Racism, Exorcism + Baptism

PIPFrom the conclusion of Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s chapter on racism (“Exorcising an American Demon: Racism is a Principality”) in Principalities in Particular: A Practical Theology of the Powers That Be (2017):

William Stringfellow’s source of authority and hope at the Chicago
conference was tied to baptism:

[Racism] is the power with which Jesus Christ was confronted and which, at great and sufficient cost, he overcame. In other words, the issue here is not equality among human beings, but unity among human beings…The issue is baptism. The issue is the unity of all humanity wrought by God in the life and work of Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of that unity.

As the Ephesians letter (which itself may be read as a baptismal meditation) puts it: the new humanity in Christ’s body breaks down the wall of hostility (2:14–16). In this new humanity which baptism seals and affirms, our relationship to every other human being, every human community, indeed to every creature, is renewed. The wall has no
claim upon us. The powers do not rule in our lives and community. We
have died, with Christ, out from under their spirit and dominion (Eph
2:1–8).

The rite of baptism always has about it an element of exorcism. We
vow to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil
powers of this world, and repent of sin.” In more ancient language, we
“renounce the devil and all his works.” That, I believe, is where the
struggle against racism needs to be rooted, in the promise and grace of
our baptism.

When the community that gathers around the Catholic Worker in
Detroit renews their baptismal vows by candlelight in the Easter Vigil,
they get scandalously concrete and specific about these promises. They
pledge to “renounce racism, nationalism, sexism, and all other barriers
to human unity . . .” They reject “the idols of money and property, race
and class . . .” That, of course, is not the end of anti-racism work, but
it is the proper place to begin. In worship. Under the sign and hope of
resurrection. In freedom from the power of death. Where the principalities are already declared undone.

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