Published by Church Publishing on July 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Racial Reconciliation
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Preaching Black Lives (Matter) is an anthology that asks, “What does it mean to be church where Black lives matter?”
Prophetic imagination would have us see a future in which all Christians would be free of the soul-warping belief and practice of racism. This collection of reflections is an incisive look into that future today. It explains why preaching about race is important in the elimination of racism in the church and society, and how preaching has the ability to transform hearts. While programs, protests, conferences, and laws are all important and necessary, less frequently discussed is the role of the church, specifically the Anglican Church and Episcopal Church, in ending systems of injustice. The ability to preach from the pulpit is mandatory for every person, clergy or lay, regardless of race, who has the responsibility to spread the gospel.
Gayle Fisher-Stewart begins her introduction to Preaching Black Lives (Matter) with the not-so-simple question of “What is it to be Black and Christian; to be Black and Episcopalian; to be Black and a member of a White denomination?” Answers to those questions get worked on in the rest of the book in essays and sermons written by nearly fifty church leaders. I was interested in this book because, as a White pastor, I knew it would give a perspective that impossible for me to get through experience. I appreciated that the book contains the writings of number of leaders. Fisher-Stewart does a magnificent job shaping each individual author’s contribution without losing their distinctly individual voice.
Part one focuses on the act of preaching, giving several examples of sermons that deal various aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, many of which frame the prophets as activists and resistance fighters against an oppressive regime. Of these, Wilda Gafney’s Strategies of Resistance stood out most of all, using the book of Daniel to call Christians to resist the influence of the empire. Listen to this:
“The empire covets good religion. It knows if it gets a toehold in pulpits and pews, seminaries and sanctuaries, books and blogs, texts and tweets, it can sanctify its hierarchies and disparities as the word and will of God.”
Specifically for myself, Peter Jarrett-Schell’s Listening for Black Lives: A Sermon to Myself and My White Colleagues was especially poignant. As a white person, I’ve struggled with how to use my voice. As a white pastor, I’ve struggled with how to use my platform. Jarrett-Schell’s sermon show me that I’m not alone in that uncomfortable tension and, from his experiences, leads white pastors into navigating within and becoming more comfortable with that tension—learning to listen, learning to advocate, learning to use our platforms to broadcast voices into spaces they might not otherwise be heard.
The second part of the book moves from preaching to advocacy. This is where a good portion of the book is spent, subtly proclaiming the need for preaching to be done in action and not just in word. A good many of the selections here come from Black clergy in predominantly White denominations—mainly Episcopalian—that seek to understand how churches can pursue justice and equality. There are a number of passages that stand out here, each of them with their own nuances, too many to engage with in this review. Many are deeply personal. They aren’t written as self-help or instructive or even necessarily practical, but as introspective, reflective works. You really get a feel for the life stories of those who are writing and their personal journeys—what you do what that is then up to you.
Part three then moves to teaching. Teaching, in many ways, in the intersection of preaching and advocacy. A large portion of this section is a series of personal reflections of pastors who went on a retreat to Selma and Birmingham to visit EJI’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. There’s a big focus on remembrance, on feeling a connection to the past—reflecting on where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.
Preaching Black Lives (Matter) is a necessary addition to your pastoral library. Deeply personal, deeply reflective, and transformational, Preaching Black Lives (Matter) models a way of preaching, pastoring, and living that longs for justice and does not back down from calling out the empire.