina God's judgment against new orleans because a gay pride parade was scheduled to take place there. where has the media criticism been? there has been some-- but nowhere near the level as that of dr. wright. john mccain says obviously he does not share all of pastor hagee's views-- fair enough-- but when barack obama says the same thing about jeremiah wright he has not been allowed off of the hook. why?

full disclosure: i voted for senator obama in the texas primary. i voted for him based on the issues, not who his pastor was. this posting has nothing to do with that. i am not trying to persuade anyone to vote as i did. i am simply raising the question of media fairness and balance on the issue of a candidate's faith and the character of their spiritual adviser(s).

i have said many times before that i believe authentic preaching happens only within the context for which the sermon was prepared. i can deliver a sermon i preached in prosper in your church any sunday, but i would not consider it the same, since it was crafted for a particular setting. this is one reason why i only occasionally post sermons here. can a preacher's career really be assessed-- and thrown away-- by a few comments taken out of context by an audience outside the congregation?

i was very excited to hear dr. wright this weekend, but it will not happen now. that is a shame. the idea that the church, his family, or himself would be in danger now is a great injustice, regardless of what was said in a sermon days/months/years ago. like it or not, i suppose all of us are subject to the manipulation of the media, which is subject to the whims and emotions of the public. i cringe to think that recording and broadcasting my sermons could one day be used against me, that a career of sacrifice and service could be whittled down to a few inflammatory soundbites. yet in the end, neither i, nor dr. wright, nor pastor hagee, nor anyone else who assumes the great responsibility of preaching does it for the glory in the good times or to avoid controversy in the hard times. otherwise those who preach would all be in real trouble.


Great blog, I enjoyed this article from about Jeremiah Wright's sermons
I also liked what Adam Hamilton said about this subject: