Friday, August 8, 2014

Anti-Racism Preaching

The Liturgy issue published this year in April dealt with "Liturgy, Culture, and Race." These are big matters, and the entire issue is worth reading. However, for preachers, Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne's essay on preaching to undermine racism is particularly practical and helpful. Here are excerpts:  

To Know Thyself . . . means that a part of this journey involves a recognition that race is a construction embedded within U.S. society. The preacher, then, needs to discover his place within that system. Because everyone who lives in the United States is immersed in systemic racism, preachers need to be truthful with themselves. A high degree of honesty is integral to preaching because every sermon espouses a particular worldview whether the preacher acknowledges it or not. The degree of honest engagement by the preacher will be evident to the congregation and will go a long way toward building trust with the congregation as they observe the preacher as one who also struggles with the consequences of systemic racism. The benefits of getting to Know Thyself in terms of one's social location include not only increased personal knowledge and increased trust within the congregation but also the beginning of a self-hermeneutic that allows preachers to critically consider their worldview, how it influences their scriptural interpretation, and how they will convey that knowledge to their congregations.

[T]he antiracist preacher will want to remember the words of Audre Lorde when she points out, “Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more, to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity.” [Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Berkeley, CA: Crossings Press, 2007), 132.] This is why it is necessary to keep power relations in mind. Eric Law describes the pedagogy of the powerless and the pedagogy of the powerful and emphasizes the need for structures that ensure that both the powerless and the powerful are able to speak in groups. [Eric H. F. Law, The Word at the Crossings (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), 119–20.] A pedagogy of the powerless enables those who are marginalized to always speak first, have their opinions considered first, and be supported in their speech so as to empower their liberation. At the same time, a pedagogy of the powerful engages the powerful in a way that avoids hopelessness and counterproductive acting out by challenging them to let go of their power, to engage in waiting and listening, and to encourage them to speak after all other voices have been heard. The goal is always that groups move beyond superficial multicultural sharing sessions and to move into deeper relationships that provides support against the pressures to stop the work of antiracism that will inevitably come.
The pressure and fatigue of antiracism work presents a strong argument for the antiracist preacher to be attentive to rhetorical strategies. One of the rhetorical strategies already alluded to is the importance of attending to the relationship between the preacher and the congregation. The building of trust is essential. But the passion with which a preacher presents sermons is also important. Nurturing emotional connections with one's congregation increases the preacher's ability to hear and respond. [See, as an example, Mary Alice Mulligan and Ronald J. Allen, Make the Word Come Alive (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2005), 114.] A preacher who can convey narrative tension along with the fine details of good storytelling will be far more convincing than one who makes a didactic argument.  

Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne, “Antiracist Preaching: Homiletical Strategies for Undermining Racism in Worship,” in Liturgy 29, no. 3 (15 Apr 2014): 11-20.

Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne is the Lead Pastor of Ridge Avenue United Methodist Church, Roxborough, Penn.; UMC Chapel Coordinator at Palmer Theological Seminary, King of Prussia, Penn.; and Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Theology at Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, Penn.

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