To preach against racism is “prophetic.”
It is prophetic in “seeing” the presence of such racism that may not be apparent to those of us who live in and benefit from white privilege.
It is prophetic in “naming” the issue and naming it as sin. It is prophetic in “talking” publicly about the matter. It is prophetic in “disturbing” the status quo.
It is prophetic in “offering an alternative biblical theological vision” of the way things can be. It is prophetic in offering the gospel resources of “repentance and grace” as transformative of individuals and structures.
All of the above I think is in accord with what William Willimon presents in his newest book, “”Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism.”
Yet interestingly, Willimon uses the language of “prophetic preaching” little. There are two reasons for this:
The first is that he thinks that such preaching should be done by pastors rather than wandering prophetic preachers.
For it is pastors, he argues, who have the context to build the sort of “ecclesial relationships” that allow such preaching as part of the life of a congregation to become transformative.
“Racism is best overcome in a community that is supportive of and dedicated to truthful preaching that encourages honest relationships and offers interpersonal help,” Willimon asserts.
Drawing on the example of African-American preaching (not least Martin Luther King Jr., as I discussed previously), Willimon is concerned that white pastors in white congregations will preach against racism in the honesty of their own complicity while learning from their African-American colleagues.
Following on from the above, for Willimon the second reason he stresses that pastors should preach against racism is because this is an issue that requires to be dealt with, not only at the national level through resolutions, but at the local and congregational level in word and action.
The failure to deal with the issue at a local level while making resolutions at the national level is a charge he appears to lay against his own tradition.
To be sure, Willimon is clear that such preaching by pastors will require courage because “prophetic” preaching can be disruptive.
Building a multicultural congregation can be challenging. It can cut against a pastoral desire simply to maintain peace at all costs.
It requires the development of a congregational context where preaching and talk about current issues is framed within the theological and discernment business of local churches.
Willimon writes, “Lesslie Newbigin taught us that the congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel. The preached word is validated in its embodiment. There is no substitute for the church – the living, breathing, taking-up-room bodies brought together by Christ, an in-your-face witness, a showcase for what God can do.”
Willimon’s ecclesiological concern as well as his specific concern to confront racism should resonate with aspects of Baptist ecclesiology and biblical aspirations to model in the “now” that which we read of in Scripture and anticipate in the Kingdom come.
Stuart Blythe is associate professor of the John Gladstone Chair in Preaching and Worship at Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.