How Writing an Op-ed Column is Similar to Preaching in Church

Posted on March 19, 2020


My experience is that you really haven’t preached a good sermon, or written a good column, if you don’t stir the pot, offend someone, and create some controversy, hopefully provoking thought as well as insults.

The goal is not however to irritate people, but the strength of any good sermon or column is expressing the truth. Now, I understand that in today’s world of “relative” truth—relative morality, relative ethics or pick any of your favorite categories that have become “relativized”—the truth can be a slippery rascal. What may be your “truth” may not be so with someone else.

So, here’s my second rule; always extract your truth from the “facts,” which are less susceptible to being interpreted or relativized.

My third rule is to offer a solution or solutions if you are being critical of something, like some institution, or some fashions in thinking and morality.

And my fourth rule is to lighten up occasionally and talk or write about something that will tickle the funny bone and give folks reading or hearing you a good laugh. Our world is lacking in good things, and one of them is a good sense of humor.

Now, if you indeed speak or write the truth, from the pulpit or through the Op-ed, then you are destined to make some people unhappy or angry. Let me take a “few examples.”

Few ministers today, for example, like to take on the issue of homosexuality in Christianity, largely because they will be assaulted by the pro-LGBTQ community if ministers preach what indeed Scripture says about homosexuality.

I’m not talking about the acceptance of gays in our world. I sound like some troglodyte when I say something like “some of my good friends over the years have been/are gay and I’ve got no problem with their preferences.” When, however, they call upon Christianity to accept their choices, we part ways. Many pastors and preachers won’t. They are afraid the consequences will jeopardize their popularity or acceptance by a growing percentage of the population.

In writing Op-ed columns, the third rail is politics. The third rail in the subways of NYC is the one that carries the electricity and touching it is tantamount to electrocution. If I express something like, “do you know historically how many socialist and/or communist countries have been successful and not degenerated into dictatorships,” I can guarantee negative feedback since my answer, as a student of history, will be “none.”

I will be accused of calumny, ignorance, sexism, racism, capitalism, imperialism, bunk and other labels meant to undermine my argument. That the facts speak for themselves however is absolutely true. Think Cuba, Venezuela Soviet Union, China, etc.  The air is filled with incredible ignorance about the communist world.

One leading candidate for President said not too long ago, well, Fidel Castro brought literacy to a largely illiterate public in Cuba. That can’t be too bad can it?

 The truth is the population of Cuba was 75-80% literate, the fourth most literate country in Latin America, when Fidel came to power. He didn’t bring literacy to Cuba. He brought communist indoctrination to the masses disguised as a “literacy” program.

How about immigration? How many people want to migrate to Russia (old Soviet Union), China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or the Ukraine just for starters? How many people want to come to this country?  How many have escaped these countries under communism, poverty, or despotism of any ideology? Five million Venezuelans today and counting.

Some people want open borders, let them all in, regardless of circumstances. We are the land of the free, of unlimited resources, jobs and social security for the world and we welcome all. If I write that we’ve never had open immigration since immigration became a national issue in the nineteenth century, and that old immigration laws defined who could, and who could not, enter the country based on the prevailing ethos of the times, I will be pilloried for sure. The old racist is at again, writing the truth.

Both ministers and Op-ed writers need to nail down their sermons and writings with the facts, and then interpret the facts to deliver the truth. As Pontius Pilate ended his interrogation of Jesus on the night before Jesus was crucified, Pilate, frustrated by the facts which were not pointing to Jesus having been guilty of any crime in the Roman empire to warrant execution, threw up his hands and exclaimed “what is truth?”

That’s one of the three or four major questions we all face as life moves us along. It is one that makes preaching and writing so demanding and so, sometimes, contentious, and even unpopular. But Christian ministers are not called to be popular or follow the prevailing morality. Know the truth and the truth shall set you free. That’s worth a bunch of sermons among my preacher friends.

Published as “These days truth can be a slippery rascal” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday March 8, 2020.