Does white supremacy animate our rituals?

A pastor in San Diego questions the often-hidden histories and power structures within liturgy.

What if the logic of white supremacy that organizes society around whiteness has also infected worship liturgy? This is the subject of the book Listening as Hosts: Liturgically Facing Colonization and White Supremacy by Sam Codington, an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Following insights from Howard Thurman and analysis by Willie James Jennings, Codington crafts a picture of the historical dynamics of white supremacy and seeks to offer forms of liturgical resistance for churches and spiritual communities. Pastors, spiritual leaders, churches, and people of no faith will find invitations to listen deeply, to discard oppressive expressions of Christianity, and to search for community with one another and the earth.

Codington moves beyond liturgical theory and into practice by experimenting with language, form, gestures, and embodiment in relation with place. He crafts liturgies particularly for Holy Week gesturing toward multiplicities of death and life in the wildernesses and gardens of the world in the borderland of San Diego/Tijuana. By crafting liturgies specifically aimed at disrupting the organizing aesthetic of whiteness, he develops a provisional formational rhythm, which includes naming the hurt, observing aesthetics, listening with pluralities, and forming liturgical vocabularies and gestures. Listening as Hosts weaves together theory and practice for pastors, churches, spiritual leaders, and those committed to dismantling structural racism in their owns contexts.

From the Foreword by Cláudio Carvalhaes, professor of worship, Union Theological Seminary: “Perhaps the two most potent gifts of this book are: first, the way Dr. Codington shows how we must investigate the racialized forms of religious formation of our churches and second, how exposing white supremacy can be done by decentering the white male body as the exceptional species in the chain of so many other species on earth.” 

Reviews of Listening as Hosts:

“Listening as Hosts is a first-rate pastoral primer in the self-examination and praxis required for white churches in North America to help end racism. Sam Codington, deftly blending personal testimonies with contemporary postcolonial scholarship, strengthens the book’s urgent message. Codington convincingly shows that countering Eurocentric liturgies involves listening more acutely to issues black, indigenous, and other people of color and women encounter living in white-dominated spaces. Curating responsive rituals must start today.” Roy Whitaker, associate professor of Africana philosophies of religions and American religious diversity, San Diego State University.

“Listening as Hosts models deep listening to a plurality of excluded voices, including the voice of earth, and it offers sober, vulnerable, place-specific liturgical experimentation. Sam Codington seeks to unfold and break open white supremacy from within his own vocation as a Presbyterian pastor; his example is instructive and poignant, his liturgies lyrical. If God is speaking as the trees, with their decades-long splendor and patience, then this book provides a tutorial in listening for students, pastors, and liturgists.” Collin Cornell, assistant professor of Bible and mission, Fuller Theological Seminary.   

“This is a beautiful, lyrical book which seeks to embody what it teaches by naming the hurt, observing the aesthetics that are embodied in ritual, listening deeply with and to pluralities, and forming liturgical vocabularies and gestures that are humble, embodied, and thoroughly grounded in a Christianity that is always transforming towards the one love Christ draws us into.” Mary E. Hess, professor of educational leadership, Luther Seminary.

“In this beautifully written and deeply pastoral book, Sam Codington provides resources for white Christians to name and to begin to exorcize white supremacy from their liturgical spaces. Such work will not be easy, but by pitting counter-formation against malformation, Codington shows one way that churches caught up in whiteness’s allure may yet resist whiteness in pursuit of a beloved community that is not yet but may yet be.” Ryan Andrew Newson, assistant professor of theology and ethics, Campbell University.  

Listening as Hosts: Liturgically Facing Colonization and White Supremacy is available at these and other book sellers:    


Barnes & Noble

Wifp and Stock Publishers


Sam Codington
Faith Presbyterian Church, San Diego
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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