O. Wesley Allen Jr.
Chalice Press, 156 pages
Reviewed by Meredith Kemp-Pappan
Once upon a time, a reality TV star and real estate magnate crowed on television about how he planned to “make America great again,” even as he berated women, immigrants, the differently abled and non-Christians. Many Americans dismissed him. The odds seemed Donald Trump’s presidential run would end as an obscure footnote in history. But election night came, the results were tallied and the outcome was President Trump. Since November 9, we have lived in world where normal political mores and centuries of presidential tradition have been erased and obscured.
The divisive, caustic political climate that gave rise to Trump and radiates from the White House presents a homiletical and pastoral challenge to preachers across the United States. Even timid preachers who tend to shy away from pulpit politics can no longer ignore this astounding moment in history. If we preachers are called to “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth attests, how does one preach in the era of Trump?
O. Wesley Allen Jr.’s book, “Preaching in the Era of Trump,” offers preachers a survival guide for these strange political days. One senses that Allen penned this book out of his own need to re-claim the prophetic power of the pulpit. He is hardly the first homiletician to work out his frustration on the sermon page.
I was concerned this book would be nothing more than wistful naval-gazing, but Allen looks past the bruised egos of the political left and calls pastors and preachers to face directly the current political atmosphere. Allen writes:
“Our sermons need to invite conversation about difficult topics instead of trying to put the punctuation on the end of those conversations. We need to open up congregational space for honest conversations. We need to open up congregational space for honest conversation in the place of divisive debate in which someone wins and someone loses.”
Donald Trump provides the catalyst for this collection of provocative and convicting essays, but Allen’s book will be relevant for years to come as a manual for how to preach across sanctuary aisles. Regardless of who occupies the White House, Christians are called to speak boldly to those in power, to hold them accountable and implore them to rule justly and advocate for the poor and marginalized:
“This is a moment in which God is offering the church a chance to engage in God’s eschatological vision for the world. It is a chance for the church to cast aside its complacency and pick up the work of transforming the world instead of being conformed to it. … It is a chance for us to make the church great again.”
The church, always reforming, will be great again so long as it has leaders who are bold enough to lead honest reflection and conversation.
Meredith Kemp-Pappan is pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.