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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Open Letter to the President: Selma and the Renewal of Faith and Preaching

Dear President Obama,   
The award of the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to those who marched in Selma, Alabama in 1965 has special meaning because it calls for renewal as well as remembrance. You have told us often how important Selma and the Bridge are to you. As one who marched in Selma I want to tell you how important you are to us.
You embody many of the hopes for which we marched one of which was for a messenger who could deliver the Word. In Brown Chapel preparing for the Tuesday march one of the speaker’s declared that he was a preacher and today the Edmund Pettus Bridge would be his pulpit. I remembered that as I listened to your message at that bridge on the 50th anniversary which was a powerful fulfillment of that hope enriched by fifty years of preparation: the Sermon From Selma. The text from Isaiah 40 on renewing our strength as we face new challenges was the word of the Lord and you brought it home to us as has Dr. King and John Lewis and others.
I was a professor of preaching at Drew University in New Jersey when I saw on television John Lewis and others being crushed by police and horses and a great NO went through me. Then I heard Dr. King call out to join him and I felt the great YES. I said goodbye to my wife and two children and marched on Turnaround Tuesday and then in New Jersey. I referred to the importance of preaching at Selma and the Civil Rights Movement when I presented the opening lecture at the founding meeting of what was to become the Academy of Homiletics in Princeton later that same year. I claimed this witness as essential to the New Homiletic we needed and it has surely empowered the renewal of preaching. 
The Academy of Homiletics is meeting this year for its 50th anniversary and I hope we continue to learn from Selma and the lessons taught in the concrete classrooms of places like Ferguson, Missouri and New York. The renewal of preaching in the 21st Century calls for better interpretation of the Bible into our social and structural as well as personal and cultural contexts. We will benefit from the interpretation of sacred texts in secular settings that you teach. At Selma, in your Inaugural Speeches and throughout your presidency your spoken words have lifted President Theodore Roosevelt’s Bully Pulpit with an eloquence and theological dimension rarely reached with lessons to be studied for years to come.
Mr. President, I also learned in Selma as we knelt to pray that day that the glory comes not only in those bright moments when the victors enter the city but also in those dark times when we commit ourselves to the Cause whatever the outcome.
Thank you for all you and others have accomplished on the way so far. And as my son David says, Let us keep going, 
David James Randolph  
Host New Way Media Fest
Author, “The Renewal of Preaching in the 21st Century,” Cascade Books