The preacher’s contribution to Charleston-like incidents

So, I’m up at 4AM.  I’ve read as much commentary on the Charleston massacre as I possibly could.  I’ve heard the politicians in power and those who want to be in power offer their conversation to this painful theme.  I’ve seen news footage, live and in print.  I’ve heard the mournful sounds emerging from congregations throughout the country.   I’ve seen us gather in circles, singing familiar but aged civil rights hymns and light candles.  We should do those things, for sure. But, I’m still deeply distrubed about something.  So, I”ll write it out and hope to get at the bottom of it.

In fact, I’ve been haunted with a possibility of my unsettling tonight.  There is a group of people who must take some accountability, large or small to the climate of racism in this country.  That group is “we.”  Preachers.

We’ve somehow defined successful ministry as that ministry which keeps a congregation happy, harmonious and euphoric; drunk off of the friendly personality of the pastor.  As a result, so many pastors have been hushed and silenced, largely by themselves, from preaching sermons that exposes the world’s tensions within the walls of our church.  If there is not a meeting of the world and the church within our sanctuaries, what good are we?

This kind of meeting or conversation is necessary.  It’s what happened when Nicodemus (probably a pretty good preacher) went to Jesus “by night” to inquire about his ministry.  This John 3 dialogue must still take place if not by night, at least by 11AM on Sunday mornings.

Preachers must expose, correct and treat the evil sickness of racism from the pulpit.  Congregants should be challenged on using the “n” word, complaining about people of color, and not being hospitable to those who come to our congregations.

What Mr. Roof did, what he believed, and how he viewed the world could very well be the result of unmet challenge to his thinking and perspectives.  Seeds of racism are often planted in tiny ways.  They soon grow and grow until it is out of control like grass in an abandoned back yard of a vacant house.  One day you look and it is out of control.

The preacher, white or black, can not be afraid to address racism from the pulpit.  In fact, don’t just address it, aggressively pull the sheets right off of it and in turn literally scare the hell out of racist spirits that lurk the hearts of all of us.  We can’t go along and act like it doesn’t exist because we have folks from different cultures among our Facebook friends.

It exists.  It hurts.  It stings.  It divides.  It kills.  It is destructive and God is not pleased.  How could God be pleased when a portion of God’s creation is allowed to attack without a prophetic word from the preacher.  I recognize that we are in a post civil rights age.  I recognize that today’s congregant is hyper focusing on how to overcome negativity from personal friendships, relationships, and co workers so that destiny can be achieved.  But, a scared church will never stand in today’s post modern climate if it doesn’t wake up to the racist systems that our born, cultivated and allowed to exist in the fellowship halls of our churches, during pastoral visitations, in worship maintenance and planning and lastly, and perhaps most sadly by the silence of the preacher.

I am forced to review my own Nicodemian ways.  I must reflect on my contribution to what happened on Wednesday night by being polite and courteous around the vicious cancer of racism as opposed to be prophetic and intentional.

I’m not suggesting that I will go out tomorrow and buy a  new dashiki, greet people with a closed fist, or engage in a feeble attempt to grow an Afro thick enough to hold a pick.  But, I will be correcting my tendency to go to Jesus by night, quietly and discreetly, hiding my deep belief in who he has called me to be around the issue of racism.

Poor Nicodemus.  Nicodemian ministry models are what keeps a racist society going.

Instead, let’s be bold, courageous and strong enough to homiletically kick racism in its big rear and demand its vacating our land.  Embrace the call to go to “Pharoah and the systems s/he creates and demand that God’s people be liberated.

Don’t just light a candle Sunday, don’t just form prayer vigils, and don’t just offer Hallmark moments without asking the question, “which one of these is your neighbor?” (Luke 10:36)

Yes, listeners will be uncomfortable.  They will say you aren’t a good preacher.  They will tell you stories on why they don’t like people of color.  They will tell you how they fought in the war.  They will tell you how cruel white people are.  They will recall burning crosses in their grandparent’s yard or even in the yard of the church.  I suppose it depends on which side of the tracks you pastor. But, call them to embrace the radical message of Christ, which is to be “born anew.”

This work is hard.  It is lonely.  It often renders you misunderstood.  But, we must abandon the definition that successful ministry is one where the congregants are happy, pleased, full and fat off of pastoral attention and submission.  Shake them UP!  Prepare them for that day in heaven when they have to praise God with people that resemble those they hate.  Call it for what it is.  Racism is sin.  It is offensive to God and it is a deep cancer that could deteriorate the status of our country, should God ever get fed up with our arrogance and give our title of world leaders to some other country.

We can no longer be Nicodemus, entirely.  We can no longer be in pain without saying a word about what we see.  It’s not good enough anymore. Today’s preacher must find a way to speak in love but with urgency that if we don’t turn from our ways God will not heal our land.  No longer can we run to Jesus at night, thinking we are pleasing him with whispered conversations while the world, the country and Charleston burns with racist flames.

Throughout our United Methodist connection, we are concluding annual conference season where persons are being ordained.  It’s always a time to remember our own marital vows to the church.  If you are United Methodist elder, the opening sentences of your public ministry begins with these words.  “Take thou authority, to preach the Word….”

May we be true to what we promised!


~ by bkevinsmalls on June 19, 2015.

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