Eight Tips to Preach Across the Divide


If your experience is like mine, you’ve never preached in a political and cultural climate as volatile and unpredictable as the one we face in the U.S. right now.

I’ve preached my share of social justice sermons, but they were issue-oriented. I've never needed to preach when an entire country was in foment, when families were separating over political views, when trust was so low to expect common courtesy.

Many of us wonder how to preach the unifying love of Christ when many are divided. How do we preach peace in the face of vitriol? How do we preach dignity when displays of disrespect are paraded as badges of honor?

If you're struggling to preach in ways that speak to people on both sides of the divide, consider these tips plus six more, which can be downloaded free right here.

1) Pray and read Scripture...without ceasing.

I've practiced contemplative prayer for years, but lately, I've had more trouble settling into the silence, into the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

All the more reason to renew or create habits of prayer and scripture reading. We need to remember that ultimately we have nothing to fear, nothing over which to be anxious (but see also Tip #7). We need to dwell not only in the words of so many messengers from God—"Do not be afraid!"—but also in the Wisdom, Compassion, and the Alpha and Omega of God.

How can you establish this discipline?

  • Set your clock.
  • Find a prayer group or friend to pray with.
  • Make your prayer time something you don't even have to think about.
  • Don't sacrifice it for anything other than the most dire of true needs, and then pray anyway.
  • Try something different, like walking meditation or mixed media art journaling so your mind is occupied while your body brings your heart into the stillness of God’s presence.
  • Do a word study or a study a theme like “Be not afraid,” or pray the psalms of lamentation or pleas for deliverance.
  • Find new friends in the saints and mystics who also went through trying times and spoke out.
  • Practice perpetual prayer, focused breathing, and/or mindfulness.
  • See a spiritual director regularly.
  • Go away on retreat, even if those are micro-retreats (e.g., one day per month) if an extended time away isn’t realistic.

2) Empathize: we all have something at stake.

We all have something at stake.

There’s something we need to "win" or something we fear to "lose" and things we hold dear that could be wrested away forever:

  • safety, an income, a language, a dream, a career, our family
  • our routines, the familiar, the rules of the road
  • our nation as we believe, value, and understand it
  • the way things have always been done
  • the relationships that would be affected were our minds to be changed.

It's imperative that we listen. That we hear. That we get insides the head and hearts of our congregations and of the nation.

None of us listens when we feel our views are discounted, devalued, or not heard.

Let your listeners know you see them.

  • Read or listen to news sources that make you squirm.
  • Take someone you know is on the "other side" out for coffee.
  • Imagine yourself as an immigrant, a politician, a business owner, someone with and without health insurance, a different race or gender.

How do you imagine they hear the rhetoric? How do you imagine they hear the Good News that God loves and forgives them completely...and equally?

I hope you’ll tell me what you've found helpful when preaching across the divide in the comments below.

P.S. I hope your summer reading includes my new book, Backstory Preaching: Integrating Life, Spirituality, and Craft (Liturgical Press, 2018)!