Of late retired Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu has come under a lot of attacks from leaders, cadres and supporters of those in power.
I must point out from the outset that I don’t like Archbishop Mpundu – I love him. He is an exceptionally very intelligent, humble, honest and religious man. Material possessions, luxuries don’t move him. He’s incorruptible.
But why is this nice friend of mine so hated by these people? My own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.
Preaching is increasingly getting a lot tougher. Today even words like kindness
seem to have political implications.
Should our preachers and their congregations seek to transcend politics or is that an impossible or even illegitimate goal? Is there a difference between being political and being partisan?
Preaching is being complicated by the fact that politics has now come to mean any contemporary issue on which people might disagree. In times such as these, the preacher’s task is to remind the congregation that the basic tenets of our faith – grace and mercy, radical hospitality, love of neighbor – go beyond politics but have political implications.
Can we call our preachers and their congregations call themselves followers of the Prince of Peace and not condemn injustice, intolerance, violence and corruption born of bigotry, hate and greed? Likewise, I don’t see how they can read the story of Jesus welcoming the children and not have something to say about the children suffering on our streets, not going school, not accessing healthcare and food.
In these polarizing times, it’s easy to vilify our preachers and their congregations. Good preaching in divisive times reminds people of the importance of nuance. It also reminds news-weary preachers that their faith claims mean something about how they live in a country in which being a good person is directly connected to our political systems and structures.
My prayer is that even as we disagree, we’ll stay true to the gospel call to welcome and to love.
One might expect the obligatory nod to the challenge of of preachers preaching in our polarized climate – except for the fact that their congregations are comfortably partisan and have been engines of polarization, not some lingering holdout against it.
We don’t want to avoid being predictably partisan by falling prey to the illusion that the gospel is politically “neutral.” If some partisan stands align with biblical concerns for justice, we shouldn’t soft-pedal biblical themes just to avoid appearing partisan. Here’s a way the lectionary is a gift.
These biblical themes confront us. Preaching isn’t dictated by the pet priorities of a party but by the worldwide curriculum of the body of Christ at worship. And some days, by grace, that Word will come as a challenge to our own preferences.
Nor does the unique “politics of Jesus” give us license to sequester ourselves in alternative communities. Policy is how we love our neighbors, and purity doesn’t release us from the Great Commandment. The illusion of being nonpolitical is a luxury of privilege that only leaves the vulnerable exposed.
The problem with the Christian political imagination today is not simply that it is predictably partisan but that it has ceded its elasticity and expectation to the here-and-now. We are all functional utopians who overexpect from the present and underexpect God’s sovereign grace. But the kingdom of God is something we await, not create. And while we hope for policy that bends the systems of society toward justice, we won’t legislate our way to the Parousia.
We need to recover a wide-eyed Augustinian realism to counter cultural Pelagianism. Our utopianism is nourished by an overconfidence in our own powers and a blinding self-righteousness, coupled with a generic belief in the goodness of human nature (at least our human nature). The result is a political outlook that does not expect—or know what to do with—disagreement and disappointment, charging ahead with the frightening scowl of someone with good intentions.
Whenever we deploy words, especially in the service of God, we are acting politically. There is no such thing as nonpolitical language, especially when that language is bold to assert itself theologically, homiletically, or ecclesiologically. The church is a praying, singing, preaching, witnessing body. We witness to the in-breaking of God’s reign of love, justice, beauty, and abundance in time and space. We lament brokenness, evil, and violence. We proclaim that these dastardly realities are ending even as we groan and press toward God’s redemption of humanity and all of creation. Our prayers, songs, sermons, and testimonies are acts of political speech.
Servants of the church who claim that they are not political are indeed political. However, they are often servants of a politics contrary to a Christian understanding of God’s reign.
Our speech is political because it is the speech of God’s new creation. The church’s language is not spectator language. It does work, and it has work to do. The church’s language has the ambitious agenda of making all things new. And that is political.
The goal of a preacher should never to be nonpolitical. They bear witness through language and action that the God they serve is the author of the politics of abundance. There is more than enough of the physical, economic, and spiritual requirements for human flourishing in this nation and the world.
We cannot transcend politics. The gospel is a word that was used to declare the birth of a new emperor. Our speech heralds a new ruler, one hated by the Caesars and Herods who continue to kill innocents and crucify dissidents in an attempt to hold onto their power and thwart God’s reign.
Our preachers must be bold to advocate the politics of God’s realm in the church and outside of the church. We can afford good, free and socialised education because God requires it. We can afford good, free and socialised healthcare because God requires it.
We can pay a living wage because God requires it. The church has often abandoned these politics for access and power. Like Jesus they shouldn’t fear to live and to die for the politics of God’s reign. If these politics do not animate their prayers, songs, sermons, and testimonies, their speech is reduced to sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
Their faith stands in judgment of our nation’s political leaders – of whatever ideological stripe – when they fail to uphold the values implicit in the gospel demands for justice. But our preachers should always view criticism of their preachings as an invitation for deeper dialogue and relationship, rooted in the divine gift of unity that binds us together as followers of Jesus. If we don’t talk about politics in the church setting, they are giving their congregants permission to compartmentalize their lives. Jesus Christ is Lord of all of life, including our political life, and that includes the decisions we make in the voting booth.
Garden Compound, Lusaka