The recent comments of the Rt. Reverend Paul Kwong, archbishop of the Hong Kong Anglican Church have inflamed the news media. The comments came from one sermon he preached on the Occupy movement in Hong Kong. The movement seeks to bring more freedom of speech, democracy and equality to the Hong Kong society. This and other forms of civil disobedience have been at the center of the last few months. The summer, after all, is the marching season in Hong Kong where people publicly demonstrate their frustration over the intrusion and hegemony of the mainland Chinese government.
Some of the comments that had incensed the local people include a call to not voice out an opinion about democracy. Kwong is clearly frustrated with the question, “What does the church have to say about …?” His remarks were extensive about not participating in “illegal” activities especially of the civil disobedience nature. He further remarks that the silence of Jesus should become the example to all. I’m not going to address his exegetical fallacy or his theological errors or even his own integrity as bishop because many have already. What I want to discuss is our tactic in speaking about social issues on the pulpit. My simple advice is this. Put your exegesis first and social issues second.
Although in the Chinese circle I’m considered a fairly progressive homiletician, I’ll be the first to say that I’m still fundamentally quite traditional in my approach. My sermon presentation or exegetical method may be progressive, but my basis is quite traditional. No matter how we present the material, I advocate a strong expository element in the overall shape of the sermon.
My ultimate aim in this blog is not to disparage Kwong. He’s accountable for his own words and has been raked over the coals by the media already. I propose that we need to make sure that our aim of preaching a text should be governed by the text. We should not make the text fit our agenda, no matter how admirable or updated our agenda is. As preachers, we’re tempted to be relevant. When we give into the temptation of ONLY preaching relevance, our pulpit presentation becomes a spiritualized report of current event. This is why I advocate that we should only comment on current issues if our text clearly addresses them and our comment would be the best illustration of the issues from the text. I believe there’re many places in the Bible that can address such issues, but we must be so careful or our sermon time would be filled with such commentaries.
These days, many preachers are under the pressure to “say something … anything” about the current world situation. I think it is important to have something from the gospel that connects to the world. At the same time, we’re in grave danger of hijacking the gospel for our causes. I say this not only for Kwong but for both sides of the debate (between the Left and the Right). Our biblical basis should be quite strong when we preach out of the text, but our logic should also be quite connected to the text. When it comes to choosing between our admirable agenda or the text, we should always choose the text. Do we really know what the text is saying? Are we doing what the text is doing? These are the better questions to ask when we write up our sermons instead of “What does the church have to say about this or that?” At the end, it is not our intention that counts. It is our impact that gets us into hot water.