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Anti–racist preaching 
 

A reflection, by Wale Hudson-Roberts 


 
Anti–racist preaching remains an empty shell if not underpinned by a commitment to advocacy. We recall that God’s work of advocacy started with the commitment of God’s own self. Beginning with God, then, guarantees that we will not be tempted to rush towards over-simple, merely subjective interpretations of advocacy. If preachers begin by looking at God’s own historical commitment to advocacy, God’s active love for the world, they will continue to give priority to God, rather than merely human opinion which can often be informed by the preacher's conscious and unconscious biases. 
 
It is crucial that preachers learn to engage with socio-political issues, and move beyond the temptation to stay on safe, seemingly superior spiritual ground. This, after all, gets right to heart of the matter in those intercultural congregations that are desperately in need of liberation from thoroughly grounded oppressions. Based on their understanding of God, preachers are called to look at the world through a liberation lens. Beginning with God’s active commitment to advocacy, the preacher is called to continue God’s work of advocacy – even if this means a real struggle to find the right words. We owe this to our congregations if we are also to be true to our God.
 
To be an anti-racist preacher requires the preacher to firstly listen to God, both in scripture and through their understanding of the societies they live in. From the Exodus story onwards, the God of the Bible is repeatedly presented as Liberator. The God of Exodus is the God of the slaves, longing for their liberation from slavery. God’s clear hatred of political oppression, corruption and bloodshed are everywhere in the Law, the Prophets, and all the Hebrew writings. God consistently hears, listens, and responds to the cries of oppressed people and is evidently committed to their deliverance. Or as Kwak Pui-Lan, Professor in Christian Theology, puts it
 
Preaching on justice involves a desire to disengage from empire, to disrupt and reorient colonising discourse toward a more life-giving discourse. It recognises the world is not as it should be and begins to construct a new way of interpreting both the past and the present. To decolonise preaching is to imagine a human community shaped by discourse of love and freedom rather than dominance and captivity. Such preaching aims at the transformation of an unjust and oppressive world and contributing to creating a church saturated in justice and shalom but through the Word.
 
The preaching of Martin Luther King, possibly the best of all anti-racist preachers, is deeply rooted in his commitment to the God of Incarnation. King’s prophetic sermons demonstrate his own clear commitment for the oppressed and the cause of deconstructing every surviving manifestation of colonialism.

This was at the heart of his legendary ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Its message was thoroughly grounded in the promises of the Hebrew prophets. King had clearly ‘stood’ with Moses and shared his vision on Sinai, and he knew for himself the dream of Moses, imagining the land of promise in Deuteronomy 34. “I have been to the mountain top”, said King, and the experience of Moses came alive in an entirely new context.

King was very skilled at uncovering layer upon layer of contemporary significance in the way the God of Moses and the God of Isaiah spoke into his own world. King leant to become a ‘just preacher’ from the example of Jesus, the Jesus who listened to others, and because of his listening skills was able to speak truth by using prophetic parables. 
 
Anti-racist preaching also involves preaching truth to power. This emerges from the listening process. Anti-racist preachers should be in the business of truth telling, exposing the evil of racism, illuminating oppressive ideologies and theologies, encouraging their congregations to address the racism; often lurking beneath the pews; sometimes even assuming an overtly visible posture. Sam Sharpe, the enslaved Baptist deacon, did exactly this. 
 
The enslaved were not meant to read or write and they were certainly not encouraged to preach, but Sharpe was different. His master encouraged him to do both. Sharpe used this opportunity to read the New Testament. This introduced him to a God committed to the liberation of the entire human race regardless of creed or colour; a message he proclaimed throughout the plantations in Jamaica. The ensuing Baptist revolution, triggered primarily by his preaching, exposed the sin of racism, and paved the way for the abolition of the Slavery Abolition Act. 
 
For both Sharpe and King, the intersect between listening and public proclamation were important elements in the preaching drama. The latter informed by the former. For both anti–racist preachers, the lived experiences of the people they represented cajoled them to put their lives firmly on the line for the cause of racial justice. It’s no coincidence, Sharpe and King were eventually murdered by the empire they tormented with their words. 
 
There is a risk involved in anti–racist preaching; ‘white flight’ is one of the many. To preach about a Kingdom of God for all, not just for the privileged, is to speak a resounding ‘no’ to discourses that marginalise the othered. At its very best, anti-racist preaching should consist of a redemptive storyline; the story of God–with us is a story that breaks down all barriers built on prejudice and discrimination replacing racial injustice with racial justice. This is nothing less than a deeply theological drama that announces the world as it is, and as it should become. 
 

Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Justice Enabler of the Baptist Union of Great Britain

 

 



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