8 Things That You Should Be Talking About In Church

Why talking about “controversial” or “divisive” topics will make your church ever-more relevant for the days ahead

Photo: Karl Frederickson || Unsplash

If you are a churchgoer a lot of people have likely told you that you can’t mix sex and religion, or politics and religion. That’s complete rubbish.

Anyone that has told you to avoid these matters is probably trying to protect you from some painful church conflict that they’ve experienced: we’ve all heard about the church split over finances or some hot-button issue.

Or, they’ve just straight up bought into the belief that religion is private and never to be public.

But if you are trying to be part of a community that talks about God these days, then you must talk about the things that I believe are inextricably linked into what God is about. Which means, you’re gonna have to talk about controversial and potentially divisive things.

Why? Let’s even take the high-minded theological aspect out of it. We must talk about controversial and potentially divisive things in our faith communities because that’s what folks are actually wrestling with, staying up at night worrying about, or dreading when they read another discouraging headline in their newspaper or on Facebook.

These are the 8 controversial things we must talk about in church:

1. Sex

We must talk about human sexuality in our churches because it is inextricably bound up in how we are each wonderfully and fearfully made in the divine image. I believe that the struggle for marriage equality that has unfolded in our midst these past few years is actually not a threat to Biblically understood marriage, but a gift for the church to talk about what God-centered marriage looks like for ourselves and our neighborhoods and communities. You may disagree with my Biblical interpretation on this, but I guarantee you your fellow neighbors and friends are thinking about this and wondering what God might be up to.

2. Politics

We need to get beyond the divisive culture wars and actually dive into the issues at play in our politics. And not just during election years. Where is the Divine energy at play in that local housing ordinance? The problem with clean water in your kids school? What might ancient wisdom have to say about those things? And when it comes to The Donald or Hillary, or whomever in-between or beyond, we must wrestle with their policy platforms, the way they spend money, who they put in various positions of influence and power, etc. The Bible will not be very explicit on our politics — Romans 13 is more about how to live under Empire than in a democratic two-party system, so we’re going to have to be patient with one another as we discern the signs of the times.

3. Guns

In a country that has more guns than people, and an epidemic of mass shootings of biblical proportions, we have to talk about guns. If you can’t talk about guns in your church, you must ask yourself which altar you worship at. (Full disclosure: Obama hasn’t really come for your guns, but Jesus would!)

4. Money

Some people have a lot. Some people never seem to have enough. We live in an ever-increasing gulf between the rich and the poor. Look around your neighborhood — where I live in Portland, people are not only being priced out of the real estate market at staggering levels, many are forced to live in their cars or outside. What might God think about this? And debt. What about debt? From practical applications on how we use this gift we call money to the larger societal questions, we have to talk about money in church.

5. Race and Ethnicity

When was the last time your pastor preached on racism from the pulpit? Or immigration matters? When the Charleston shooting happened at Mother Emmanuel church, did your pastor call out the sin of white supremacy that still infects our country? Have you overheard someone say we should build a wall during your coffee hour or church potluck? Or say something about “those people?” We have a long way to go and now is the time to repent of our complicit racial biases and continue the work of such Christian saints as Martin Luther King, Fanny Lou Hamer and others.

6. Women

When was the last time a woman preached from your pulpit? Served as the president or chair of your church? 51% of the world are women, so if you are not talking about women’s issues in your local community, than you are ignoring more than half of the world. Violence against women, women’s health, the pay gap between women and men, why girls are tossed aside for boys in many societies — gender justice is not just about women’s rights, it’s about all of our flourishing. We have to do better with and for our moms, sisters, and spouses. Or we are completely irrelevant.

7. Islam

As children of Abraham, we have much more in common with our Islamic sisters and brothers than not. My Muslim friends help me be a better Christian because we share similar principles to love our neighbors as ourselves. And they believe in Jesus (albeit differently, but more similarly than you’d think). Actually, many of our Muslim neighbors do a better job of following Jesus than some of the folks you share a pew with. Read Eboo Patel and reach out to your local Muslim leaders for conversation and relationship building; hopefully it will lead to partnership.

8. Environment

Whether or not you believe that the earth is warming due to human complicity is beside the point. The Bible is clear that we are to care for the earth. The ecological crisis we have inherited from generations before us actually ties much of the above seven issues together. And it won’t be fixed by recycling or composting alone (although that’s a good start).

We must talk about these eight so-called controversial issues because they aren’t really issues at all — they’re about what it means to be fully human, better neighbors to one another, and responsible, faithful people in our world.

If you can’t talk about these things in your faith community, you should ask yourself and others “why?” We will not all fall on the same monolithic side on these matters, and that is not the point. The point is to discern with one another what would Jesus do and how might we be his hands, feet, and heartbeat while we live.

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… — Hebrews 10:24, 25

Did I miss anything? What other controversial issues do you think we should talk about in our faith communities? Please share below!

Adam Phillips is pastor of Christ Church: Portland (Ore.), a new open, active & inclusive community.

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