As a White Pastor, I Submitted to Black Leadership

Here’s how it changed me.

“What will racial reconciliation in the church in the US look like?”

The questioner was a student at Duke Divinity School around 2005. The scene was a large auditorium-style classroom, and the course was Preaching, a staple of the MDiv program I was in at the time. The professor up front was William “Bill” Turner, a Black Baptist pastor-theologian. He was beloved by the many mainline students who discovered him at Duke almost as much as he was by the Black Baptist ones who came to the school in part because he was there.

In response to the question, Turner looked straight at the student and said, “One thing it will look like is whites being willing to sit under Black preaching. You don’t see that very often.”

His answer, emblazoned on my mind, has been a challenge and goad to my wife and me across the years. The invitation to submission is a convicting one for white Christians like me. I have to ask myself, Would I sit and be taught the Word of God under the authority of a Black pastor?

Of course I would, the answer surges up within me. After all, I’m not a racist.

I suspect this kind of response is one many other white Christians share. But my question isn’t abstract or “in principle.” As Dostoevsky writes in The Brothers Karamazov, love in dreams is easy compared to love in reality.

If I frame the issue much more concretely, then, I have to ask, Would I find myself listening to Black preaching most Sundays for any appreciable stretch of time?

Even after leaving Duke Divinity, my own answer to that question would most often have been no. But several years ago, that changed.

My family and I had recently relocated to Austin and moved into an east-side neighborhood …

Continue reading…