The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Speaking with Knowledge and Faith
A month ago, I wrote, "When churches are silent on matters of importance, it is a crisis for the church and for our society."
I affirmed the churches that are speaking up -- whether about the mix of issues that had been named at the recent Women's March, or climate change, or other critical topics -- and I suggested three reasons why pastors and church leaders might avoid today's most pressing issues. The three that I named (a fear of conflict, theological uncertainty, and an other-worldly theology) are deep-seated and probably hard to address.
A good friend wrote to me with a fourth option for why churches might avoid complex issues. She not only names an important factor, but it also is one that is much easier to resolve. Cynthia said:
Here's another category of reason the pastor may be silent on important issues: no academic training in that topic, and therefore little confidence to speak on technical topics. Science, law, and economics, for example, are complex disciplines.
Indeed, it is not a good thing when people speak out on topics about which they know next to nothing -- whether the reckless voices come from pastors, pundits, politicians or our social media friends. Fortunately, there are some helpful ways for the church to lift up voices that are both faithful and informed.
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There was a time when a local church pastor might have been the most highly educated person in most congregations. As the only one with an advanced degree, the pastor had some authority as a public intellectual, a well-informed and careful generalist.
Now, that's rarely the case. I think of a friend who served a prominent church in Boulder, Colorado. He told me that he was careful about preaching on topics like climate change, because several of the nation's best-known climate scientists were members of his congregation, along with a crop of professors from the University of Colorado.
In most churches these days, there will be members with specialized knowledge that is far deeper than that of the minister, or the volunteer who teaches the adult class, or the passionate person who heads up the social action committee. That's even more true as the church tries to speak to the broader community, which is filled with highly trained experts. As Cynthia said, science, law and economics are complex disciplines, and we don't help our cause when we speak out on matters where we're not well informed. So what can we do? A few practical suggestions:
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When churches are silent on matters of importance, it is a crisis for the church and for our society. Some churches may be silent because pastors don't feel adequately informed. (Or because the pastors have been told that they don't know what they're talking about!)
Fortunately, there are many ways that churches can find their voice on these matters of importance. They can draw on the expertise that exists within the congregation. They can recognize their own areas of expertise in theology, ethics and pastoral care. They can find appropriate training to get up to speed on essential knowledge.
"I don't know enough" is a poor excuse for silence from churches. On today's critical issues, there are many ways to claim knowledge and authority. A faithful church will do the work needed to strengthen their moral voice.
If your church has been silent on matters of great moral importance, explore ways to develop the necessary knowledge so that you can speak boldly and well.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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