Thursday, March 29, 2007

what should a preacher preach?

On Sunday I preached a sermon. Nothing unusual about that. What was perhaps unusual was that it engaged with a public issue by asking a question: would Jesus smack children?

The sermon had the following sort of outline:
1. invitation to engage with a Biblical text: Luke 18:15-18.
2. question – would Jesus smack, followed by explanation for the question – that New Zealand is engaged in intense current debate about anti-smacking Bill
3. implication one – should Christians protest against this Bill (I gave 3 reasons why you might).
4. implication two – should Christians smack, and an exploration of some Bible verses often used to support smacking
6. some exploration of the question, would Jesus smack
7. some pastoral comments about the complexity of life and of parenting
8. pastoral prayer for parents (prayed by my partner, Lynne)
9. chance for talkback with me after the service if people wanted (about 10 people did and it was a good, robust discussion).

There is that old saying, religion and politics don’t mix. So why Steve, why on earth did I mix them on Sunday? These were factors I considered.

1. The whole discussion is so much in the New Zealand public mind. Christians are being asked for their opinion. Christians need to have an opinion. To not preach is making a statement – that the Bible has nothing to say about our current society. Equally, preaching on it might provide an example of how to think Christianly, and thus how to respond in conversation.
2. The topic of how to parent did fit in with the Biblical text and a baby dedication.
3. We have a privatised religious culture (a fruit of modernity). The longterm result of Descartes declaring that “I think therefore I am”, is a Christian faith that is offered expressed as individual and internal and intellectual. Yet the Jesus of the Bible seemed to me to make claims that were global and societal and practical. Surely the gospel needs to impact on all of life, including how we parent.

These were the reasons why I might preach. I also considered the reasons why I might not preach.

The dangers as I saw them there were
1. Pulpits can be misused as places to make dogmatic statements. I ran the risk of doing a bad job, of misusing a privileged, public platform and thus marginalising people.
2. Of exposing myself. It is far easier to keep quiet and stay safe.
3. That I would start a process whereby the energy of church might be distracted from our current community mission focus.

Three for, three against.

4 days later, still feeling drained after the stresses of preparation and prayer and anxiety, I am still pondering the wisdom of my decision. Was I plain dumb to mix religion and politics on Sunday?

Posted by steve at 02:35 PM


  1. In spite of all my earlier comments . . .


    There are dangers, as you enumerated. But the need to reintegrate our lives (post-Cogito) is enormously necessary! I cannot see what you did as being anything but necessary!!

    David Malouf

    Comment by David Malouf — March 29, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  2. Wow Hipene, I just finished reading your sermon on this issue and the comments that followed. Ya sure opened a big ‘ can a whoop ass ‘ on yourself and others, eh mate. Aotearoa sure has changed since I last lived there – legalized prostitution, state controlled ‘this and that’, economic diversity, unprecedented political game playing, and now this anti-smaking bill. I haven’t been back home since 1993, I’m from Christchurch(otautahi) by the way – from the Linwood/Bromley area ( the ‘dead ‘ centre of town cause of all the cemeteries there ) I think the NZ that I grew up in and left will be very different when I return for an eventual visit.

    I salute you on your efforts to address this issue ! It was brave, gracious, articulate and provocative- makes us all think. I think you went about it well and the conversation that it ignited was atleast entertaining ( a lot more than that actually). I think thats what sets me at ease the most, was your ‘poster’ in grappling/mixing some potentially explosive issues. Thanx for sticking your neck out and forcing us all to consider the mosaic of perspectives here.

    Kei te pai e hoa !!!

    … observing from afar – Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

    Naku noa na,


    Comment by Tangira — March 29, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  3. I was wondering how it went
    I would have liked to have heard of all of your sermon
    Personally I think Jesus would have smacked his children had He had them Himself
    I dont believe in people smacking my children I do believe in smacking my own children should the need arise
    I go back to Proverbs 23:13 and 14
    in other words we are instructed to correct your children

    Comment by jen — March 29, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  4. Jen, the whole sermon is actually up on the web, i posted it on Tuesday. at (if you really want to hear it, you can buy a tape from the church 🙂 )

    in the sermon I suggest that using proverbs to justify smacking is not the best way to use scripture; for a number of reasons.

    secondly, on what basis do we jump straight from “instruction” and “correcting children” to smacking? are there not many, many ways to correct children?


    Comment by — March 29, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

  5. Steve

    I think that it is a relevant topic, something that is culturally relevant. Something that Christians should at least engage at some level. You should be congratulated for tackling and issue (with humility and wisdom).

    I guess the question I would have it how your flock deals with conflict and skills they have that would allow difference not to drive them apart.

    As I am a watcher from a distance I don’t have to sit in the pew next to the guy/girl who mega disagrees with me on the issue. And I know I don’t cope with conflict/disagreement that well, even on the impersonal level, let alone face to face.

    Yet paradoxically the statement “friendship only starts after the first argument” is a truth. So when conflict arises we need to have in us humility, forgiveness and reconciliation, thus driving us closer than apart.

    So if at the end of the day your flock can say to one another “I think your nuts on this issue, but I love and affirm you anyway” then you are in a very good place. If the conflict drives people apart then this is not good. Maybe a sermon on “how to love your brother even though you think he is a idiot” may be helpful???

    This is sooo hard to do in practice! And I am not at all good at it – dealing with some issues in my life right now cause of my tendancy to withdraw and hide from conflict instead of pushing through and loving anyway.

    So good on you Steve for bringing this up, it has made me think about stuff and may parenting. Grappling with what scripture and Christ show about how I behave every day – not just Sunday – and that has to be a good thing. And I hope that your local team was challenged yet brought closer to Christ and each other through your talking.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    David Whyte

    Comment by david — March 29, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

  6. I think it is great when biblical scholars give us teaching on specific texts that are used politically and yet may not have the meaning that they are being used for. This sort of preaching is like unlocking a piece of artwork that you feel is unapproachable because you do not have the art history education to be able to interpret it. It is very enlightening for an uneducated biblical scholar! Another post I have found helpful on this topic is David Hayward on the blog. He has interviewed a biblical scholar about the literal interpretation about a christian’s right or duty to smack and has interesting points to make as well, which supports your teachings, Steve.,

    Comment by Jan — March 30, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  7. Steve, this was a good sermon.
    Some brief thoughts:
    Politics and religion don’t mix? If we were really honest we would admit that most of what we say as preachers has political ramifications of some sort.
    It’s not the responsibility of a pastor to give parenting advice? I would have thought, despite Sue Bradford’s thoughts to the contrary, that this whole issue is far more a pastoral issue than a political one.
    Why do so many Christians feel moved to march for the right to smack children? The three legimate reasons you suggested seem to me the most valid. Political control is superficial when the issues of parenting are so complex.
    I am still moved by Rufus Jones’s (early 20th Cent. Quaker) description of his mother’s only experience of corporal punishment: her father, a deeply spiritual Christian, flicked her on one occasion with the corner of his handkerchef. She was so mortified at his stern response to her behaviour that she determined never to displease him again. This anecdote causes me to consider the response that goodness, Kingdom saturated family life and the discipline of parental example may bring forth in our children if they are raised within the family-economy of the Trinity.

    God bless all parental-pastors of children,
    Andrew McDonald

    Comment by Andrew — April 1, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

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