Article

Truth By Heart

February is Black History Month
by The Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone

I am convinced that people really want to know the truth but cannot always handle the truth. What is truth? We all have biases and prejudices; but at the end of the day, people want to know and to be known.

I am equally convinced that most sincere Christians want to know and experience God's truth and love and desire to embody it. This foundational belief has shaped my preaching for over twenty years. It provides a social-gospel lens through which I interpret Scripture and a theological framework for preaching lovingly bold, prophetic sermons. It helps to create a message that provokes and invites the listeners to examine their faith and lives in light of God’s truth, justice, and love. This approach has been particularly useful as I’ve served as pastor in predominantly white suburban churches -- in two of which, I was the first African-American and female senior pastor.

While pastoring in those settings, I was always aware of how my presence and positional leadership evoked unspoken, unacknowledged, and unresolved racism among some of the members. I was also very aware that in each setting there were a people who proclaimed a profound love for God and a love for their neighbor. The goal of my preaching was to lovingly challenge the congregation to fully embrace who they are in Christ and to radically demonstrate their faith by the way they welcome, treat, speak to, and serve those who are different. I invited the congregations to reflect on the privilege of their whiteness and affluence and the ways it can help make lives better and how it causes harm. I would preach about the stereotyping assumptions that are often made about others and the importance of knowing others' stories. I was intentional in weaving stories, liturgy, and music from the Black Experience to help connect the great divide between culture and experience.

If communities are to fully discover God’s all-encompassing love and fully embody it through acts of love and justice, God’s truth must be proclaimed. The preaching needs to be loving and provoking, transforming and prophetic. We should not deny people the truth, even though they can’t always handle the truth. When we preach God’s truth, the Spirit of God transforms hearts. Thomas G. Long speaks to preaching this way, and he writes, “This is not just reflective wisdom, not even just good oratory. This is a language summoned and swept into the event of God’s speaking and acting.” ( Preaching from Memory to Hope, p. 40).

While Black History Month becomes an opportunity to celebrate African-American Heritage, it risks becoming nothing more than tokenism if the stories and struggles of people of this heritage are not part of the common story.

While Black History Month becomes an opportunity to celebrate African-American Heritage, it risks becoming nothing more than tokenism if the stories and struggles of people of this heritage are not part of the common story. Using stories, hymns, quotes, and so on from the Black Experience throughout the year gives the congregation a fuller appreciation for a people with a rich heritage and helps to break down racial barriers.

The Rev. Dr. Tracy S. Malone is the district superintendent of the Chicago Southern District of the Northern Illinois Conference. She is an ordained Elder and has served in both associate, solo pastor and senior pastor positions. Tracy is a lifelong United Methodist growing up in the Northern Illinois Conference. Tracy’s experience in the church spans conference, Jurisdictional and General Church roles.

Categories: Worship, Worship Planning, Civil Observances, Black History Month, Preaching, Black History Month, Lectionary Preaching, Preaching the Word