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Culture Books

Racial crossroads

Books

Racial crossroads

More Black History Month reads

Why Black Lives Matter (Cascade, 2020) is a collection of thoughtful essays edited by Anthony Bradley, who explains why they do: “Because African Americans are made in the Image of God.” The last two essays, “The Black Church and Orthodoxy” by Anthony Carter and “The Prosperity Gospel” by Ken Jones, show how black churches are at a theological crossroads. 

To assess the political crossroads I recommend books from the Christian left and the Christian right: How To Fight Racism by Jemar Tisby (Zondervan, 2021) and Eight Questions About Race by Aubrey Shines (Emancipation Books, 2020). Tisby provides helpful theology in a chapter on “How To Explain Race and the Image of God” and helpful sociology in “How To Make Friends.” Shines last year led a new group, Conservative Clergy of Color, and notes that well-intentioned welfare programs “often took the place of black breadwinners and discouraged the formation of stable families.” Result: More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. 

Both authors emphasize the need for criminal justice reform. Both want better public schools: Tisby rightly emphasizes the need for equitable funding and wants school districts to “redraw their boundaries to include poorer neighborhoods and ones with more students of color.” Shines wants to improve public schools “through competition and accountability. Black parents need the option of sending their children to a charter or private school instead.” 

Tisby rightly recommends incorporating lamentation into worship, corporately confessing the sin of racism, and striving to meet people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. He rightly wants us to work for criminal justice reform, send children to integrated schools, and be careful about blindly quoting theologians who were blind to racism. He writes about taking care when quoting not just theologians who advocated racism, like R.L. Dabney, but slaveowners like Jonathan Edwards. 

And yet, if white pastors and writers should be careful about whom they quote and honor, so should blacks. Tisby positively quotes Angela Davis, “an academic and an activist who has been involved in Black freedom struggles since the 1960s.” Freedom in one sense, but she was also a Communist Party vice presidential candidate during the 1980s who never apologized for opposing the liberation of the Soviet Union’s slaves. 

Shines is worth reading alongside Tisby: Both writers believe that black lives matter, but Shines criticizes the BLM organization because it’s a war-maker, “a political movement properly understood as a blend of black nationalism and Marxism.” 

I also learned from Bill Steigerwald’s 30 Days a Black Man (Lyons Press, 2017). It’s about Ray Sprigle, a white reporter who in 1948 with sun and chemicals darkened his skin and passed as black. He wrote in newspapers about the “bondage—not quite slavery but not quite freedom”—that he witnessed. Among other things, he showed that “separate but equal” was “a brazen, cynical lie.”

Bookmarks

Esau McCaulley wrote Reading While Black (IVP, 2020) with conscientious black Christians in mind, especially those struggling to reconcile the Bible’s Good News with the way many white Christians historically used it to oppress them. McCaulley’s subtitle—African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope—emphasizes how the Bible is “a work contending for hope.” That’s important, because some black Christians who seek to remain faithful to both orthodox theology and justice advocacy often feel alienated from both progressive and conservative Christian circles. 

McCaulley, an Anglican priest and Wheaton professor, argues for “Black ecclesial interpretation”—careful hermeneutic reading of Biblical texts and a persevering faith that the Bible has something specific to say about both salvation and contemporary issues, including policing and black anger. He shows how Christians who are black have something valuable to add to the body of Christ. —Sophia Lee