Who Lynched Willie Earle?: Preaching to Confront Racism

William H. Willimon
Published Year: 
Book cover shows image of tree superimposed on image of Earle.

Will Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School and a retired United Methodist Church bishop, has written a book to help pastors of white, mainline Protestant churches preach effectively in situations of racial violence and unease.

The book, Who Lynched Willie Earle?: Preaching to Confront Racism, was published Feb. 7 by Abingdon Press and stresses that effective 21st century preaching demands a more perceptive understanding of both race and Christian faith.

In the book, Willimon provides a strategy rooted in ecclesial life for pastors and church leaders who have long wanted to speak effectively from Scripture on the contemporary social crisis of racial violence and black pain.

Willimon uses the true story of Pastor Hawley Lynn’s March 1947 sermon, “Who Lynched Willie Earle?” to respond to the last lynching in Greenville, S.C., and its implications for a more faithful proclamation of the Gospel today. Lynn was the minister of Grace Methodist Church in nearby Pickens, S.C.

The former dean of Duke Chapel, Willimon emphasizes that preaching effectively today requires hearing black pain, naming white complicity, critiquing American exceptionalism/civil religion, inviting and challenging the church to respond, and attending to the voices of African American pastors and leaders.

On April 3, the Divinity School will sponsor a public panel discussion related to race and the church featuring critiques of Willimon’s book in which participants will receive specific guidance for talking about race in predominately white congregations. Christena S. Cleveland, associate professor of the practice of reconciliation at the Divinity School, and Luke Powery, dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics, will provide the critiques.