THE MP for Stoke-on-Trent, Jonathan Gullis, recently complained that bishops were “using the pulpit to preach from”.
He was ridiculed; the church pulpit is built with only one purpose in mind – preaching!
His complaint joins those of other politicians who are pushing back against criticism of their words and actions.
Healthy democracy demands that our elected leaders be thoroughly investigated and critiqued, and such holding to account should be welcomed by politicians.
I imagine Gullis’ mistake is born from two distinct meanings of "preach". In Gullis’ understanding, "to preach" means to use your voice illegitimately, promoting your point of view for the benefit of yourself or those you side with.
If he were wanting to make that point whilst avoiding ridicule, Gullis should’ve accused the bishops of using the pulpit as their own personal soapbox.
But preaching, when done well, is the inverse of a personal soapbox.
A good preacher does not primarily use words to establish an ideology or defend their own territory but to allow perspectives from outside to speak insightfully and hold a community to account.
We are increasingly able to surround ourselves with voices that tell us only what we already know and won’t criticise us - the infamous "echo chamber".
But the health of our society and the ongoing pursuit of the common good depend upon us being open to new insight and critique of our attitudes and actions.
This should be happening in our churches’ preaching, as we listen to the voices of those who have gone before us; the ones who have tried to understand their lives, themselves, and their world truthfully and, from that starting point, have found ways to live well in the world.
Their experiences, perspectives, and priorities get drawn into conversation with us through Christian worship and preaching, critiquing our own experiences, perspectives, and priorities, and inviting us to be better.
We can also hear these other voices within the Bible – the collection of books and letters that ultimately point us to Jesus.
Christians sometimes refer to Jesus as "The Word" because of the uniquely accurate way He speaks to us from beyond our immediate experience.
His life and words can both comfort and challenge, inviting us out of the small world of our echo chamber and into life in its fulness.
His critique of our self-focused ways of approaching the world invite us to grow into greater curiosity and compassion.
Preaching, then, with its honest exploration of Jesus’ life and ours, could be a good in our world. Perhaps we need more, not less?
Crediton Congregational Church