A Matter of Perception
One week ago after reading/participating in some intra-denominational discussions by clergy about whether worldly politics should be addressed from the pulpit, I was pretty sure I was seeing a pattern developing based on the comments. Rather than try to point it out in that forum that was already … lively … I decided to test my theory in the most accessible “blind study” I could think of: Twitter.
Using a series of four threaded polls, I asked questions to reveal the perception of the issue from those who voted in the poll. I have no background information on those voting. They could have been expressing their perceptions or could have been voting based on their personal experiences in one or more church communities.
Final results in bold; link to the actual thread is at the bottom of this article:
- Question 1: “Avoiding politics in the pulpit” is more likely to occur in which type of congregation/membership?
- 93% Mostly white/white led
- 2% Mostly ethnic/ethnic led
- 3% Mostly ethnic/white led
- 2% Mostly white/ethnic led
122 votes total
- Question 2: “Avoiding politics in the pulpit” is more likely to occur in which type of church?
(Mainline includes both Protestant & Catholic. Non-Denominational includes any organization not affiliated with a known denomination such as SBA, UMC, etc.)
- 43% Mainline
- 53% Non-Denominational
- 4% Other
68 votes total
- Question 3: Which issue is most likely to be the cause of “avoiding politics in the pulpit”?
- 17% Fear of job loss
- 53% Fear of revenue loss
- 16% Organizational policies
- 14% Other
64 votes total
- Question 4: What one political issue, if any, do you personally believe is the most important issue that SHOULD be addressed from the pulpit?
- 96% Social justice issues
- 1% Candidate choice/morality
- 0% No politics at all
- 3% Other
67 votes total
As you can see, the four questions measure perceptions. Questions 1, 3 and 4 came out about the way I expected them to, but Question 2 was somewhat surprising. I expected to see mainline finish significantly higher than non-denominational and other due to the number of celebrity Evangelicals, most of whom are not affiliated with any specific denomination, that have taken very public, very vocal political positions.
This information isn’t scientific and the sampling pool is small, but it does have a point. This is how a group of people see the Church’s role in politics and where they’re least likely to find guidance regarding how we, as Christians should deal with it. If we dismiss even this tiny pool of data as inconsequential or unimportant, we are effectively ignoring people who may be seeking that guidance; people who sincerely want to know and understand what God would have them do, what Jesus did in these situations.
That 93% of those voting found mostly white congregations with white pastors were the least likely to address politics in the pulpit is also revealing, at least to me. If the pool of voters is correct in their perception, white pastors may be failing to adequately educate their congregations on the issues people of color face both here in the US and globally, and that there is at least a perception that white congregations don’t care enough to seek that guidance from their white pastors. In a worst case scenario, both the white pastors and their white congregations may be perfectly comfortable with the status quo.
It is notable, however, that there is an honest perception that pastors and the congregations that hire them may be avoiding discussing hard topics from the pulpit for fear of loss of revenue (offerings/tithes) if membership drops or, in the case of pastors, loss of their job. I was disappointed to see that “organizational policies” came in such a close third. If such policies do exist then, in my opinion, they go against the very Bible itself which is riddled with stories about how God and Christ both feel and have dealt with social justice issues.
I think Question 4’s results are, however, my favorite – a nearly unanimous interest in hearing God’s word on issues of social justice. And, really, aren’t those that issues that are currently creating the greatest division around the world? What did Jesus have to say about those? People clearly want to know.
In the end, your perception of this information will determine how you use it. If, for some reason, you choose to dismiss it as inconsequential, too small a pool, not scientific enough, or “that’s their opinion; I have my own”, so be it. I hope, however, that you’ll choose to consider the possible reasons the results came in as they did, and possibly change your own perception so that you can change that of those outside your church.
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