Responding to Current Events

Responding to Current Events

After the US Capitol incident on January 6th, 2021, I had a pastor friend text me that a church member was disappointed he didn’t address it. And though I did address it that Sunday before my sermon, we had some that wished we had said more…even to publicly disavow President Trump’s actions. 

Wherever you might stand on some of the issues and however you might want your church to respond, it all raises the question of when (and what and how) a church should respond to current events.

I remember after the George Floyd murder in 2020 thinking that the next time something like this happens, I should just call the church to a day of fasting and prayer. But why? Why do that instead of preaching a sermon about it, or sending an email, or addressing it pre-sermon, or using that moment for my Pastoral Prayer in the service, or posting on social media? Or saying nothing?

The bible, of course, doesn’t give black and white answers to which events of our day we should address, or how we should address them…but we do have biblical principles we can consider. But first, consider a monk’s example…

A Monk’s Example

In the 1960’s, Thomas Merton, a catholic monk who had made a name for himself writing dozens of essays in response to specific cultural, political, and social issues, decided to stop responding to current events. He came out with his book, Faith and Violence, in 1967, and explained why: 

“I mistrust an obsession with declarations and pronouncements. While silence can constitute guilt and complicity, once one has taken a stand he is not necessarily obliged to come out with a new answer and a new solution to insoluble problems every third day.”

When I addressed the US Capitol incident prior to my sermon, I addressed it in the context of the social media fast our church was in, and how I was glad that I couldn’t dive deep into the social commentary so quickly, but instead was prompted to think deeply and pray eagerly before the face of God….seeking wisdom, understanding…trying to understand how I did feel, and how I should feel. 

Merton speaks to this as well where he “brings up his occupation as a monk, citing his commitment to the contemplative life. Part of why he won’t respond is because he can’t respond. He has committed himself to a life of silence, solitude, prayer, and meditation. In order to say ‘yes’ to contemplation he said ‘no’ to speaking right away.”

Merton says contemplation provides a lens that “others do not share, the viewpoint of one who is not directly engaged in the struggles and controversies of the world.”  

Or, to say it another way, when we step out of the chaos, and cultivate a non-anxious persona, we can step back into the chaos and bring peace.

The Mission of the Church

A huge biblical question the elders have considered that plays into any decision around responding to current events is: What is the mission of the church?

Of course the mission of the church isn’t primarily social justice…it isn’t only to be a prophetic voice…it’s not at all to be a political platform. But it is to gather Christians to worship the King, to learn his Word, and to disciple them to salty and lit lives in the midst of decay and darkness for the missional purpose of proclaiming the Good News of the King who died and rose again for the redemption of his Bride.

Trevin Wax says: “We should be careful not to let the world set the agenda for a worship service. Yes, we need to be aware of suffering and pain in the world. But worship should lift our eyes from the swirl of worldly worries to the King and kingdom that transcends the momentary cloud.Worship that lifts our eyes to Jesus is not escapist; it is a spiritual discipline that reorients us to God and his purposes. Choosing to not address a cultural concern should never be motivated by fear or cowardice (as was often the case in white churches in the civil-rights era). Neither should it be an excuse for inaction. Instead, keeping a transcendent view in worship should help empower long-term sustainable action in the world, because believers have had their hearts re-focused on what does not change.”

The Fight for Justice

There is no doubt (though there is debate) God’s heart for justice. What is wrong will be made right. What is broken will be restored. And he calls his people to live now in light of that future hope…as a witness and testimony to his consummated Kingdom. 

As well, there is no doubt that saying something is one way we fight for justice:

Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy. — Proverbs 31:9

“…Plead the widow’s cause.” — Isaiah 1:17 

In MLK’s famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he writes: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. [Many] have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows…So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch supporter of the status quo…Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

Sometimes silence is deafening. And sometimes our silence is motivated by a fearful passivity for the sake of butts and bucks…the hallmark of an impotent church unwilling to stir the pot (or offend the choir, so to speak). 

So when should we talk?

The Wisdom (or lack thereof) of the Christian

I’ve noticed over the last ten years of my ministry that there’s a growing pressure to speak up about everything…I didn’t feel that at all early on. And I think one of the biggest reasons is social media. 

Now everything is global…the world is smaller…issues that normally wouldn’t make the local news, lead the news because something went viral. 

Now everyone has a take…we have opinions…and we offer them up quickly, with certainty, and we wait for the likes and comments and DMs and retweets.

Plus, there’s a real fear of not saying anything…the fear of missing out, the fear of not getting your voice out there, the fear of being seen as someone who doesn’t care because you don’t throw your voice into the vitriol is real…but unfruitful and too easy.

Be slow to speak, the Scriptures instruct us (James 1:19). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:15–17).

The point, I think, is that we may not yet have anything to say. Why not talk to God before you say your piece?

Chris Nye wisely says, “We need more voices who speak out of silence rather than rage. We rarely become compassionate and wise instantaneously. It takes time. It takes prayer. It takes contemplation. By offering our opinions immediately, we can misdiagnose the issue. We are quick to believe we know why something is wrong. But the contemplative pastor sees a different view, a longer view.”

I think he’s right.

What if when the next big thing happens, we stay here…where God has us…quiet and learning…prayerful and humble. Then if we speak, we will have more wisdom in our take, our speech seasoned with salt, and we’ll actually be able to lead people into something faithful and fruitful, not chaotic and crazy. 


So as elders, we may preach a sermon, we might send an email, we might pray corporately, I might post something on social media…there is wisdom in speaking prophetically at times, wisdom in speaking up to shepherd and instruct the church, showing our people how the bible speaks into a relevant issue, and there is a biblical command to fight for justice — sometimes with words. But we won’t be tempted and pulled into every political controversy, viral news, or hot topic…at least not quickly, and not without Wisdom as our guide.

So flee youthful passions…Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth… — 2 Timothy 2:22–25

For His Fame,
Pastor Jim Essian