Understanding the Price of a Free Pulpit

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

I appreciate the column on my sermon “Patriotism Is Not Enough” by Jason L. Steorts ’01-’03 (Column, “Preaching Politics,” Oct. 28). It is not often that a sermon of mine or anyone else’s rates a full response, critical or otherwise, in “Cambridge’s Only Breakfast Table Daily.” I am grateful. Clearly we disagree—not simply on political philosophy, but on the nature of a sermon and the responsibility of a preacher. When a sermon ventures beyond anodyne pieties that will offend no one, it is bound to raise the hackles of those who are disappointed to find that the sermon does not agree with them. It is the nature of preaching to present “not just the facts,” but opinions that strive to relate an understanding of the Gospel to an understanding of the world, indeed the world of politics, to which the preacher and the Gospel speak. Nowhere in this or any other sermon have I ever confused my “ministerial musings” with the Word of God. But the Gospel, as I see it, and politics, as I understand it, are ineluctably related to one another, as indeed Steorts allows in the cases of Bonhoeffer, Christian abolitionism and the relationship of religious conviction to tyranny.

In the case of Steorts, it appears that he does not disagree with my theology or my vocation as preacher, but only with my politics when they disagree with his. Somehow, he must understand that the price of a free pulpit is to hear things you would rather not hear, as well as to say things with which others will not agree. Steorts is free to take issue with my views, but to suggest that they are inappropriate because they differ with his own is in fact to miss the whole point of the sermon: religious people who take both their faith and their citizenship seriously live in a not-easily resolved tension where patriotism neither trumps faith nor is to be confused with it. The conversation out of that tension is what is required and is so profoundly lacking in this present crisis. It’s the duty of the clergy to speak to such things, unpopular as that may prove to be. And that is what I did; it is my job to do so.

Rev. Peter J. Gomes

Oct. 28, 2002


The writer is Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church.