Preachers need models for confronting white Christian Nationalism. For the Facing of this Hour is an instructive collection of such sermons.
This is a guest book review by The Rev. Dr. Tyshawn Gardner. Dr. Gardner is an Associate Professor and the Preministerial Scholars Director at Samford University’s Biblical and Religious Studies program in the Howard College of Arts and Sciences. He is a a colleague of mine in the Academy of Homiletics, and he graciously accepted my invitation to write this book review. I am grateful for his careful reading of a book that we hope will be helpful for preachers wanting to confront white Christian Nationalism.
For the Facing of This Hour: Preaching That Resists White Christian Nationalism: Sermons from the Myers Park Baptist Church Free Pulpit 2016-2022.
by W. Benjamin Boswell. Reckoner. 2022. 254 pages. $14.99.
For the Facing of This Hour: Preaching that Resists White Christian Nationalism: Sermons from the Myers Park Baptist Church Free Pulpit 2016-2022 is a compilation of prophetic sermons from the free pulpit of Myers Park Baptist Church within the six years presented in the title.
Myers Park Baptist Church prides itself on its “free pulpit.”
A “free pulpit” welcomes pastors and guest preachers who freely engage civic, political, and social issues through sermonic presentation without fear of reprisal from church leadership. The membership of this church is comprised of believers who hold diverse political and theological convictions and who are empowered to dissent and disagree with the sermons that address these sensitive social issues.
In the preface, Boswell provides an interesting thumbnail sketch of the history of Myers Park Baptist Church and its renowned free pulpit. The free pulpit provides sermonic liberty to the women and men who proclaim the prophetic Word, and license for the pew to dissent and disagree with the sermons, because “the goal of the free pulpit is not to free the preacher, but to free the people” (20). For the Facing of This Hour, then, presents a progressive and effective pastoral and congregational theology for living out what it means to be “salt of the earth and light of the world” through care and advocacy.
Sermons confronting white Christian Nationalism
The sermons in For the Facing of This Hour weave together economics, history, sociology, anthropology, history, ethics, and law in order to reject the rise of the dangerous civil religion of White Christian Nationalism. Each sermon is a representation of the homiletical and hermeneutical skills required for preachers to address the fallacy of White Christian Nationalism and its resulting manifestations of systemic racism and social injustice facing America at this time.
These sermons bear witness that effective prophetic preaching requires not only a free pulpit, but a liberated interpretation and reading of the biblical text. Boswell, a white preacher, models what it looks like to interpret the biblical text informed by minoritized and marginalized communities in order to counter the flawed exegesis and hermeneutics which often supports empire and ecclesial malfeasance.
The book contains nineteen chapters plus an afterword by Rev. Mia McClain.
Every chapter is a sermon that was delivered after a tragic national event or a social crisis facing the nation and the church. There is also a “Scripture Texts” section which contains the scripture text from each sermon in the book from the New Revised Standard Version, but “adapted for gender inclusivity” (236).
One of many positive aspects of the book is the inclusion of the location, date, description of the tragedy, and context in which the sermon was delivered. These details provide a glimpse into the ethical convictions of the preacher through the intentionally descriptive language Boswell employs in describing the events that inspired the sermon.
For example, in the context section which precedes Chapter Six’s sermon, “Wise and Harmless in a Dangerous World,” Boswell uses the phrase “domestic terrorist” to describe the perpetrator of a shooting. Boswell’s description of the shooter challenges the euphemisms that white conservatives use to characterize mass shooters in their effort to downplay the motives of such actors when their racial identity is white. Though brief, Boswell seizes the opportunity in every context preface to provide vital commentary on the tragic events that are sustained and supported by White Christian Nationalists.
Drawing on the prophetic word of God
Surprisingly none of these profound prophetic sermons take a text from the Old Testament prophets. Although the prophetic books of the Bible can and vividly offer stunning critique of the idolatry of nations and kings, Boswell chooses his texts from the Psalms and the New Testament. This is a witness to the prophetic power of the whole Bible, especially in the Gospels, which is where twelve of the sermons are anchored.
Four of the sermons address police killings: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in chapter two, Keith Lamont Scott in chapter three, George Floyd in chapter thirteen, and Rayshard Brooks in chapter fourteen. (The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray and other unarmed black citizens at the hands of the police are also mentioned in the sermons that confront police brutality.) For the Facing of This Hour also contains multiple sermons that address the questionable policies and spectacles of the Trump administration as well as mass shootings.
All the sermons in this book were delivered on during a Sunday worship service. This indicates, as Boswell does in the preface, the expectation this congregation holds of its minister to address national injustices on the Lord’s Day and in the context of Christian worship.
These sermons address sensitive and controversial issues, and no one can doubt the necessity of the hour to do so.
While convicting, none of the sermons disparage the readers or the listeners, but rather boldly leverage the Word of God against a rising evil. I highly recommend this book for preachers and pastors who desire to learn how to move from text to sermon while handling the biblical text with integrity, grace, and truth.
Tyshawn Gardner, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.
Read a review of Dr. Gardner’s first book: Sacred Anthropology: Prophetic Radicalism for Pulpit and Pew reviewed by Janiece Williams.
His latest book is Social Crisis Preaching: Biblical Proclamation for Troubled Times.
Read more on confronting Christian Nationalism by Leah Schade in EcoPreacher:
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Her newest book is Introduction to Preaching: Scripture, Theology, and Sermon Preparation, co-authored with Jerry L. Sumney and Emily Askew (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).