A Public Pulpit for Public Issues

by
June 8, 2015

Ministry and mission opportunities have taken me to several “closed” countries, nations whose governments consistently silence Christianity. I have seen how routinely and brutally those in power attempt to intimidate Christians into silence. I have returned from each of those experiences with a greater appreciation of the democratic and representative republic in which I live, but also with a deeper resolve to exercise the rights and responsibilities of my citizenship.

Participation in our government is not merely a right, nor even a high privilege, but a sacred and inevitable responsibility for Christian—and especially, Baptist—citizens. My silence on the moral and social issues of the day is a desecration of every drop of blood shed by every American soldier who fought in defense of that right. If I cower now in the face of public pressure and popular sentiment, I betray bold Baptists before me who built the wall of separation between church and state that ensures the government cannot muzzle or mute my message.

I have the unique privilege to pastor in Kentucky’s capital. Consequently, my congregation is inherently political because the majority of them work for the state in some capacity. The Scripture has often led me to positions that are at odds with one or both political parties. I have had reporters show up at my house to ask my response to unflattering things a governor has said about me. And yes, I have had members whom I loved and cared for deeply leave our church over my position on one issue or another.

The consequences of truth should never become a factor in some complex calculation of whether or not we preach it. Nothing I ever preach will be more controversial or more objectionable than the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I am bold enough to preach that God created the world and made man in his own image, how could I possibly keep silent about abortion? If I dare proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way of salvation, how could I fear to preach the truth of his words, “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”

While I earnestly desire to preach the truth with grace, humility, and patience with those who are struggling or even rejecting it, my great desire is to preach in my church and to engage the public outside my church under the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit. Spirit anointed preaching avoids no subject, compromises no truth, and fears no reaction.

Under the authority of Scripture and the anointing of the Spirit, no preacher can keep silent as the culture around him rushes headlong toward hell. If we understand that sin causes misery and sorrow—and it does—and that sin cost the life of our Savior—and it did—how can we sit silently and fearfully when our culture attempts to normalize sin and stigmatize those who expose it? We must speak the truth in love, to be sure, but me must speak. No social, political or moral issue of the day should supplant or eclipse the gospel, but the gospel should inform every political and social issue.

Exodus chapter four records the familiar narrative of Moses at the burning bush, but it also relates the strange truth that God nearly killed Moses as he travelled back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery. God wanted Moses to fear Him so he would not fear Pharaoh. If we fear God—failing Him, disobeying Him, misrepresenting Him—we cannot fear man. If we spend time with Him and saturate ourselves with His Word, we will never fear to stand before the King and speak the truth.


Hershael York
Hershael York is the Victor and Louise Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.