Reading More Barth Together: Session II

In our second session of the Reading More Barth Together webinars this week. We looked at “The Humanity of God,” the titular essay and answered some of your questions. You can watch it here on my YouTube channel.

We’ll be back for the last episode in this series on July 28 at 10AM EST on Zoom to consider Barth’s ethics in nuce in the last essay of the book, “The Gift of Freedom.”

A Unique Time of God

While I was itching for things to do during Coronatide, I wrote this essay for Plough, thinking about what Karl Barth might have to say these days. It begins:

Serving my first parish in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (where Vanna White was in my church youth group, but that’s another story), I read Barbara W. Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (Random House, 1978). It only took four decades before that book became relevant for my ministry. Tuchman follows a medieval family through an age when the European world fell apart. One chapter says it all: “‘This Is the End of the World’: The Black Death.” Plague changed the course of history, leading medieval Europe to widespread, agonizing self-examination, dramatic penitence, and some major mistakes. Entire cities wiped off the map, a generation lost, economies destroyed, bloody Crusades. What have we done to make God curse us? The world as we know it is ending.

As we shut our doors and isolated, praying that Covid-19, angel of death, would pass over, I thought of A Distant Mirror. I heard lots of blaming, denying, and a modicum of recognition that deep American inequalities have been exposed, all made easier to swallow by saccharine, syrupy sentimentality: “We are all in this together,” and “Our social isolation is a time to reflect, and to focus upon the love of our families.”

Contemplative isolation is easier if you can afford it. Only twenty percent of African Americans have jobs that enable work from home. The person who gazes at me from behind the glass at the supermarket would give anything not to be forced to be serving me. Though I’m asymptomatic, I could still be her executioner. Not much togetherness in that.

Unlike the fourteenth century, I’m hearing little self-examination, and no penitence. The president is not the only one who refuses to apologize. We’re not medieval, after all. Victims, not perpetrators. The evening news is a litany of death and disappointment, political clowns in high places, bureaucratic screw-ups, all set right with a concluding sappy sermonette about a little girl who gave a thank-you note to the nice lady who delivers Grubhub. Put a teddy bear in the window. Show that you love me by keeping your distance. Text somebody who’s trapped in a nursing home; you’ll feel better for it.

That’s the best that the evening news has to offer. Can the church say better?


You can read the rest of it here at their website.

-Will

Hoping for Resurrection

I’ll be preaching in the National Cathedral service on Sunday, July 12 at 11:15am EST which will be streamed on their YouTube Channel and posted here afterwards. This will be my fourth sermon from the Cathedral pulpit. I follow my former student William Barber who preached there four Sundays ago. You’ll hear me begin my sermon, “Greetings from Goodson Chapel of Duke Divinity School,” as that very familiar pulpit was where I recorded.

Preaching the assigned epistle Romans 8:1-11, I relate the double pandemic of COVID-`19 and white racial violence that we are currently living in to the Christian hope of resurrection.

I’ve included below my prior sermons at the Cathedral. For other videos of my prior preaching, check out the Preaching tab on the site.

-Will

Transcript for December 9, 2007 Sermon

Transcript for Christ the King, November 23, 2003 Sermon

Reading More Barth Together

Having closed out the Reading Barth Together series with Stanley on Karl Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, all five sessions are posted on my YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure. Since those went so well, Stanley and I have decided that we’ll be Reading More Barth Together, starting July 14th.

In 1960, the American church got its first look at three of Karl Barth’s extraordinary essays in The Humanity of God.  The essays challenged many theologians’ prejudices about Barth’s thought and raised questions for Christian theology with which we wrestle today. We’ll do three conversations about Karl Barth and what his theology means for the church today based on The Humanity of God. Stanley and I will talk about the day’s essay for the first 40-50 minutes and then field questions for the remainder of the time.

Join us live 10-11am EST on the last three Tuesdays in July.

The webinars will be free and first-come, first-served for the first 500 participants. Participants will be able to submit questions throughout, and Stanley and I will respond to y’all’s favorites. Each session will be recorded and posted afterwards on my YouTube channel.

Our schedule will be:

July 14: Evangelical Theology in the 19th Century
July 21: The Humanity of God
July 28: The Gift of Freedom

Hope you can join us. The book is currently on sale from WJK and also available from Amazon.

This is the Zoom link:

https://duke.zoom.us/j/97672236970

Webinar ID: 976 7223 6970

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Evangelical Reckoning?

No one expected Jerry Falwell, Jr., or Franklin Graham to do anything other than support Trump; it’s fully in line with their right-wing politics.  More discouraging and greatly damaging is that evangelicals like Eric Metaxas, Ralph Reed, Albert Mohler, and Robert Jeffress stepped so eagerly in line behind a man who, before he realized that he could manipulate evangelicals to his advantage, had no interest in the Christian faith.  Mohler, Metaxas, and Reed have mounted some creative (but unbiblical) justifications for Trump’s serial adultery, lying, malfeasance, racism, and fear-mongering.  Trump can commit no sin for which his evangelical supporters cannot find some sympathy and justification.  Too few evangelical leaders have had the courage of Russell Moore, Michael Gerson and Max Lucado to speak up and speak out.

Fortunately, there are some evangelical leaders who are so courageous, and so biblically well-formed, that they are attempting to correct the damage done by less-faithful evangelicals.  Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing will appear this fall from IVP Academic.  Edited by Christian scholars Todd C. Ream, Jerry A. Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers, with a foreword by George M. Marsden, the book (as I read it) is a call for Christian intellectuals to speak up and speak out for the common good (rather than merely follow the dictates of the Republican Party).  Now, more than ever, Christians ought to show the world that we have a witness that has nothing to do with the incompetence and multiple deceits of Donald Trump.  

In a more pointed way, Ron Sider has worked with some of this nation’s most thoughtful and faithful evangelical pastors to produce a fast-paced, tell-it-like-it-is book that exposes the apostasy of Trumpism among, of all people, Evangelical Christians: The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice and Truth and Moral Integrity.  (For a 50% discount, use the coupon DANGER50.)  Sider writes, “Both by his words and his policies, Donald Trump contradicts and violates many of the biblical principles and concrete applications” of evangelicalism.  “In spite of that, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and the vast majority still support him. And with a few notable exceptions, the white evangelical leaders of the evangelical center still remain largely silent.”

I’m sure that Trumpism will bring well-deserved damage to the Republican Party.  More importantly, the pastors and theologians of The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump are concerned that Trump and his Christian allies could be the end of the road for American evangelicalism as a movement.  Now that members of Trump’s own party are falling away from him, for the sake of the future of Evangelicalism, and perhaps even the Christian witness in America, shouldn’t evangelicals prayerfully consider how their uncritical, unbiblical support for this man should come to an end?

After Trump and his sycophants are gone, the American church will be pondering how those who bore the name “evangelical” succumbed to the demagogic, racist rhetoric of the most pagan president in modern history.  Fortunately, the honest, courageous reflection has begun and, by the grace of God, the spiritual damage of Trumpism shall be healed.

-Will

Preaching Grace for an Anti-racist Church

I take now a break from reprinting tidbits from the blog’s WLWE?:PTCR archives to alert you to something UM Discipleship published of mine yesterday. It begins,

“Two Sundays after the murder of George Floyd. Again, no mention of BLM, George, Ahmaud, or race from our pulpit,”she said. “I’m heartbroken. If the Christian faith has nothing to say at a time like this, makes me wonder if it’s got anything to say about anything.”

That was what an active United Methodist layperson said to me last week. If we white preachers sit on the sidelines during the current national debate over white supremacist systems of violence against people of color, if we allow our congregations to miss out on the saving dimensions of Christ’s work, we are in danger of impugning and sidelining the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A watchword of racial justice activists is, “If you see something, say something.” The present moment is an opportunity for us white preachers to speak up and to speak out about racism, America’s original sin.

For the rest, see the article here. For more from me on this, read my Who Lynched Willie Earle?: Preaching to Confront Racism.

-Will


Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism

Purchase from Abingdon Press

Effective 21st century preaching demands a more perceptive understanding of both race and Christian faith.

How do pastors of white, mainline Protestant churches preach effectively in situations of racial violence and dis-ease? Even though you long to address contemporary social crises, how do you know where to begin when it’s simply not possible to relate to black pain? Who Lynched Willie Earle? uses the true story of pastor Hawley Lynn’s 1947 sermon, a response to the last lynching in Greenville, South Carolina, to help pastors preach on race and violence in America, inviting and challenging the church to respond.


Racial Repentance

Back in in 2017, after Who Lynched Earle?  Preaching to Confront Racism was published, we had a wonderful day at Wofford College focused upon the issues of the book with many clergy, students, and scholar gathered there to explore the subjects of our racist past and our responsibilities for race and bias in the church today and tomorrow.

I see this book as my modest contribution to the church’s conversation about race in America. Even though such a conversation makes many white Christians nervous, it’s my contention that Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us the means to have this challenging but essential conversation. What follows is another excerpt from the book (p. 72ff).

Jim Wallis says that white Christians engaging in acts of honest confession and self-sacrificial repentance is “a prerequisite for white Americans to get our own souls back.”   Wallis advises,

We must look more deeply into our inner selves, which is a practice people of faith and moral conscience are rightly expected to do. And we must go deeper than the individually overt forms of racism to the more covert forms, especially in our institutions and culture…. Awareness of our biases, personal introspection, empathy, and retraining our ways of thinking are all difficult, but they are necessary. . . . Whether we or our families or our ancestors had anything to do with the racial sins of America’s establishment, all white people have benefited from them…. You can never escape white privilege in America if you are white.

To benefit from oppression is to be responsible for changing it…. I am asking…my fellow white Christians to engage the true meaning of sin and repentance.

My church typically begins Sunday worship with a corporate prayer of confession. In a society of racial denial, blaming, and falsehood, rituals that enable repentance are great gifts that the church offers. When so many white Americans adamantly maintain our innocence, our guiltlessness, it’s a remarkable witness to be in a community where sin is admitted, confessed, and given to God. Christians are not free to accept our sin as “the way things are,” or “just the way I was put together.” If the truth about race is ever told in a predominately white American church and received by that congregation as God’s address to them, it’s a miracle, a public testimony to the world that Christ miraculously is able to produce people who look and act like his disciples.

Two weeks after the shooting of Walter Scott (and a month before the shootings at Mother Emanuel), preachers Wendy Hudson-Jacoby and Megan Gray presented a dialogue sermon at a Charleston prayer service in which they called people to repent:

Wendy: The day after the video of the Walter Scott shooting was released, one of my members, who is white and a retired teacher, called me, distressed. “I never understood it before now,” she said. “I always assumed that if a person was arrested or detained or shot that they must have brought it on themselves. But now, now I know that I was wrong. I always told my students that if you are doing what you are supposed to do in the place you are supposed to be, you can’t get in trouble. But now, I see that I have been wrong.”

As members of the white community in North Charleston, we come today to ask for forgiveness and to repent for the sin of white privilege and institutional racism. The sin of being wrong. This is an evening of prayer. But before we can get to prayer, before praise and petition, we must confess. We just say “Jesus, Jesus, we were wrong.”

Our privilege has made us participants in the sin of institutional racism. We live it in our churches, where our pastors of color are paid less than their white counterparts, serving churches of equal size. We support it in our juvenile detention facilities, where here in the North Charleston 47 percent of the population is African American, 86 percent of juvenile arrests are of African Americans.

We support it in our school system when we turn an apathetic back to the achievement gap among students. We were wrong.

Megan: But today, today we come to acknowledge our sin. To repent of our hard hearts and our closed ears. To ask God to forgive us. To turn us around from a path of isolation, judgment and willful ignorance and place us on the path to the beloved community, to deep and meaningful relationship with our brothers and sisters.

We not only seek the forgiveness of God, freely offered through Jesus Christ, but we will put hands and feet to the work of our repentance. We were wrong. But today, in the eyes of God and this community, we come seeking a new way.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove speaks of the “double miracle of the Black church in America”:

The first miracle is that a people torn from their homes and brutally enslaved in a land not their own would learn the gospel from their white oppressors and hear it as good news. But the second miracle is even more profound: that after centuries of oppression and disenfranchisement at the hands of white folks, Black Christians would pray for us, love us, and invite us to come and learn from them what it means to plead the blood of Jesus. There are some things that nobody but God can do.