When it comes to addressing the issue of biblical sexuality from the pulpit, Protestant pastors are getting mixed messages from their congregations.
According to a Barna Group survey, 90 percent of Protestant pastors feel like a major part of their role is to help their congregants have biblical beliefs about specific social issues. But Sam Rohrer of the American Pastors Network delved a little deeper into the survey's results and points out that "… the numbers dropped dramatically from the standpoint of actually engaging on the issues that probably would be the leading issues in our culture."
For example, 44 percent of Christian clergy say they feel "limited" (because some in their congregation will take offense) in their ability to talk about homosexuality from the pulpit, while 37 percent is pressuring them to talk about it. On abortion, 18 percent feel pressure to keep quiet, 17 percent to speak. Twelve percent of pastors feel pressure both for and against preaching about politics or political parties. (See chart below)
"Most of [the issues] that were in that report … revolved around what God says about human sexuality: marriage, abortion, everything doing with life and/or human sexuality," Rohrer notes. "Those were the most difficult issues."
Then again, he adds, the church as a whole has never really been good at preaching about sexuality.
"I have heard very few sermons about what God says about human sexuality and marriage," he shares. "I don't think that it has been happening for a long time – and to some degree, I think that's the reason why our culture has gone the direction that it has gone so fast."
Rohrer notes that "back in the day" the culture defended traditional, if not biblical, sexuality when it came to such issues as premarital sex and a person's gender. "[And] as long as the culture was embracing of those things, the pulpit probably thought it didn't need to preach on them," he states.
But as Barna's editor in chief Roxanne Stone points out, today's "changing, pluralistic society" requires a new kind of thinking and approach for pastors:
"As challenging as it may be, faith leaders must work to cultivate humility, discernment and courage in the midst of a divided culture. This is likely to come with a steady dose of challenging those inside the church as much as those outside of it. Pastors must be committed for the long haul, educating and equipping their people to respond with love and conviction, in word and deed. This, after all, is the essence of discipleship."