White preaching professor, black preaching students
George White III, Dihanne Moore and Joshua Scott are three of the best and brightest at the McAfee School of Theology. We sat down recently to talk about seminary, race and what would happen if I preached in their churches.
By Brett Younger
Brett: Our student body is 48 percent African-American and 13 of the 15 faculty members are white. Have you wondered if this is a good place for an African-American minister?
Dihanne: What really shocked me was the first time I went to chapel. I thought, “Oh no! I can’t do this. They’re singing hymns out of a hymnal. Nobody’s saying ‘Amen!’ Nobody’s shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’” I made myself go and ended up embracing a new way to worship God. It’s just different.
Brett: Are you glad you are at a racially diverse seminary?
George: I wouldn’t have it any other way, because that’s the real world. You have to learn how to deal with people that are different from you, and you might as well learn that here.
Joshua: My breakthrough came in preaching. Now I feel comfortable saying, “It doesn’t matter who’s out there. I can reach them with the word of God.” That’s when I said, “McAfee was not a mistake.”
Brett: What do you wish African-American churches knew about seminary?
Joshua: That it’s not the devil. That you can go to a multi-cultural seminary and not lose your African-Americanness.
George: My church is concerned that you’re going to lose what they’ve taught you. They’re afraid that the professors are going to teach you what to believe and not just how to better interpret the word of God.
Dihanne: My pastor encourages us to go to seminary. She wants all of her ministers to be trained theologically: “When you go to seminary you don’t want to lose your mind. Don’t let them beat the Spirit out of you, but at the same time, education broadens your horizons and opens you up to read the word.”
Brett: Are African-American churches requiring seminary in a way they wouldn’t have 20 years ago?
George: It’s becoming, and I hate to use this word, competitive. Every church looks at other churches: “This preacher has letters behind his name. We need to get somebody like that so that we can attract the younger generation.”
Joshua: You are not able to preach “Jesus wept” and whoop the rest of the time. They want meat in the sermon. They want to know, “What does this say and mean?” The bar has been raised. You are going to have to go dip in the pool that is seminary.
Dihanne: Some of the older saints don’t believe that you’ve preached until you’ve whooped! It’s almost as if you could say “I went down to the corner store” and a few people would shout ‘Hallelujah!’” The younger people don’t want to hear the whooping and hollering. They are searching for something deeper.
Joshua: For young preachers coming up, you’ve got to do it all. I’m a whooper, but I give you everything. I give you all the exegetical stuff you want and then for my people, mama and them, I bring you the cross.
Dihanne: At the end of it, you have to have the celebration moment or you didn’t “preach.”
Brett: How do white professors misunderstand black preaching?
George: I think they confuse our emotions with showing off. They don’t understand the hurt and the pain that the members are bringing. You have to preach to their pain. We expect a preacher to understand what we’re going through. I’ve got to be emotional to let them know that I hear them.
Joshua: But I think it goes deeper. It comes from an inherited point of view, from slavery. We identify with the children of Israel. We say, “God did it for them. God will do it for us.” When Barack Obama became president, the old people wanted to celebrate every single Sunday, because you’ve got something to shout about now. You don’t sit in the back, and at the counter nobody’s throwing hot coffee in your face. When they think about all that, it makes them shout and run and holler and whoop a little bit. They expect it every Sunday.
Dihanne: When we say praise God in a black church, we’re not looking for silent meditation. We expect exuberant praise, because we understand the oppression we have overcome.
Brett: So how would it go if I preached at your church?
George: I would get a lot of questions afterwards.
Joshua: At your conclusion they would ask, “Is that it?” but they would be very nice to you and talk about you once you left.
George: I don’t believe that just anyone can come in and preach to black people. You may be able to perform on American Idol, but that does not mean you are going to make it at the Apollo.
Dihanne: I think you would do well at our church. Some of the members would appreciate getting out in time for lunch.
Brett: I might do better than you think.
George: We’ll help you.
Brett: What might I hear if it was going well?
Dihanne: Come on with it!
Brett: And if it isn’t going well?
George: It’s terrible if nobody says anything.
Brett: What’s a bad move for a white preacher in an African-American church?
George: Acting black.
Joshua: We can tell it’s not you hollering at the top of your lungs. Just be yourself.
George: It’s like a white comedian trying to tell black jokes. Don’t mention Michael Jackson.
Brett: That sounds like good advice.
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