Beginning With God: Thoughts on Preaching and Anti-Racism

Who Lynched Earle?  Preaching to Confront Racism is to be published in late February.  I hope that my fellow preachers will receive encouragement to speak up and speak out on this, America’s “original sin.”

Preaching that confronts racism begins with God, focusing upon who God is and what God is up to in the world. A number of theological moves typically precede repentance in Jesus’s name:

  • We hear that God is in Christ, reconciling the world to God and people to one another,
  • that Christ welcomed and died for sinners, only sinners,
  • that in Christ we Gentiles have been graciously received into the promises of God to Israel,
  • that Christ, in his cross and resurrection, defeated sin and death,
  • that Christ is the sure sign that God has from all eternity elected to be God for us and has elected even sinners like us to be for God,
  • that there is a place where repentance is promised, rituals of repentance are offered, and regular, continuing metanoia is encouraged (i.e., church),
  • and that we are miraculously bound to one another in a new family, a holy people, God’s politics, (i.e., church).

Only then are we are free to tell the truth of our captivity: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom 3:23), and “There is no righteous person, not even one” (Rom 3:10).

Christians are free not to be happy with the status quo. In weeping and godly sorrow, we let go of our tight, defensive grip on the present and begin to dream a new future.

Martin Luther King, in writing to the good, white liberals of Birmingham, noted that early Christians gladly suffered for their beliefs and their witness disturbed people in power. Today the church is a flaccid voice, a defender of the establishment and preserver of the status quo. Sadly, the power structure of Birmingham is consoled rather than disturbed by the church.

In speaking up about race we show that we are taking the first steps to fulfilling Paul’s injunction: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature” (Rom 12:2).

Sin is rebellion, refusing to allow God to love us, walking away from God’s vocation, attempting to be gods unto ourselves, idolatrously trying to secure the significance of our lives on our own. Sin is theologically worse than bad behavior; it’s a stupid refusal to allow God to embrace us and to call us to God’s service.

If anyone is in Christ…new creation…. Old things have gone away,…new things have arrived!  All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation…. God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21)

Thanks be to God that we preachers don’t have to wait until a congregation asks for the gospel in order to preach the gospel! For millions of us, the major way we get a little help from our friends is called church.

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