(A sidebar at the outset: Reflecting on whiteness for today’s Lectionary Leanings is directly related to my U.S. context where the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the grief of too many hashtagged deaths demand that scripture not go untouched or unscathed by racialized violence. For our RevGals & Pals around the globe, current U.S. events may not resonate with the same intense energy … yet systemic racism is a global phenomenon that impacts all of our readings of scripture.)

This past weekend, Dr. Anthea Butler published a convicting article, “The Fire This Time,” which included these thoughts:

I’m done saving you, good white folks. You want Black people like me, who like you, to say the prophetic thing, and bail your a** out for not speaking up, for remaining quiet. … I’m not writing prophetic words to you anymore. You fix this sh*t. You figure it out. (“The Fire This Time” 7/10/2016)

(A sidebar on language: Yes, the article includes swearing. I’ve always taught my children that there’s a time & place for swearing — on the playground or as a part of name-calling are not appropriate places for curse words; a generations-long struggle for the basic recognition of humanity is absolutely a time for curse words. I encourage you to read the article even if swearing offends your eyes.)

One_Woman_With_Black_Lives_Matter_SignNow to an application of Dr. Butler’s admonition:

It’s long past time for those of us who are white preachers to do the work of seeing the ways in which we bring whiteness to our reading of scripture. It’s long past time for us to stop relying on scholars and preachers of color to exegete whiteness for us or to save us by teaching us how to find liberation in biblical text.

Many white preachers took a deep breath and preached against racism this past Sunday, which was necessary, important, good work … but one sermon won’t redeem our consciences or extricate the systemic racism in which our white churches live & move & have their being. While I have doubts about white preachers’ ability to be prophetic, if there is a prophetic thing to be done at this moment, it is not to allow ourselves to count one sermon as “speaking up” but to continue preaching on racism and to add “teaching congregants to unveil their white hermeneutic” to our pastoral work, so that white Christians’ support of anti-racism does more than take aim at other white people but actually wrestles with the whiteness within.

This coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary texts hold the potent opportunity to lay bare many systems and attitudes of whiteness, if we dare:

  • I can’t even get beyond Amos 8:1, “This is what the Lord GOD showed me — a basket of summer fruit,” without hearing the gruesome verses of Strange Fruit (sung here by Jill Scott). We must be clear. This is the harvest of whiteness: fruit plucked, lives cut short, hanging from swing sets, rotting in the streets. Heaven forbid we white preachers make racism palatable for the white folks in our pews. Heaven forbid it.
  • The full RCL selection from Amos is 8:1-12 and declares the end of a season: By God’s good judgment, let it be the end of the season of white racism, white violence, white fragility, white supremacy, white lies. Let it be the end of white capitalism that buys & sells on the backs of others “from north to east.” Let it be the end of exclusionary feasts acted out at Christ’s table. Let the white Church lament and wander until penance is served.
  • There are memes and hashtags and protest signs admonishing whites to understand our silence as complicity. If indeed we are complicit in racialized violence, then we cannot hide from the charge leveled in Psalm 52:3: “You love evil more than good and lying more than speaking truth.” Systemically speaking (and individually speaking more than we prefer to admit) whiteness loves complicity over justice. Whiteness loves character assassination of victims over accountability for perpetrators. Whiteness loves “All Lives Matter” over “Black Lives Matter.” Let God break down forever our evil lies.
  • Martha of Luke 10:38-42 embodies the distractions of well-meaning whiteness: “Black lives matter but all lives matter, and I can save them all if you’ll just let me manage my ‘to do’ list and stop demanding that I focus only on Black lives. There are hungry lives and refugee lives and Pokemon lives and poor little wide-eyed African children lives, and Black lives matter should stop hogging the microphone.” Please hear my heavy sarcasm. As a white American with a German Protestant heritage, Martha is my chosen saint for standing on the pedestal of a strong work ethic, but her distracted determination that all things must matter all at the same time is problematic to her ability to learn an essential thing that matters at this particular moment; problematic to her ability to sit in solidarity with Mary and Jesus; problematic to her ability to let someone else say what is needed and how to go about doing it.

The work of examining whiteness is not easy, but for too long our Christian faith has been (and continues to be) the handmaiden of whiteness in the world, giving a righteous confidence to colonialism and mission work alike, showing up in burning crosses as well as white Jesus-imaging Bibles, defending itself against Tanisha since the days of Hagar. Too long. Far too damned long.

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Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ (US) minister, soccer mom, blogger, and author. Her book Sacred Pause plays with words to refresh our relationship with The Word.
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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.
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8 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Whiteness in Scripture

  1. Thanks, Rachel. That’s challenging and provocative and helpful. I have Amos and Luke in my plans, made six weeks ago, and a stupid sermon title that is already on the church sign, and I’m looking for a way in that builds on the confession of racism included in my sermon two days ago.
    I’ve preached on Mary and Martha a lot over the years. As a person named Martha, she has been a significant figure in my own spiritual development. I realize it’s time to throw all my past thinking out the window and see what comes into the space left behind.

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  2. Here in the UK, we are also in crisis, but it’s a different one. I will be preaching at a church whose members are largely, but not exclusively, Ghanaian, thus probably feeling insecure as a result of the swell of anti-migrant feeling post-Brexit (although, as far as I know, it is less in London, but what do I know?). Part of what I plan to say is this: “The road this country has chosen to take over the past 50 years hasn’t helped – the erosion of our manufacturing base, the disappearance of industries such as shipbuilding, consumer electronics, aircraft manufacture and most of the vehicle construction industry. The fact that we were lied to, over and over again, by politicians and by the Murdoch press…. you know all that as well as I do. And I’m finding it incredibly difficult to work out what to say, anyway, as I’m so aware that my experience as a White, middle-class, elderly British woman is so very different to so much of many of your experiences. What, after all, do I know?”

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  3. I ended up preaching on Mary and Martha last week, and am so compelled by amos. Did not make the connection to strange fruit until now -thanks Rachel. This is an incredible post, by the way. Thanks so very much for your passion and insight.

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  4. I am leading our Friday family service this week, looking at Mary and Martha. I think i will look at the need to be still and listen and pray, as well as be active and work and play.
    for Sunday I am thinking about Amos and economic oppression and environmental degradation. or maybe that will be my newsletter article, which is due tomorrow.
    i ma pondering what is it like when God stops speaking?

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  5. Thanks Rachel! This is wonderful. I am also preaching Mary and Martha this week- I didn’t get the ‘distracted by whiteness’ until I read it here so thank you. There is an urgency in my congregation to “act” in light of the recent killings of black lives. Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet is a crucial part to me in leading the congregation through deciding how we show our public witness… we need to listen like Mary (gain clearer understanding and learn our call in this) and then can move to our ‘many tasks’ fighting racism. Then return again to Jesus feet, then act again.. repeat… repeat…

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