Presidents, Preachers, Passion, and Public Speaking

By Mark A. Taylor

Tiondra Bolden spoke enthusiastically. She was supporting her candidate, she said, because he doesn’t use “all those . . . dictionary-type words.”

According to the radio news feature, this 21-year-old student at the University of North Texas in Austin is typical. Many on campuses like hers are flocking to support the same candidate in this year’s presidential race.

“Before it was, like, insurgents this and that, and we were just like, huh?” she said. “Now it’s, like, wait a minute, I can actually think about what I’m doing when I go to the polls and I vote for someone. I know what they stand for, and it makes it more relatable to me.”

Whether this young person is actually thinking about her candidate seems debatable to me. Like many who plan to vote for him, she seems more swept away by his charisma and rhetoric than his positions. (Sorry to use dictionary-type words there. Translation: She likes his looks and his talk more than she knows what he stands for.) Alas, we may be in for another presidential campaign that hinges on style more than substance.

But if this young adult is truly typical of any portion of her peers, there are bigger issues to consider than who wins the next election. I clicked off my radio and wondered whether she goes to church. Research shows that growing numbers of her generation don’t. How will the church make the beauty of the gospel “relatable” to her and her friends?

For starters, preachers might note all the debate this year about a candidate’s public-speaking ability. It’s remarkable to see a speaker move a crowd just with the cadence of his sentences and the impact of his presence. No PowerPoint, movie clips, or skits here. Just carefully prepared, powerfully presented talk.

But to last for the long haul—to contribute something not only for now, but also for history—there must be a fresh idea or an important thought in those well-crafted phrases. The speeches of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, are as moving to read as they were to hear.

Whether I need a dictionary to understand some of their words is beside the point. They were pressed by their passion more than their desire to project a certain image.

We need the same in a president. And even more in a preacher.

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