I noticed a book while perusing the virtual Amazon shelf (no substitute for a real, musty-smelling local bookstore, but for a mom who just put her little one to bed, it’s nice). The book was Ten Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You: (But Can’t, Because He Needs the Job). I was almost sold, but, you know, with a title that sexist, I just couldn’t bring myself to click the shopping cart (Why didn’t the good people at St. Martins Press think about that?).
Yet, it’s an intriguing title, for the simple fact that it’s shamefully true. As church leaders, we keep our opinions to ourselves. I know I’ve held my tongue. When I graduated from seminary, I fell in love with this tiny church in Cajun Louisiana. South of Lafayette. In the swamps. So far south that the church balanced on stilts.
When I showed my seminary professors the beautiful church that I was going to, their brows furrowed with concern. One took me aside and warned me, “Carol, you can’t go there. You’re way too liberal. In two years, we’re going to be dredging you up from the bottom of a swamp.”
Gulp. I went anyways. After all, it was the place where my husband and I both had churches waiting for us. As a clergy couple, job placement for two is terribly difficult. And…what was it? The massive oaks? The melting cedar knees? The dripping Spanish moss? The foot-stomping music? The rich food? I can’t explain it, but magic hangs in the air there. People speak beautifully–I’ve never heard such idioms. I was called.
Of course, I spoke out when things like this happened. But there were so many things. Racial tension, ecological destruction. I was exhausted, so within my congregation, I found myself choosing my battles. In the community, there was so much antipathy over a collared woman that I ended up biting holes through my tongue. On good days, I consoled myself, assuring myself that I was being prudent. On the bad days, I was miserable.
I’m often told, from people on all points of the social spectrum, “You can’t write about that.” Or, “You can’t talk about that.” “Your book will never sell.” “You’ll offend half of your readers.” “You’ve got to build a broader audience.” “The Evangelical book market is too big. Don’t scare away the Evangelicals.” “Even progressives want to know that you can talk about these issues without talking about the issues.” “You’re going to end up on the cover of the Layman” (that’s our denomination’s fundy rag).
It’s been very interesting to hear the advice I’m getting from different writers, consultants, and opinion-makers. It’s all good guidance. I appreciate the warnings. It’s enlightening, too. Yet I wonder, is this why so very few people are saying important things? Do they all need the job that much?
But here’s the thing: I can write about what I want to. I can move in whatever direction the Spirit blows. I can talk about important issues all day long. You know why? It’s not because I’m particularly courageous, or brave, or even hard headed. I hate conflict as much as the next pastor.
I can say what I want to because of my church. They intentionally make the pulpit a space in which we can preach what God leads us to preach, without repercussion. We don’t have to tout the progressive party line either. The pulpit’s not a liberal propaganda machine.
We occasionally freak out the visitors, and I often hear, “I didn’t know you could talk about that in church.” But, for the most part, our congregation doesn’t want a screechy parrot in the pulpit, who only knows how to echo the opinions of others. They want to be challenged with something that keeps them thinking and debating.
And, I tell you, it’s an extremely invigorating place to be.