The Cross and the Sword Sermons

In the months before the 2004 presidential election, Pastor Greg Boyd responded to what he saw as mounting pressure to get political. He began by “[banning ] the distribution of political pamphlets and the announcement of political rallies, and refused to introduce political candidates from the pulpit” and eventually delivered a sermon series called “The Cross and the Sword” on this topic.1 This series distinguished the Kingdom of God from the kingdom of the earth, emphasizing how they operate completely differently: while the Kingdom of the World requires exercising power over others, the Kingdom of God is only about love. He told congregants that “as Christians we need to keep God’s kingdom as our priority and not get sucked into the political machinery and compromise that happens out there,” and used this to condemn the contemporary connection between Evangelical churches and the religions right.2

In his third sermon of the series entitled “Abortion: A Kingdom of God Approach,” Boyd uses abortion as an example of this. Boyd is pro-life;  he clarifies that in the Frequently Asked Questions page on his website saying, “I think abortion is a terrible evil. I am opposed to all violence against living creatures except when absolutely necessary, and I am opposed to all violence against humans even when it’s deemed ‘necessary.’”3 However, he is opposed to his church advocating against abortion. Individuals can vote how they choose, but he suggests that the church should focus on providing support for mothers regardless of their decision.

In the “Controversial Beliefs” page on the website, the church affirms this position, in all its complexities and potential contradictions.

“What should Christians do about abortion?

While not endorsing any particular political position or politician as a Church, we affirm on the basis of Scripture the preciousness of life in the womb. On this basis we commit ourselves to encouraging and assisting women to go through with their pregnancy, while also committing ourselves to graciously assist in the healing process of women who have chosen otherwise.”4


These sermons triggered an intense reaction: of the church’s 5000 members, 1000 left. This huge loss of income for the church meant they were forced to lay off staff members. Following this, Woodland Hills began to attract attention, escalating significantly when a New York Times reporter wrote an article on the sermons. The article ended up on the front page, and there was a massive response. Woodland Hills’ website crashed almost immediately as did their sermon archives, and communications pastor Charley Swanson describes how they “got something like 2000 emails in the space of 24 hours from people all over the planet who were saying essentially, I’ve had this feeling or I’ve had this thought or I’ve had this perspective for years now, but you put your finger on it, you named it; you have described a way that I’ve felt but I haven’t ever found a safe place to voice that perspective.”5


  1. Toni Randolph, “A Stand from the Pulpit,” MPR News, September 10, 2006.

  1. Charley Swanson, interviewed by Lillie Schneyer, May 19, 2016.

  1. “FAQ for Greg Boyd,” accessed June 3, 2016,

  1. “Controversial Issues,” accessed June 3, 2016,

  1. Charley Swanson, interviewed by Lillie Schneyer, May 19, 2016.