Preachiness Never Changed Anybody's Mind

An excerpt from CT's Beautiful Orthdoxy Book of the Year.
Preachiness Never Changed Anybody's Mind

I once clicked off a television program I normally love, because it just became too preachy. This episode was about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. A cartoonish, stereotypical Religious Right activist insisting on abstinence education frustrated the task of educating persons about proper condom use. The storyline enabled a series of coarse jokes, sprinkled with ongoing messages that abstinence doesn’t work and hurts people, and that government officials need the courage to fight the ideologues.

I, of course, am a conservative evangelical Christian who believes, with the historic Christian church, that chastity until marriage is God’s design and is necessary for human flourishing. I also think many efforts at sex education—those built merely around disease and pregnancy prevention rather than human dignity—have hurt people and diminished civil society. I’m not afraid of hearing other viewpoints. I turned off the television not because I was outraged, but because I was bored. This program was presenting a viewpoint with the kind of smug assurance of rightness that simply caricatured the views I hold.

I’m not worried about televised comedies. I was provoked, though, to think about how often we, as the Body of Christ, do the same thing. We can caricature our detractors’ positions in the grossest terms, in order to help reassure us that our opponents are particularly stupid or wicked, and we can get “Amens” from our side. But that’s preachiness, not preaching, and there’s a difference.

Jesus’ preaching took clear stands, with sharp edges. But Jesus never turned the sword of the Spirit into a security blanket for the already convinced. With ...

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