Preaching on Sensitive Subjects
- Thursday, March 01, 2007
I thought I was the first to discover this technique of dealing with controversial issues from the pulpit. But it turns out this littlefind of mine has been unearthed many times in the past.
Galileo, for instance, demonstrated it in the 17th century. His message was burning a hole in his heart and soul. He absolutely had to tell the world the truth about the universe as he was beginning to understand it. The problem was that he had been warned not to spread his heretical teachings any more. The religious leaders of his day had lost patience with him and had him on notice that they would not tolerate any more of his insolence.
So,the scientist decided to tell a story.
Galileowrote a book in which he created three characters and had them discuss the matters he wanted to put before the world. One man represented his antagonists, the second presented Galileo's views -- without ever mentioning his name -- and the third moved the discussion along.
When he presented his book to the authorities for their approval, they naively saw nothing wrong with this harmless discussion of these issues. Too late, they realizedGalileo had slipped one past them. By then the book was everywhere and recalling each volume was impossible.
In his defense, Galileo pointed out that all he had done was tell a story. It was an argument hard to deny.
Tell a story. No technique has ever been found that works better when presenting difficult truths to an unreceptive audience.
Abraham Lincoln had the method down pat. He knew a good story can work wonders of a hundred kinds, everything from changing the subject to easing tension, from infusing a discussion with a needed bit of levity to making a crucial point at a critical time.
But neither Lincoln nor Galileo--and certainly not I--created this technique. It's been around forever.
Our Lord was a master teacher and thus knew the power of a well-placed story.
"Who exactly is my neighbor?" a man challenged Jesus. The Lord answered, "A certain man was going down to
The fact that Jesus made the victim a Jew and the care-giver a Samaritan enraged some in His audience, but it was a wonderful point well made.
"You're receiving sinners and even eating with them!" they accused Jesus. He said, "A shepherd had a hundred sheep and lost one." "A woman had ten coins and could not find one." "A man had two sons." Three parables, three stories, all to answer the charge of partiality toward the fallen.
These poor creatures are valuable, they are God's. He loves them and welcomes them back. A point made with a story.
I came by this the hard way. Over four decades of pastoring churches across several Southern states, Ifrequently found myself in situations where the sermon addressed issues on which the congregation wasdivided. Racism, prejudice, ministry to the homeless, our position on homosexuality. social drinking, the responsibility of the wealthy to help the poor--and a hundred other situations come to mind.
I once preached God's message of love to all people of all colors in a
Being young and inexperienced, I knew of only one way of approaching any subject: head on. To their credit, the congregation received the message. I did, however, receive a visit from the chairman of the deacons. "What you are saying is right, Pastor," he said, "But I need to remind you that your predecessor preached to these people for 9 years that segregation was God's way." He let that soak in, then said, "You can change them. But you'll need to be patient with them."
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