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Preaching in Black and WhiteWhat We Can Learn from Each Other
By E. K. Bailey and Warren W. Wiersbe
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
OF OUR HERITAGE
Black preachers and white preachers have tended to minister in isolation within their separate communities, unaware of what they might learn from each other as members of the same body of Christ. Sometimes tensions and unfounded suspicions have festered between the communities. Yet as America has become increasingly diverse, church leaders and pastors need to become more sensitive to the needs of people from other cultural backgrounds in order to be able to lead the church effectively in a new century. This book serves as a groundbreaking attempt to bring together a noted black preacher and a noted white preacher to interact on the dynamics of pulpit ministry and what we can learn from each other's traditions and differing perspectives. Some surprises await us along the way.
You are invited to pull up a chair and listen in on a conversation that takes place in a comfortable lounge outside the office of Dr. E. K Bailey at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Across the table from Dr. Bailey sits the well-known pastor, conference preacher, and author Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe. These men became friends some years ago and enjoy exchanging humorous, friendly gibes across the table as they sip from steaming cups of coffee. They clearly enjoy each other's company. Although it's a weekday morning, the building bustles with activity in the adjoining offices, hallways, bookstore, and meeting rooms. Yet it becomes apparent that the heart of this active and growing church's ministry resides in its pulpit. You will sense this as we listen in on this extended conversation on a wide range of topics. At one point, we'll hear Dr. Bailey describe a beating he received from the police in California after having a double-barreled shotgun aimed at his stomach. It is no wonder that this had an impact on his attitude toward whites. Yet God's grace clearly worked to bring about some unexpected changes in his perspective on race. We'll also hear the story of when E. K. forgot the second point in his sermon and how this brought the house down with laughter.
The discussion with these two noted preachers begins with some questions about the background factors that have led to the differing approaches to preaching in black and white churches. What historical influences have shaped the black pulpit? Let's listen in.
Historical Influences Shaping the Black Pulpit
Bailey: One of the most important historical influences on the black
pulpit is rooted in the way African-Americans were brought
to this country. It began with the experience of slavery-leaving
the west coast of Africa, coming through the middle
passage, and arriving in America in 1620. African-Americans
were brought to this country for the sake of economic
gain through slavery; following slavery was Jim Crowism
and then following Jim Crowism was the civil rights movement.
All of these experiences represent only different parts
of the same story. Biblically, the greatest influence would be
the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Slavery and
the Exodus have shaped reality for the African-American
community. Both of these factors form the most significant
underpinning of both the theological and the sociological
elements of black preaching, and even of some of the technical
factors relating to the black pulpit today.
This does not mean that all African-American preachers
are wholehearted advocates of liberation theology. These
are just the fundamental influences on African-American
preaching. Liberation theology is correct in asserting that
the disenfranchised and the downtrodden should experience
justice, economic empowerment, and positive social
mobilization. Further, the Bible specifically and explicitly
declares that God decries social and economic injustices.
However, the message of the gospel becomes muddled
when biblical salvation is deemed to occur when African-Americans
experience economic and social justice. Biblical
salvation properly understood is belief in the person and
work of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated through faith
in him. For Jesus Christ the Son of God died for our sins
and was raised from the dead and is now seated in glory at
the right hand of the Father.
Wiersbe: Is this only a subliminal influence, or is it something self-conscious
that people are aware of today?
Bailey: It's glaring history. Your subconscious can't avoid it.
Wiersbe: You're born with it?
Bailey: Yes, it is inherited, and it certainly is experiential, no question
about that. I think it's both subliminal and actual. It's
passed down from one generation to the next, because most
African-Americans feel that each generation has to fight the
same battle over and over again. For that reason, it is passed
down from one generation of leaders and preachers to the
next, because they all address the same issues. From generation
to generation the "enemy" changes its appearance and
its position, but it does not change its basic essence. Therefore,
every generation has to speak to the issue. Many
people just can't seem to escape these generational matters.
Wiersbe: Does any generation ever grow out of it?
Bailey: Previous generations and mine had to grow through it,
but the jury is still out on whether subsequent generations
will grow out of it. Attitudes must continue to
change, because it hasn't reached the point where it's no
longer necessary to face this issue.
Wiersbe: Would, for example, an upper-middle-class black family
think this way?
Bailey: Some would think this way. A few years ago Time magazine
featured an article called "Taking Off the Mask." It
revealed that upper-class African-Americans in corporate
America were discovering more and more institutional
racism than ever before. These problems haven't fully
been solved yet in America. Though a black American has
pursued the American dream and acquired an education,
these trappings still don't guarantee first-class citizenship.
In fact, many African-Americans feel isolated and very
intimidated when they have been catapulted into a lofty
position of being the only minority person in certain corporate
settings. This makes them feel very isolated, mainly
because they really don't have the camaraderie with their
professional peers. Consequently, they're in a hurry to get
back home to their community and especially home to
When I initially began to open up our congregation here
in Dallas, insisting that we had to model what the Bible
says the church should look like, some of our corporate
African-Americans complained. They said that their
church was the only haven they had from white America.
Now whites were going to come into our church! It
was as if worshiping at their own church each week was
their only time of reprieve, the one time when they knew
they were safe. We don't feel safe the rest of the week,
but we do feel safe at church. And now their pastor was
going to eliminate that safe haven by allowing non-African-Americans
to come into the church.
Jewish and Black Parallels
Wiersbe: It seems to me that when the African-American thinks of
slavery, he thinks of a challenge. He says, "We're moving
on. Let's go forward. We will overcome." The Jewish
friends that I have think of the Holocaust and go into
mourning. We can understand their feelings, but why the
Bailey: I suppose part of it has to do with what really happened
to each people group. African-Americans in this country
suffered as slaves but weren't executed by the millions.
There was no holocaust here in America. Also, some of
the difference may be in the cultural values that each ethnic
group passed down to its children.
Wiersbe: But our Jewish friends also go back to the Exodus, and
you would think it would pull them together. Perhaps it
has, but the emphasis has been on tribulation rather than
The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement
Slavery, obviously, is a very strong influence. What about the civil
rights movement? Has that had an impact on black preaching,
and if so, how?
Bailey: The civil rights movement was a key element of the total
experience. It was significant due to an emphasis on a biblical
"liberation theology" moving in. When the civil rights
movement began, it gave my people hope. Their goal was
now visible and thought to be attainable. Prior to that, we
had dreamed about it but didn't really know whether or not
it would come to fruition. The civil rights movement
showed us the light at the end of the tunnel; now that we
are closer, and if we press on, we can do much to reach the
goal. It was a time for us to do something for ourselves. During
the civil rights movement there was a positive emphasis
on helping African-Americans shift their thinking from
just hoping or watching to actually doing some things for
themselves. The dominant culture we lived in, what was
called "the system," was looked upon as Pharaoh in the Old
Testament account of history. Pharaoh wasn't in the habit of
setting slaves free, nor was the system. So if you're going to
be free, you have to do some things to free yourself.
This meant we had to develop a theology of freedom. You
will feel hard pressed to arrive at freedom without having
a theology of freedom. The theology of freedom trickles
down into a sociology of freedom, and that subsequently
rolls down into an economics of freedom. So the civil
rights movement now has moved to the "silver rights"
movement. Now the baton has been handed to the next
generation, because these developments are layered and
tied to one another. Remember, you don't really have freedom
as a citizen unless you also have economic freedom.
Does this explain why so many civil rights leaders were
Bailey: There were many dedicated laypeople involved in the civil
rights movement. Most of the leaders were preachers who
certainly understood the Exodus emphasis in the Bible. The
civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
receives much of the credit now, yet there were many facets
to the civil rights movement that we must not overlook. The
legal facet gave our country its first black Supreme Court
justice, Thurgood Marshall, who also served as chief counsel
for the NAACP from 1938-1950. Certain changes had
to be carried out step by step through the courts. Then there
were many student sit-ins, and certain issues were addressed
through marches, often led by Dr. King. Marches
were necessary to bring public pressure on local and
national leaders and to challenge the moral integrity of our
nation. We focused on the constitutional rights and expectations
of all citizens. One of the reasons Dr. King gets so
much credit is that he built on the foundation of the Constitution
and the Bill of Rights and pricked our consciousness
that America is built on guaranteed freedoms. The
assumption by some white Americans that African-Americans
were only one-fifth human was obviously a painfully
gross misconception, and Dr. King addressed the issues
invoking the law of nature and of nature's God, that all are
equal, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
It's not surprising that the civil rights movement was
attacked in many ways. However, it must be said that there
were miniscule pockets of support from the white community.
The political, economic, and social institutions, along
with the entertainment industry, attacked it. At that time in
history the African-American preachers were in the forefront,
because the church was the only instrument African-Americans
had for united action and motivation. The
church took on the central place. It's not much different
now in the twenty-first century. The African-American
church was and is the core and nucleus of our African-American
community. Everything that we had-whether
it was our social activities, our religious functions, or our
entertainment-was all centered in the church. There was
nothing more unifying or important in the civil rights movement
than the local church and the churches working
together. This, of course, determined the important place of
leadership for the African-American preacher and pastor.
Did black preaching change as a result of the civil rights movement?
Bailey: I do believe preaching changed. Prior to the civil rights
movement, when we were exiting slavery and entering
Jim Crowism, there was a "pie in the sky, by and by"
approach to preaching. The feeling was that things would
get better-maybe not until we went to heaven-but
someday they would improve. That underlying tone in
preaching was: have hope because there is another life.
Have hope because you won't always be in this life, and
death will come as a friend to take you out of this impossible
situation. That was the underlying theme. It was the
scarlet thread that ran through African-American preaching
prior to the civil rights movement. The civil rights
movement caused African-Americans to focus on the fact
that we had legitimate reasons to hope for a better life
here and now.
Excerpted from Preaching in Black and White by E. K. Bailey and Warren W. Wiersbe Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.