SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College will host a conference on South Carolina’s last lynching, the subsequent trial, a courageous sermon and the continuing challenge of preaching to confront racist. The Feb. 17 event will feature the launch of the book “Who Lynched Willie Earle: Preaching to Confront Racism,” written by Dr. Will Willimon, a 1968 Wofford graduate and retired United Methodist bishop. Continue reading
Professor Will Willimon will be the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr Day commemoration in Ferguson Missouri. The day includes a morning gathering for students, middle school and above and an afternoon in which Willimon will lead local clergy in strategizing to promote Christian conversation about race in their churches. The day will conclude with a community-wide service at 6:30 pm in which Willimon will speak.
The day is being sponsored by two dynamic, multicultural congregations, Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri and The Gathering in Clayton, Missouri in partnership with The Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Theological Seminary.
Participants will have the opportunity to discuss issues of justice in order to prepare to commit acts of justice. Will Willimon, retired Bishop and professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School is one of America’s most influential mainline Protestantism preachers. A white Southerner who describes himself as a “recovering racist,” Willimon is a frequent collaborator of Theologian Stanley Hauerwas. His 2016 release, Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, is regarded as an essential book for Christians called to love others, even when we see the world in very different ways. Next month, Abingdon Press will publish Willimon’s Who Lynched Willie Earle: Preaching to Confront Racism.
A series of community dialogues are being held across St. Louis in people’s homes and centers of worship in order to prepare for the public events. Dr. Willis Johnson, whose book, Holding Up Your Corner, has been hailed by Willimon as one of the most useful and challenging resources for congregations that want to hold fruitful conversations about our racial and cultural divides.
More information and registration are available at WellspringChurchSTL@gmail.com.
My friend Jim Sommerville had had an intriguing idea – video sermons keyed to the lectionary texts for every Sunday of the year. I’ve enjoyed participating in his program from the first and commend it to you. Lots of congregations and adult learning groups are subscribing to “A Sermon Every Sunday” and listening to video sermons. Here’s a portion of my sermon for this coming Sunday!
The News and Observer OP-ED
MAY 14, 2016
I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictions
Christians are ‘political’ in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences
We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world
I liked you when you were preacher at Duke Chapel. But now that you have gotten political, you are an embarrassment. Shame on you for your work against HB2!
– A concerned Christian
I’m in the middle of grading papers, and so have little time to respond to individual emails. But here is how I would generally answer such a note:
Dear concerned Christian:
I have never met Gov. Pat McCrory, though I did see him eating a halftime hot dog at the Duke-Carolina basketball game. He looked rational.
Then came the governor’s “bathroom bill.” I’ve been forced back into politics – as a Christian. I’ve attended rallies and signed statements and was interviewed on NPR about this misguided, mean-spirited bill.
Of all the things that need doing in our state, why did our governor sign a law that vilifies and makes life more difficult for some of our most vulnerable citizens? Why has the legislature taken time out from protecting ballot boxes from voters and keeping children safe from quality schools to protect people from non-existent threats to restrooms? What’s next?
I’ll admit that Jesus was notoriously disinterested in sexuality, though he was tough on heterosexual adultery. Jesus was adamant that his followers take responsibility for those who were vulnerable. Jesus commanded us to love others, welcome strangers, forgive enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I feel certain that Jesus would not have approved of vilifying someone for misusing a restroom.
I’ll also admit that Jesus took little notice of politics. Judea was occupied by the largest army in the Near East, at least before our occupation of Iraq. But it didn’t take politicians long to recognize Jesus as a threat. In a vain attempt to shut Jesus up, it was a politician who ordered that he be tortured to death.
Since then, Jesus’ followers have caused political trouble in just about every society where they have been located. Politics is about power, and Jesus commanded us not just to think good thoughts but actively to do good deeds. When politics works, it does something radical: assume responsibility for people who are neither in my family nor who look like me, people with whom I have no relationship other than Jesus.
That’s why I joined with the Catholic and Episcopal bishops of Alabama in suing the governor of Alabama for his mean-spirited immigration law. We bishops won.
During his campaign for governor, McCrory promised to keep undocumented workers out of our state but never pursued that. We bishops didn’t have to go to court.
In one sense, you have a valid objection that I, as a clergyperson, have “gotten political” in my criticism of our state’s politicians. Christians are “political” in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences. We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world. God’s peculiar answer to what’s wrong with the world, God’s showcase for creative social alternatives, is the church.
Our sweeping biblically based political claims mean that, when we are confronted with something like HB2, we’ve got to try to speak up like Christians.
Returning from a Moral Monday demonstration in Raleigh, where hundreds of us had gathered to once again protest the actions of our sorry politicians, I was rather pleased with myself for my courageous (though uncostly) political activism. Our protest got them told.
On the radio, McCrory dismissed our demonstration as just a bunch of aging hippies from the ’60s. Ouch! He bragged that polls show close to 70 percent support from North Carolinians for his policies.
“Preacher,” said the layperson whom I had dragged to Moral Monday with me, “sounds like we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than go get arrested in Raleigh.”
I have met the political enemy – me and my fellow Christians who find it so hard to live our convictions. That’s why maybe my most radical, politically significant act is to stand up this Sunday and preach that God’s will be done, God’s reign will come on earth as in heaven, whether we like it or not.
Will Willimon, for 20 years dean of Duke Chapel, served as United Methodist bishop in Alabama and is now professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School.
- February 25, 2016, The Baptist Standard
- By LINNEA KIRGAN / HARDIN-SIMMONS UNIVERSITY
ABILENE—Christians can be misunderstood as they offer faithful-yet-unconventional solutions to political problems, professor and author William Willimon told participants at the annual T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University.
The world may not always recognize Christians’ political solutions, acknowledged Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School.
“Following Jesus Christ, we as Christians don’t do politics the way the world does politics,” Willimon said. “Politics for Christians is a struggle to respond to the world as God has responded to the world in Jesus Christ. To respond to threats to our well-being the way God responded. To take as our neighbor not those who have a certain passport, but those who Jesus Christ has loved. A struggle to keep our borders as large, expansive, as permeable, as the kingdom of God.”
Christians occupy an uncomfortable position at the political table, he added, noting they should not “too easily” and “too closely” align themselves with politics on the right or on the left.
“I think our faith is more demanding that that,” he said.
Citing Jesus’ arrival as a challenge to existing power structures, Willimon argued Christians should address the problems of their neighbors as a means of political activism. But “it’s often difficult to follow Jesus into the corridors of power,” he said. “These places that can be so delusional about their own power and influence and their own goodness.”
When America was founded, freedom of religion was an underlying principle, he said. Religion in America is free as long as it remains personal and private and does not interfere with the sovereignty of the nation, he added, noting Christians become convinced they have something at stake in American politics, but it is a challenging perspective.
“Maybe we are among the first Americans to realize the price that we pay for what we call religious freedom,” he observed.
A politician recently made controversial comments about immigration and thought his pastor would address it at church, Willimon reported. Instead the preacher introduced an immigrant family to be baptized. The family said their church was the only place they felt welcomed and embraced in their new country.
“This is the most radical political statement that could be made,” Willimon said. “This is what we call politics. This is our response to the questions of immigration.”
God’s great big plan
The world may call such solutions ineffective and insignificant, but those words also were used by critics of Jesus, he said. “Your church and mine is God’s answer to what’s wrong with the world. This is God’s great big plan.”
Jesus did not speak often of politics, and when he did, he took it lightly because he had a different concept of power, Willimon said.
Jesus refused Satan’s temptation to rule all the kingdoms of the world, he reminded the audience. So, part of the task of being Christian is not taking politics, secular society and government too seriously.
“It’s tough for us to talk politics, because primarily politics has become the functional equivalent of God,” he said, explaining people sometimes look to politicians instead of preachers for guidance.
The modern democratic state also is proving to be its own kind of challenge, he added.
He recalled a TV reporter interviewing a missionary in Lebanon during the 1980s, when the country was under attack. The missionary refused to leave, saying it was her calling to be there, even though the United States no longer could guarantee her safety.
“This woman apparently had two passports in her possession,” Willimon said. “She was a citizen of the United States, but she had also, apparently from her comments, held citizenship in another realm—the kingdom of God.”
Willimon was dean of the Duke Chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University 20 years. He returned to Duke Divinity after serving as bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church 2004-2012.
He has written 60 books, as well as numerous articles. He is pastor at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C. He was named one of the “12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World” by Baylor University.
The annual T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics are presented by Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary and Logsdon School of Theology. The lectures seek to honor the legacy of T.B. Maston, longtime professor of Christian ethics and pioneering Baptist ethicist, known for his writing and teaching in the areas of biblical ethics, race relations, family life, the Christian and vocation, church and state, and character formation.
Young Maston Scholars
During the lectures, Logsdon Seminary Dean Don Williford announced the 2016 Young Maston Scholars, undergraduate students at Texas Baptist Universities recognized for their interest in, engagement with and integration of Christian ethics.
The 2016 scholars—15 students from eight schools—are T.A. Alvarado and Debbie Gonzalez, Baptist University of the Americas; Xavier Adams and Madelyn Yarbrough, Baylor University; J. Porter Brewer and Austin Odom, East Texas Baptist University; Davidson Sutherland and Corbin Garner, Hardin-Simmons University; Michael Detana and Trent Richardson, Houston Baptist University; Kelsan Wolverton and Robert Martinez, Howard Payne University; Emma French and Jake Raabe, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; and Jon Emmanuel Silva, Wayland Baptist University.