The Purpose of Place

Dismantling Racism & the Role of the Church…

Week 3:  The Purpose of Place

Place. One great way a church can begin to uncover and inhabit the full history of our country and the narratives we have inherited about race so as to inform our Christian witness in this day and time, is to dig down into the history of the place where your church is located. How did that parcel of land come to be chosen as the site of the church building? Who was displaced in the process? What is the history of the neighborhood? What is the flora and fauna that lived there before all human inhabitants? This is how Willie Jennings in his book, The Christian Imagination: The Theology and the Origins of Race, puts it, “I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity chains of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence.” In a sermon he preached for the National Capital Presbytery of the PCUSA, he goes on to point out that geography is generally cut up into segregated spaces and that is not accidental. Racial segregation is reinforced by the decisions of city commissioners, land developers, real estate developers, city planners.

Finally, Jennings pleads with the church to attend town and city commissioner meetings because that is precisely where the moral and ethical decisions of who has access to what takes place. Go to the commissioner meetings or council or townhall meetings and push against the racial segregation built inside economic segregation. Finally, he asks the church to grapple with the deeply theological question, “Is there a Holy Spirit reason why we are in this place? What is the Holy Spirit reason?