Luke Powery preaches through and beyond racism

The Duke Chapel dean writes as if the Holy Spirit makes all the difference for faithful preaching—and anti-racism.

Becoming Human is a small book that proffers a big push. Many books on America’s racialized past and present, even those written for the church, are sociological, psychological, or political rather than theological in their analyses and remedies. The White-dominated church is rightly presented as a collaborator and baptizer of White supremacy, but the church (and by implication, God) is the problem rather than part of the solution.

Luke Powery, teacher of preachers at Duke Divinity School and dean of Duke University Chapel, takes a different approach. He talks about race as if the third person of the Trinity makes all the difference for faithful preaching. Preachers will find strong encouragement in Powery’s charismatic determination to speak like a Christian into America’s racial crisis and to have us do the same.

Reconciliation of people may be what God wants, and Powery knows that there’s no reconciliation without truth telling and truth receiving. Other scholars have told the truth about our racialized culture, but few have told it as beguilingly and as accessibly as Powery. In a few pages, he deftly shows that while race has no biological reality and therefore is “empty of theological substance and support,” still, as a social construction, White racism is an idea that powerfully shapes the world. Racialization is what White Americans perform on others who are not like us. We baptize Whiteness, enthralling us to power configurations that are not only social and political but also religious—which makes the church deeply complicit. Few theologians have traversed this terrain as adroitly as Powery, and none as pneumatically.