While I was in Waco, TX I had the opportunity to regularly preach at my local church. The church we attended is very small and part of a district, meaning that our pastor had other churches and was not in attendance every week. I would give the sermon on the weeks he was away. Although I did not come to that church in 2010 with any thought of being involved in church life in that way, I admit now that it was of benefit to me personally (and hopefully to them) to formulate my thoughts and share and defend them within a church community. Now I think I am a pretty atypical Adventist (at least I wouldn’t describe myself as a conservative Adventist) and so from time to time I would say things that I knew most of the people in the audience did not support. Of all the things I ever said, only one thing caused someone to come and want to debate me after the service was over. In the course of a sermon one week (I don’t even remember the exact subject matter) I said that it was not an inherent sin to listen to rap music. I then talked about why listening to rap music can be a problem and why certain forms of it should be avoided, but I was clear that the issue isn’t the fact that it is rap music, but the particular song’s content that can make it problematic. But this isn’t a post about rap music. We may get into that at another time. What surprised me most was what some people said to me after the service when they came up to me to register their objection.
First, I was amazed that they had stopped listening. All they heard was, “It is not an inherent sin to listen to rap music.” They did not hear the paragraph afterwards where I explained why you should at the very least be very careful and mindful when listening to most rap music. But I was even more surprised when one man told me that raising the issue of rap music was wrong because it is a controversial subject. I was taken aback at the thought. Should we avoid subjects in the church simply because they are controversial?
If Christ is to be our example, I think the answer has to be a resounding no. There are just way too many examples in the gospels of Jesus wading into the treacherous waters of difficult issues. In Jesus’ life we see that he does not run from controversy. For example, the story is recounted in Matthew 22 of the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Christ by forcing him to comment on Roman control and oppression of the Jewish people. Jesus could’ve avoided this controversial issue by not commenting on it, or He could’ve exposed the Pharisees for their trickery. Instead He doesn’t run from the controversy, he addresses it and handles it in a way that “amazed” the people who attempted to trap Him.
Also in Jesus’ life we see that He does not always take the easy way out of a contentious issue. When the Pharisees bring to Jesus the woman caught in adultery in John 8, there was an easy answer at Jesus’ disposal. No one could fault Jesus if He told them to deal with her as the law required. If He had done so, Jesus could save Himself the trouble of avoiding the controversial nature of the situation presented to Him. By condemning her accusers and offering her the forgiveness that only He can give, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach by addressing the controversial subject.
Finally, Jesus also courted controversy Himself by making controversial statements. In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in law against her mother in law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” That seems like blatantly courting controversy to me. And I am still trying to figure out what Jesus was saying here.
The church has to be willing to face and answer controversies, questions, and problems. We can’t be afraid of them. This is important because, as I have stated recently, we live in a different world now. People want honesty and truthfulness from us. They want to see that we have reasons for why we do what we do. Gone are the days when we could say “the Bible says so,” and be believed, regardless of whether the Bible actually said anything of the sort. Moreover, it becomes more important for us to address the difficult, controversial issues, because every time we do, we’re explaining it to someone for the first time. Every time we don’t, someone is wondering why we won’t just answer the question. I wonder that sometimes myself, even when I know what the answer is. When that happens, it gives me the feeling that sometimes we don’t answer questions because we’re afraid of being proven wrong – and if that’s true, then we have a much bigger controversy on our hands than listening to rap music.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesite.Blogspot.com.