I Heard Three Speeches

I heard two speeches on Sunday.


One came from a distinguished scholar of religion, from his home in northern Florida to a Sunday School class gathered on Zoom.  I listened as I washed dishes and, as we say, picked up the house.


Our class had just finished reading and reflecting on the fabulous 2020 book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. It was written by Mississippi native Robert P. Jones. I reviewed the book last year and hosted him as a guest in The Meetinghouse. (Both the review and the podcast are available on my website, themeetinghouse.net.)


The scholar Dr. Edward Wheeler had joined us last week to listen for an hour. It is always good to listen first and talk second. He no doubt learned that virtue during a distinguished career serving institutions as administrator, dean, and president. “I want to speak to you about three things,” he said in quiet and measured tones, “the silence of the white church, why black lives matter, and what you can do.”


He told stories about moving from New York to Atlanta as an adolescent and about his tenure as a seminary president trying to lead a faculty to address racial inequality.


“My stomach churns. In the face of horrible injustice, the fact that the church can’t even say that the killing of a person like Ahmaud Arbery … is wrong and that the systems that allow that have to change … is gut wrenching for me and painful. Why is the white church silent on those issues? I don’t know, but I believe that there is something you can do.”


He emphasized looking inside ourselves and our institutions, listening to voices, especially of the marginalized, speaking to those in our own communities about injustice, then acting locally. It was educational, emotional, and inspirational, and I wanted to recommend him to a particular church in Georgia in need of the right interim preacher!


Late in the afternoon, after a game of Risk and saying goodbye to my daughter, I drove my grandson home to Charlotte. On the way back I scanned the radio in search of music but stumbled upon a familiar voice. It was Donald J. Trump, in his first speech since his departure from the White House, at the annual meeting of CPAC, the Conversative Political Action Committee.


For more than one hour I listen to his familiar rhetoric: blaming anyone and everyone but himself and his audience, calling by name those who need to be purged from the Republican Party, denouncing immigrants and refugees, journalists and judges, and Democrats of all kinds, especially Joe Biden.


Not a word about 500,000 plus dead from the COVID, let alone about Ahmaud Arbery, murdered one year ago last week, or Breana Taylor or George Floyd, but a sustained celebration of guns and what he called the most successful administration in American history: then he said this: “I may be back in 2024 to beat the Democrats for the third time.”


That, and a thousand other things, made me feel like I was in an alternative universe. Hardly a single thing he said corresponded with reality or truth and righteousness or common sense.


Then on Monday I heard another speech.


A sermon actually, posted by young AoP preacher Darrell Hall, AoP’14. Rev. Hall preached one of the plenary sermons at the 2014 National Festival of Young Preachers in Indianapolis, Indiana.  We are friends of Facebook, and I pay attention to what he writes and promotes.


The video features Pentecostal preacher John Kilpatrick of Mobile, Alabama. He is a white man speaking to a mostly white audience. I had never heard of him, but I am glad I paused to listen to a one minute, fifty-four second clip of a sermon preached I know not when:


“I think how African American people were taken against their wills, put in the belly of ships, and brought over here, how they were beat and cussed; many of them died in those ships and were thrown overboard. They were pulled from families over there …. If you are one of those people who have a problem with black people…. you better shut your white mouth. Because they are God’s people…. (applause)…  I know some of you were raised by bigoted people; you better get that out of your system…. These are God’s people…. I’m just saying God knows what happened to the black race. God knows how they wound up over here, and God is going to reimburse the black people for all their trouble and all their labor. You watch what I tell you.”


It is the sort of straight-talking, no-holds-barred preaching that more pew-sitting people need to hear from pulpit-standing preachers. If congregations had more sermons like this one, and more Sunday School lessons like the one I heard, we wouldn’t have as many people falling for the utter foolishness of that second speaker, the one who has spent the last five years spouting ignorance and nonsense from the most powerful podium in the world.




(March , 2021)