A Time to Speak?
Guidelines for addressing hot-button issues
Pastoring today can feel like walking across a minefield. One false move, and something blows up. Many of the issues people are talking about today are complex, challenging and even volatile. Leaders who say the wrong thing, or stay silent when they should speak, run the risk of alienating people both inside and outside the church. A wrong move can create dissension, distractions and disruptions.
When should the Church speak? When should it be silent? How do we know what to say and when to say it? How do we stand for righteousness while also communicating love and grace? How do we speak with authority without creating a firestorm?
Recently, at First Assembly in North Little Rock, Arkansas, we assembled a working group to answer those questions. We included pastors, campus staff, support staff, students and senior adults.
The process led to healthy discussion among people of different ages, races, backgrounds and social positions. Together, we developed guidelines for navigating social and ethical issues wisely. We agreed that each situation calls for at least one of five responses: silence, prayer point, statement, conversation and action.
These seven questions help frame our discussion:
- What is the severity and longevity?
- Does it affect our people?
- Does it violate Scripture?
- What is our moral and ethical responsibility?
- Does our action or inaction affect our Christian witness?
- Is there a need?
- Do we have a word from God?
We then work through our guidelines to identify the most appropriate response.
We remain silent when one or more of the following is true:
- The issue is only political.
- An attack or issue is purely personal.
- It is a matter of personal preference or opinion.
- It is not scriptural or eternal.
- Speaking for/against it violates Scripture.
- It’s not the right time to speak or act.
- We are reacting emotionally rather than responding scripturally.
- We don’t have enough information.
- Speaking does more harm than good.
- Making a statement is hypocritical.
Regarding government involvement in health care, for instance, we have chosen silence. There are people in our church on both sides of the issue who appreciate the fact that we have not taken a public position on an issue that is largely political and extremely volatile. In the same way, we do not publicly endorse political candidates.
We pray about it corporately when one or more of the following is true:
- It involves death and/or suffering.
- Death, suffering and tragedy in the world at large have a deep emotional impact in our community.
- Public prayer will bring healing and hope to those the situation affects.
- We need to say something without making a positional statement.
- It moves the congregation forward.
- We are reframing the issue.
- There is not an immediate or clear course of action.
How do we speak with authority without creating a firestorm?
Sometimes, prayer is our only response, but prayer always accompanies our statements, conversations and actions. Regardless of personal opinions, public prayer for those hurting and in need is always appropriate. We have learned that most issues should be a prayer point in our church.
We may make a statement when one or more of the following is true:
- The issue is clearly against Scripture.
- The congregation needs direction.
- We are setting policy or establishing appropriate behavior for our congregation.
- The people affected are asking us to make a statement.
- People need to know where the church stands.
- We need to prepare people for action.
- Silence will send the wrong message.
- We can’t attend but want to demonstrate support.
- People are making statements on our behalf that don’t accurately reflect us.
- We are already winning on the issue.
With the #MeToo movement came a lot of questions about empowering women, and about women serving in positions of ministry leadership. We chose to make a strong statement, because the Assemblies of God strongly supports women in ministry. It was time to speak. Our actions supported our statement.
We initiate conversation when one or more of the following is true:
- Clarity and unity are needed.
- No one else is having a healthy conversation.
- Talking will heal a wound.
- A conversation sends a message to the disenfranchised.
- The conversation is already happening without our voice.
- Education/scriptural teaching is needed.
- Both sides have a valid point.
- The issue is not an emergency, but an ongoing, long-term issue.
- Options are available, but direction is not clear.
- Conversation gives a voice and perspective.
- The issue is negatively affecting the health of the church.
Our church is diverse. Blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics worship together. With the increase of racial tension in our country, we felt it was important to have an open conversation about race and prejudice. It was a powerful evening of listening to each other that underlined our core value: Every soul matters to God.
We take action when one or more of the following is true:
- We know if we don’t take action, no one else will.
- Scripture mandates action.
- Not taking action is sin.
- Action alleviates suffering.
- Negative consequences are imminent.
- Action aligns with our heart and ability.
- It’s our assignment.
- Action will affect the community around us in a positive way.
- Inaction hurts.
- Action will lead people to Christ.
On the issue of immigration, our questions and guidelines led us to action. We have opened a center to help immigrants deal with legal issues and obtain legal residency in the United States.
Our goal is to speak and act in a way that honors God, advances the Kingdom, and brings healing and hope to our community and world.This article appears in the November/December 2019 edition of Influence magazine.