Faithful Antiracism, Christina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan, foreword by Korie Little Edwards and Michael O. Emerson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.
Summary: Drawing upon the Race, Religion, and Justice Project, offers biblical and practical recommendations to engage racism personally and with one’s faith community.
The resurgence of white supremacy movements, police-involved shootings or other measures resulting in the deaths of a disproportionate number of Blacks, and efforts to suppress the history of slavery and racism in our country is, to be frank, discouraging. With the election of the first Black president, many of us had hopes that we had turned a corner in our racial history.
This book is one both of realism, rooted in the recent research findings of the Race, Religion, and Justice Project, and hope, rooted in the scriptures and the God in whom we trust. Indeed, the title, Faithful Antiracism, is a ringing challenge both to trust God and keep showing up to work against the forces that sustain racism.
The authors both come from long experiences of working with churches and other organizations in developing policies and practices fostering greater racial equity in their midst and greater effectiveness in addressing racism in society. Chad directed the Race, Religion, and Justice Project that studied the racial dynamics in U.S. Christianity, interviewing 115 leaders and experts, and involving 119 congregations with 3260 congregants. They also use research from Renew Partnerships Campus Climate Survey and Barna Research.
The first chapter of the group shares some of their research findings. It turns out that Christians often have less accurate racial views and are less motivated to address racial injustice. They attribute this to a “cultural toolkit” that emphasizes accountable freewill individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism that hinder recognizing societal and economic differences, and embedded structures that account for disparities in things such as household wealth by race.
They then turn to scripture showing the structures of racial hostility evident in Ephesians 2 and the significance of the work of Christ in bringing both peace and justice. They survey the concerns of the prophets regarding the unjust structures in Israelite society that oppressed the poor. They note that while Christians attest to being committed to scripture, this is often qualified by the talking points of political culture which takes precedence. They elaborate a variety of principles that apply to racial justice from denunciations of greed, to making things right when we’ve benefited from unjust racial hierarchies. They then turn to biblical and historical figures who stood for justice.
They also emphasize how understanding the past is critical if we are to understand the pain of those who lived through these realities or bear the traumas of parents and grandparents who suffered them. They offer an outline of that history. They turn to the importance of understanding the present as well, pointing out key events from the 1960’s to the present, the forms of opposition, the superficial support that often covers this, and the ways political allegiance have taken precedence over biblical teaching. One of the most trenchant observations was the strategy of “label, mischaracterize, dismiss” to oppose pursuit of racial justice, calling actions of people of goodwill “a movement” (labelling), describing it as Marxist or Socialist when it is motivated by biblical concerns (mischaracterizing), and warning people to avoid such stuff (dismiss).
Often superficial efforts have focused around the “magic” of relationships, helping people become Christians, of “colorblindness, “of being welcoming, or even being “woke.” Often, these obscure deeper issues both in our own lives and in the organizational structures of our churches and other organizations. Rather, we ought take a page from a study of Acts, as the church overcame racial barriers. We also need mentors and solidarity with others beyond our own groups and should seek out coaches as we engage this work. We learn to measure change with substantive rather than superficial measures. And we learn both how to partner with those facing injustice and use our presence and economic and political resources to withdraw support from those acting unjustly.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a hopeful, though grittily realistic book. It grounds our efforts to stand against racial injustice in scripture while refusing superficial window dressing. But it also names practical steps individuals and groups can take. This is a handbook churches can use, with discussion questions and prayer that help bring truths before God for his illumination, leading to actions of substance instead of a world of talk.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.