Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Leave No Change Behind

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Leave No Change Behind

Article excerpt

Preaching for social transformation requires an abundance of courage, moral credibility, and the virtue of precision.

How can pastors foster change in church? Not the kind placed in offering plates, but change of another sort. Change-alteration in charac¬ter, attitude, and behavior, and the priceless giftof a new, or at least better, world.

Many people are rightly agonizing over volatile financial markets and compa¬nies defaulting on their fiscal promises. There should be equal or greater concern about the balances in our moral accounts, lest insufficient funds lead to bank¬ruptcy of our souls and foreclosure on the common good. Often when we think about mechanisms for social change, we conjure images of Washington politi¬cians and Wall Street profits. Yet, to fix our broken world, we prophets-faithful, fearless people willing to invest in social change through prophetic proclamation in word and deed.

As Rabbi Abraham loshua Heschel astutely suggested, prophets are more interested in knowing what they see than in seeing what they know. Do we see the tragedy of the wealthiest nation in the world failing to provide health insurance for its most vulnerable citizens? Do we see the irony of building state-of-the-art prisons while our public schools have to beg legislatures for financial support? Do we see how many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people suffer emotional and physical violence, while many churches and cultural institu¬tions remain eerily silent about their civil rights and moral equality? The priceless change so desperately needed in our world will arise when we are less concerned about making profits and more concerned about becoming prophets. A KEY DIMENSION of preaching for social change is a concern for morality: Preaching a life-changing word takes a preacher with a changed life. An expansive understanding of morality moves us beyond simple concern for personal piety. "Morality" is not about sermons condemning people to death and hell, but is rather a generous invitation for people to foster life and to join God's work to create heaven on earth. Recall lesus' prayer: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Preaching about and for social change requires that preachers have moral credibil¬ity-not simply the vigorous attempt to live right, but also ruggedly honest admissions of when we, and the religious traditions we rep¬resent, have been wrong. Christianity has a credibility crisis in the public square. People have justifiable reasons to ignore Christian exhortations for social change, since Christianity across the decades and centu¬ries has been unwilling to confess its faults and turn from its wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). Christian preaching for social change must begin with a willingness to confess Christianity's own need to change-bend¬ing contrite knees to confess how we have misrepresented God's inclusive love, cease¬less concern for the oppressed, and fierce commitment to restorative justice.

In addition to confession, preachers who desire social change need an abundance of courage: the willingness to proceed on God's path amid deserts of fear, across oceans of opposition, and over mountains of sacrifice. When I teach seminary preaching classes, I applaud students who have silver tongues. Yet I am equally adamant about preachers having steel in their spines. Simply put, we need more preachers with backbones!

While courage should never be equated with recklessness, courage involves risk. I invite preachers to ask this question: What is the truth in this sermon for which I would be willing to sacrifice or even die? From the time he stepped into the Jordan River to be baptiy.ed by John, Jesus was a marked man. Jesus' convictions about social change eventually leftlethal marks on his crucified body as a violent empire pierced his hands and feet. As "poets of the cross," our hom-iletic musings about social transformation should reflect our willingness to withstand the wounds associated with taking a stand with the poor, the weak, and the oppressed. …

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