Why I Wrote “Preaching Politics”

From the introduction to Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship by Clay Stauffer:

Shortly before this book went to press, I sat down at a coffee shop close to my church with a seasoned politician whom I respect despite the fact that we don’t always see eye to eye on every issue. He is older than I am and has seen more than his share of stump speeches, sermons, elections, political pandering, and partisan games. He also seems to respect me regardless of my relative youth and our differences on politics, faith, social policy, and the like. But we each share a love of this great nation, our home state of Tennessee, and the city of Nashville. And we each love our coffee, prepared differently, of course. On this occasion we had another civil conversation—one that included the purpose and intent of this book.

“Clay, I don’t know why you would want to write a book about preaching politics,” he said. “I’ve always considered what you do to be above the political fray, a much more noble profession than mine. Why would you want to dive into the swamp? It doesn’t seem necessary. I just don’t want you to regret this later in your life.”

Stauffer: Civil dialogue & mutual respect are necessary if a united church is to have a future. Click To Tweet

His observation caught me off guard at 6:45 in the morning. I was still waking up. And to be honest, what he said rattled me. Why do I want to talk about the potential pitfalls of preaching politics? Why do I want to “dirty myself” in the realm of politicians who have low-digit approval ratings? Why would I want to open Pandora’s Box and unleash the howls of those who say politics has no place in the pulpit? Shouldn’t ministers of the gospel play it safe and stay as far away from politics as possible? Aren’t millennials staying away from the church because they believe it is too political? Haven’t preachers on both ends of the spectrum managed to offend enough people and do enough damage already?

My response to these questions has its roots in the denominational ethos that I grew up in and in which I now minister. At thirty-five years of age, I am in my ninth year as senior minister of Woodmont Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am also a fourth-generation pastor, following my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In the StoneCampbell tradition that gave birth to my denomination, we say that we “agree to disagree” when it comes to controversial issues that tend to divide Christians. We stress the unity of Christ’s church and seek to maintain it. “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; but in all things love.” That’s our mantra. This is what we strive to live out in our local churches.

And yet, throughout my adult life, I have watched the church argue, fight, and, in many cases, tear itself apart over a variety of issues. How many issues are there in American society that can be debated eternally without either side conceding an inch of moral high ground? As we prepare for another heated presidential race, many theologians and preachers will endorse a variety of candidates and stake their partisan positions. …

This book is not about any single political issue but rather about how we debate any political issue, and the potential divisions and stressors that pastors and preachers face on a regular basis. Our congregations are split along political, social, and moral lines. Often the moral is wrapped up in the political, and the politics lead to certain perceptions of one another’s theological and biblical beliefs. Some people and churches feel that their version of Christianity is superior. Furthermore, obvious divisions related to socioeconomic class and lifestyle differences are also a reality for many churches. Growing materialism, the glorification of money, rampant consumerism, the constant quest for more, and a false sense of security present real challenges to our spiritual lives and the church of the future. As I will contend, Jesus still speaks to all these things.

Civil dialogue and mutual respect are absolutely necessary if a united church is to have a future.

Download the full preview of Preaching Politics [PDF format]

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Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Odd ducks

ON THE WAY HOME FROM SANTA FE – I’ve spent the past few days at PubWest, an annual meeting of the publishing industry based in the western part of the U.S. and Canada. Western is interpreted loosely as “west of the Hudson River.” Name a genre, and you could probably find at least one publisher. Chalice was one of only two Christian publishers at the event; the other was Ave Maria Press out of Notre Dame, Indiana. (Indiana is, after all, west of the Hudson.)

As a PubWest first-timer, I enjoyed the diverse nature of this group. Introductions typically contained statements like, “we publish literary and children’s fiction” or “we publish outdoor guides” or “we publish books about national parks,” and it was easy to see their mission. Then I would explain Chalice Press’ mission, but then, because we’re a faith-related publisher, I was asked to go a step further and explain our ministry, because clearly among this crowd, faith-based publishers are odd ducks.

“We’re 105 years old, based in St. Louis, we’re affiliated with a Protestant denomination blah blah blah,” I’d say quickly before seguing to, “but we know faith is changing, so Chalice Press plans to be the go-to publisher for Progressive Christians.”

The phrase Progressive Christians generally elicited one of two different looks:

  • confusion, because they could guess what that meant but weren’t entirely sure they were correct, or
  • a blank stare, meaning they couldn’t even begin to process what I’d just said.

At least nobody just turned and walked away. And better yet, nobody slugged me.

Then I would unpack the meaning of Progressive Christians: We’re inclusive and welcoming of anybody who wants to have a personal relationship with God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, and we know there are as many ways to relate to God as there are snowflakes in an avalanche. We support the LGBT community. We’re broadening our offerings on social justice in areas such as gender equality, the environment, education, criminal justice reform, a living wage, and voting rights. In everything we do, we want to empower our readers to change their world in ways that make it a better, more caring place. Once I finished that definition, I got a lot of smiles and “cool!” and “that’s really great!”

What stuck with me, though, is that time after time, I had to defend Christianity while at the same time critiquing it. It’s a fine line we Progressive Christians walk, isn’t it? You know the conversation: The divisive, nasty, incendiary garbage cloaked as faith drives people to be blasé about religion in general but, even more so, hostile specifically to Christianity. And I don’t blame them.

Try this exercise to view the world like a publisher: When you look at bookstore shelves, you see what readers are most likely to buy. Most of the time, the books you see represent the market pretty well. Now, in that bookstore you’re envisioning, walk over to the Religion and Spirituality section. The books you’re likely to notice first are from conservative pastors, often proclaiming social-morality agendas, or megachurch pastors powered by multi-million-dollar marketing budgets. When publishers see which books represent Christianity, no wonder they think Christians are all so ridiculously conservative!

The great thing about publishers and editors and marketers and designers and others who work in the publishing industry is that they are all, at heart, curious. They gave me the opportunity to explain Chalice Press’s work and mission, and then they asked thoughtful, challenging, but respectful questions. And in the end, I didn’t meet a single person who criticized what we do. My favorite response was “I knew there were some good Christians out there!”

I cannot report any baptisms or conversions or speaking in tongues at PubWest, but I can report that a good number of people may go home from Santa Fe remembering that there is at least one Christian publisher doing things differently, working to tell the world that our diversity can unify instead of divide. I return to St. Louis with new friends, new counterparts, and new insights, but also knowing that what we are doing — and by we, I mean not just our crew at Chalice Press and our authors, but also our readers, so that includes you — is holy work, and it is making a difference in the world. Progressive Christianity in 2016 is a challenge, no question about it, but know that there are people you will never meet who are thankful for the work we all do.

Grateful to be your partner in ministry,

Brad-signature

(Here’s Publishers Weekly’s article on PubWest.)

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

“The weed of racism still grows”

“Racism is real; racism is sin; and racism is really, really tough. If we’re going to get beyond it, none of us gets to sit on the sidelines.”

Sharon Watkins, author of Whole: A Call to Unity in Our Fragmented World, gave an unflinching sermon on racism in 2016 and the church’s role in eradicating racism but also in creating an environment that will lead to reconciliation. A summary of her remarks at Phillips Theological Seminary’s Remind and Renew are posted on Disciples.org, and a link to an audio recording is available here. Take the time not only to hear the words but to understand the message.

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Clay Stauffer on Mainstream Media and “Selling Out”

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Quote from Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship by Clay Stauffer — available for pre-order now, don’t pay until it ships!

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Eric Law on The Gift

From chapter three, “The Gift,” in Holy Currency Exchange: 101 Stories, Songs, Actions, and Visions for Missional and Sustainable Ministries by Eric H.F. Law:

Holy_Currency_Exchange_cover_finalRE_400At the beginning of the new year, I often hear people say with a sigh of relief, “Thank God the holidays are over!” I recall seeing frantic shoppers before Christmas trying to find the right presents for people to whom they are obligated to give gifts. If gift giving is reduced to an obligation and is measured as a commodity, I can understand how it would be a relief to be done with it until the next birthday or anniversary or Christmas.

In his now-classic book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, author Lewis Hyde shares stories from different cultures around the concept of exchanging gifts. He writes

These stories present gift exchange as a companion to transformation, a sort of guardian or marker or catalyst. It is also the case that a gift may be the actual agent of change, the bearer of new life. In the simplest examples, gifts carry an identity with them, and to accept the gift amounts to incorporating the new identity.

According to Hyde, there are at least three obligations to gift economy—the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. In many of the cultural stories that Hyde examined, the reciprocation may not go directly back to the original giver but to a third party. Sometimes the gift is expected to keep flowing throughout the community and it may eventually return to the original giver in different forms. Hyde wrote, “[A] gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

For Christians, one of the greatest gifts that we receive is Jesus. To accept this gift is to incorporate a new identity embodied by the words and actions of Jesus. Continue reading Eric Law on The Gift

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Rev. Jennifer Bailey on Daniel Holtzclaw and #StandWithBWG

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On December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, and other charges. Today, he was sentenced to 263 years in prison. Although little media attention has been given to this case, it is important to recognize the brave response of the victims, like Jannie Ligons. In an article for MoyoLiving.org, Rev. Jennifer Bailey reflects on how these events mirror the sexual exploitation of black women throughout history. Bailey shows that there have always been women like Ms. Jannie to resist the mistreatment. Her call is #StandWithBGW (Black Women and Girls).

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Sarah Griffith Lund on Her 2016 Lent Devotional

The Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional was written by Sarah Griffith Lund, author of the acclaimed Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church. We asked Sarah a few questions about this year’s Lent devotional. Here’s what she said:

SarahGriffithLund_FOP16Tell us about the theme for the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional. How did this theme of “dreams and visions” come together? What inspired you?
The theme for the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 emerged out of my conversations with readers about my book Blessed are the Crazy. In the book I talk about my own personal fears and vulnerability to mental illness because bipolar disorder runs in my family. As a Christian and a spiritual person who has a relationship with God, I have experienced dreams and visions. But because of the history of mental illness in my family, I was reluctant to talk about my dreams and visions, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. Yet, when I study Scripture and the writings of early Christian mystics, like St. John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich, their writings are filled with visions and dreams, encounters with the living God. So this Fellowship of Prayer is dedicated to exploring the visions and dreams of the Bible, in hopes of opening up conversations about how God continues to speak to us through our own dreams and visions. This theme comes out of encouragement by my readers to break the silence in the church about dreams and visions.

What did you learn through the writing of the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional? What was your experience like during this project?
I was sincerely shocked by how saturated the Bible is with dreams and visions. I had never looked at the Scriptures through this particular lens before, and I was overwhelmed by the powerful stories of God breaking through ordinary time and visiting people in their dreams. I learned more about the nature of God’s communication, discovering that God historically and continually connects to us through dreams and visions. I learned to trust my own dreams and visions more, and found encouragement in the Scriptures for my own faith journey. Writing this devotional was a real gift to my spirit, deeply immersing me in Scripture, drawing me closer to the heart of God.

What do you hope readers of Fellowship of Prayer 2016 will gain from spending the 40 days of Lent walking through it?
I hope that readers will learn from the witness of Scripture about the ways that God seeks to be revealed to us. I believe that God continues to seek us out in our dreams and visions. Spending the 40 days of Lent walking through Biblical dreams and visions, readers will be encouraged to open themselves up to the Spirit of God … with the hope of transforming us with dreams and visions of new life.

Lent begins Ash Wednesday, February 10. The last day to order copies of Fellowship of Prayer 2016 for your personal use or for your church — in order to ensure delivery by/before Ash Wednesday — is Monday, February 1!

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Remind and Renew 2016: Leah Gunning Francis

Closing Phillips Theological Seminary’s Remind and Renew was Leah Gunning Francis, author of Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community. Currently on the faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, Francis brings her intimate perspective on the protests in Ferguson, Mo., sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014 and the subsequent protests and legal (in)actions in the case. She was on the frontlines in the protests and interviewed dozens of other leaders to collect their perspectives on what worked, what didn’t, and what others can do to react to the next Ferguson – because, as she often says, “There is a Ferguson near you.”

  • “[Clergy] were not there to be the leaders … but rather to enter this space the young activists had already claimed and to go stand beside, stand with, to listen, to learn, to offer all kinds of support.”
  • Given the racism originally built into the Constitution: “Every time you hear the phrase ‘constitutional rights’… you should shudder.”
  • “The call for the church to wake up and stay awake – or as the hashtag says, “#staywoke –still resounds loudly today.”
  • It’s not enough to merely think racism exists; we have to heighten our awareness of the way it exists and lives and thrives.
  • “[Racism is] alive anytime you hear the word thug. It’s alive anytime you hear somebody say of an 18-year-old ‘he’s just a criminal.’”
  • “We’ve got to change the narrative. It’s killing us – never mind the emotional and spiritual damage it’s doing – it’s killing us.”
  • On who needs to be at the table when discussion dismantling racism: “The only time I’ve ever seen a black mother on television [talking about racism and justice] is after her child has been killed.”
  • “We’re going to have to listen to the voices that have been left out and marginalized. We’re going to have to be willing to believe the stories, the narratives, of the people who have been most deeply affected.”
  • Framing our perception of racism in the five senses: “We have to be willing to taste the bitter dregs of discomfort. [Protest] is not going to taste good in your mouth.”
  • “The truth is, there are untold numbers of people living and breathing and alert today who not only have very vivid memories of those kinds of acts and worse – but [those] who also instigated them and orchestrated them. We’ve got to own that and confront that.”
  • “I wish you could hear the stories of every black man in this country because I haven’t met one yet who does not have some very explicit life altering story [of institutional racism].”

On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2016, following yet another violent year that included the horrifying Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre and Bree Newsome scaling a flagpole to tear down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol, with both the realization that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is here to stay and that thinly veiled racism is part of the national political scene, I hope we discover new ways we (individually and collectively) can tear down racism, how we can reach out to those on the margins and to the oppressed, and how we can fulfill the visions of Dr. King, Jesus, and the other peacemakers who inspire us to make the world a better place — and then I hope we will move beyond talking about it and actually do it. It’s up to us.

Thanks,
Brad-signature

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Remind and Renew 2016: Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins

Friday I posted excerpts of William J. Barber II’s address to the Remind and Renew Conference. Now comes a great article from the Tulsa World covering Wednesday night’s sermon by Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)*. The lead paragraph by reporter Bill Sherman:

“Racism in America is real. It is sin. And it will be tough to eradicate. “

On both the World’s webpage and our sharing of the article on Facebook, the article has prompted comments-section trolling, showing how deeply challenging any discussion on racism is and how deeply people’s beliefs and misconceptions are rooted.

What do you think of Watkins’ comments? Try not to troll. 🙂

Thanks,
Brad-signature

 

*CBP/Chalice Press is an autonomous general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Remind and Renew 2016: Rev. Dr. William Barber and Sharon Watkins

Tulsa World was on hand Wednesday night when Sharon Watkins spoke at the Remind and Renew 2016 conference. They captured this great moment between two of our beloved authors, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Sharon Watkins. So great to see this dynamic duo!

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Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.