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Decentering Whiteness

Dear Colleagues in the Academy of Homiletics,

We write to you during a time of public reckoning with white racism. We have witnessed with you the weaponization of racism in Amy Cooper’s 911 cell phone call to the police from Central Park, racism's impact in disproportionate Covid-19 death rates among persons of color, and its ethical summons in the naming of black people who keep dying at the hands of police: most recently, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. We can be grateful that we as an academic body of teachers and researchers have begun decentering whiteness in our common work in New Brunswick. Our progress as an academy is uneven and any results only preliminary. Still, this work gives us a place to stand together and envision ourselves forward.

In light of this public reckoning and our work together, we want today to send you compassion and encouragement in your struggle wherever you are. This of course looks different for those who constantly dread in their bodies the day-to-day reality of systemic racial injustice. We on the Executive Commitee want you to know that you are seen and that your pain is acknowledged. For those of us who benefit from positions of relative power-- who aim to be more open to seeing, pushing back against, and dismantling a death-dealing racial order--compassion and encouragement will look somewhat different. It might mean yielding, listening, acknowledging mistakes, and at the right time heeding other voices and engaging.

The traumatic nature of this moment calls forth honest acknowledgment, public engagement, and interpersonal depth. We can begin by acknowledging that this public wound of racialized violence is connected to our own struggle as homileticians in decentering whiteness. We can do more by rededicating ourselves to use the power we do have as educators and researchers in preaching to work for the greater good and not retreat to business as usual--a special problem for those of us with the privilege to do so. We can also do so more deeply together as a diverse Academy of Homiletics by recognizing interpersonally how this impacts us differently so we can find new ways of demonstrating solidarities of fierce and tender truth in our common work and life.

As preachers of the gospel we acknowledge that Jesus’ call to seek first the reign of God is a call to God’s own justice and righteousness. We acknowledge that just as Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement were motivated by Christian conviction, so too was George Floyd’s ministry in the housing projects of Houston, Texas. As followers of the crucified Messiah, we are confident that because the death of every saint is precious in the sight of the Lord (Ps 116:15), their deaths will not be in vain. Through our words and actions, we resist every form of evil because it is God who bends the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

In light of the life of our academy in this moment to acknowledge, rededicate, and demonstrate solidarity--and thus in King's “ fierce urgency of now,” we as the AoH Executive Committee urge academy members to take up the following with us in the coming months:

1. Examine in our time together honestly the ways that we have in the past and continue in the present to maintain systems and practices that privilege whiteness in any form. We will take time to share this self examination at the annual meeting along with our findings and recommendations for change.

2. Integrate the study of race and racialization into our scholarship, our curriculum, and in the training of students of homiletics.

3. Insist that black preaching and black preaching traditions are integral to the study of homiletics and thus essential for the conferral of graduate degrees in the United States and beyond.

4. Name together in our pedagogies how the classroom can be a source of power in the fight against racism and white supremacy. In this way, we as AoH members affirm our strongest values as an association of teachers and researchers and commit to understanding how race has shaped and continues to shape our faith communities, denominations and social worlds.

We cannot yet see where all this will take us as an academy. We can however, be confident that as the Academy of Homiletics we can begin by God's grace, bearing fruit fit for repentance. We can tenderly open ourselves to being a community of gospel thriving in times such as these.

Sincerely,

Executive Board

Academy of Homiletics