The Privilege of the Pulpit or a Privileged Pulpit
I was recently at a church conference where the main focus was on dismantling racial injustice and white supremacy. As one who has attended many meaningful and important conversations I do not always expect to be pushed the the limits of my understandings and or willingness to engage. Over and over again, I was pushed to delve deeper and deeper into the chaos and struggle that is race, politics, theology, and the response of the church.
While there were many moments that are still rolling around in my head, one of the most important ones came from Dr. Anthea Butler, when she challenged this predominantly white audience with the words, "If you have been sitting in a church for the past two years that has not mentioned Black Lives Matter, why are you still sitting there?"
I have for a long time tried to stay conscious of my own places of privilege and blind spots when it comes to race, gender, politics, etc. but in this one question, I was again challenged to remember that for so/too many churches --liberal to conservative-- we avoid talking about a great many things. In doing so, we not only inhibit the movement of the Spirit in a congregation, but we contribute to the injustice and oppression that we so eager hope to dismantle.
This got me thinking about what I avoid for the sake of peace and harmony, and at what cost do those choices come.
- What realities have I chosen to avoid in my preaching: #BlackLivesMatter, gun violence, sexism, ableism, etc., and why?
- Have I given the congregation I serve enough credit to deal with tough issues, or have I assumed their reactions and responses, either in affirmation or disagreement?
- Do I know what I believe about #BlackLivesMatter, guns, etc.? How important is it that I KNOW my position? Is my not being aware an easy excuse avoid particular issues and questions?
- What have I lost or destroyed in my avoidance?
- If I have taken on such topics, has it been reactionary and episodic or have I allowed these discomforting words to embed themselves in my proclamation?
Important to remember in all of this is that we each serve out of a variety of contexts and the lenses through which we view the world are as varied. Some of us are embedded at the heart of these happenings while others of us struggle to find a meaningful point of reference. There are no easy answers around these things, but what is clear, is that we must not shy away from these significant and important topics and realities of our day.
So as you approach "the pulpit" of your ministry this week, I trust you will so with boldness declaring the justice, love, and hope of the Gospel as well as with the humility to see those places in your own life and ministry where these words need to be spoken even more.
Bruce Reyes-Chow is a San Francisco-based Presbyterian minister, writer, speaker, and consultant who muses on faith, race, parenting and technology. Through his experience as a pastor, organizer, and blogger he is committed to expressing a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just, and excruciatingly gracious. Bruce has pastored churches in San Francisco since 1995, and in 2008 he was elected Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).