Racialized Religion

This past year of doctoral studies for me has been focused on two related topics —  1) Slavery in the Ancient World and 2) Race & Ethnicity in the Ancient World — both with an eye to how grasping the ancient past can help better inform our Christian witness in the present day. 

Along the way I picked up Jemar Tisby’s new book The Color of Compromise which is a sober look at the past 400 years of racial inequality in America — in particular, the Evangelical church’s complicity. Very eye-opening for a white guy from the suburbs blind to my own blindness. 

I am learning so much by exposing myself to other perspectives and listening to other people’s experiences around race. For me, this is not a liberal vs. conservative topic (as the media presents it), but a test to see if Christians are committed to listening to and bearing with the stories and experiences of Christian brother and sisters of very different backgrounds.  

Our denomination’s publication The Covenant Companion recently published an interview with Jemar Tisby on this book, and it’s worth thoughtful attention. 

Racialized Religion A Conversation with Jemar Tisby

by Erin Chan Ding | July 18, 2019

When it comes to reflecting on the deepest of America’s sins—the degradation of human beings based on internalized narratives of racial difference—Jemar Tisby does not allow the church to shrug off its culpability.

With his new book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Zondervan), published earlier this year, Tisby identifies both Christian indifference to racism in America and how the church has in fact perpetuated the evil.

“Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity,” Tisby writes. “They chose comfort over constructive conflict, and in doing so created and maintained a status quo of injustice.”

With a historian’s lens and a pastor’s heart, Tisby unfolds more than 400 years of the American church’s complicity in racism—and reveals how that history includes the race-based violence, unjust policies, explosive rhetoric, and income inequity that still exist in our culture today.

We caught up with Tisby as he navigated an airport, bouncing between a podcast recording at Fuller Theological Seminary in California and a flight home to the Mississippi Delta, where he is a doctoral student at the University of Mississippi, president of the Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and co-host of the Pass the Mic podcast, to talk about racism, the church, and what we as Christians must do.

The whole book is a setup to get to the last chapter, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” which is a quote from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. What I hoped to accomplish is to prompt Christians to engage in anti-racist activism. The idea is that, given the scope of our history, we need to take immediate steps to move in radical ways toward racial justice. Along the way, I hope the book also sparks conversation. Readers have told me it’s been helpful to see an entire narrative of the church’s complicity in racism—that it isn’t just an isolated event here or there.

Is there a sense of trying to awaken people to the systemic nature of racism, to move beyond the assumption that it’s just a few “bad apple” individuals?

If there’s anything distinctive about evangelicalism in the United States, it’s the level of individualism at the core of our ideology. Partly that stems from our understanding of sin as primarily about personal holiness. We also talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on personal behaviors. That works against a robust understanding of systemic and institutional manifestations of injustice.

If there is a critical piece missing in the racial justice ethos of evangelicalism, it is the sense of systemic and institutional sin. In the book I’m making an effort to awaken people to the reality that racism functions not merely in individual and interpersonal ways but also systemically and institutionally.

Read rest of article here.

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