“Hot Off the Press”: One Way to Organize Sensitive Discussions on World Topics

September 24, 2014

In earlier posts, found here and here, I shared a couple of methods for generating discussion on topics needing theological reflection. I used 4-MAT and Case Studies often in the Fuller Seminary classes I taught. Versions of both have been helpful in the church Sunday school context, but I fell upon a less formal approach that got excellent traction in the last church I served.

Years ago, I started an adult Sunday school class we called “Hot Off the Press.” The idea was to engage in discussion of world and national events from a faith perspective. My agenda was to model and teach “ordinary” Christians how to think, in a world that often values feelings more than rationality. Each week I brought a news story that begged for a Christian response. We read it together, and brainstormed the issues it raised. We then considered what God might say about the situation and what actions we might take in response. Among the many subjects we tackled, we talked about the Palestinian/Israeli question (which took more than one class session), human cloning, religion in political life, parenting issues, just war, and “What would Jesus drive?” (during a light news week).

My favorite discussion revolved around the case of a young boy attending a church nursery school, whose mother was a lap dancer or stripper at a local club. The 4-year-old boy was expelled from the school three weeks before classes ended in June, because his mother’s occupation was discovered by a church member browsing the web.

Did we have fun with that one!

Who was it that said, “Preach with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other”? This is what we tried to do, and the engagement of faith with real life stretched us. I was encouraged by the development of these folks, who over two years’ time revealed fewer unsubstantiated biases, asked better questions, turned to the Bible appropriately, and loved each other better.

Christian Scharen, pastor friend and facilitator of a Yale study group called Faith as a Way of Life, visited my HOTP class and made the following report:

Mary ministers to a diverse crowd including typical suburban families and longtime Concord residents, faith seekers and lifelong Presbyterians Her driving goal as a pastor is to learn how to ask the right questions to help people grow in faith and to align themselves with the life of Christ. One key way she has done this is through a long-term coaching effort that takes place during “Hot [O]ff the Press” . . . The Sunday I visited, the news article was about the street protests over treatment of immigrants in France. The article, from a local newspaper, presented multiple voices, including leaders in the immigrant communities and various French politicians and government officials. We first needed to sort out as best we could what facts could be known. Mary pushed hard to separate our opinion and bias such as “The French have a sense of nationalism rooted in racial purity” and discern the actual shape of the circumstance. The interaction of the twenty-five or so participants was lively and responsive to her prodding. They clearly knew the drill, policing each other as much as Mary did regarding the effort to sketch a factual basis for the discussion. Then Mary introduced several Scripture passages, including passages from Deuteronomy on treatment of the “alien” and Galatians 3:28 regarding oneness in Christ. Mary’s clarity about Scripture’s importance for considering the issue did not collapse into any direct policy recommendations; rather, it gave way to a vigorous conversation about the complexity of law, immigration, and issues California faces that are similar to the French case.

Practice thinking about faith in relation to immigration in France teaches that faith matters in all spheres of life. Such guided conversation . . . trains Christians how to see and act with eyes and legs of faith rather than be guided by the many other orienting forces in their lives.

—Christian Scharen, Faith as a Way of Life (2008, Eerdmans), 92-93. Used with permission of the author.

As we model for others what it looks like to be a World Christian, full of compassion within the realm of Christ’s grace and truth, we need to be equipped for discussion around sensitive topics. Perhaps one of the models I have shared here at Bringing the Word to Life spurs you on to some purposeful, constructive reflection upon world events. It might even help you and yours enter into some of the controversial subjects facing the Presbyterian tribe these days. We must not lose heart, lose feeling, or withdraw our interest from the news that swirls around us. Let us hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, and stay engaged long enough to gain a sense from Jesus our Redeemer of how we can be a redemptive presence.

For further information about implementing Hot Off the Press in your church family, please see “Hot Off the Press” under Pages in the right hand column of my home page.

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3 Responses to ““Hot Off the Press”: One Way to Organize Sensitive Discussions on World Topics”

  1. Jodie Says:

    When I was a kid living in Brazil, the Brazilian pastor of our church had a 3 minute sermon radio spot on the main radio station in the city of Sao Paulo. It was on at 7 am every morning, and it was exactly that: The newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. And he preached on something that was on that day’s front page of the Estado de Sao Paulo, Brazil’s own New York Times. Rev Jose Borges do Santos Jr. He was an amazing evangelist.

  2. emd5542 Says:

    Was it Karl Barth on Bible and newspaper?

    Now this is a blog I can wrap my brain around and take into my heart as well. God, we know, is in the midst of events and alongside us through them. We may take the ignorance route but it’s at our own peril.

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