Whether this is the best of times or the worst of times depends on your point of view. But after the recent presidential election, this could be an auspicious time for books on some of the social problems that were central to the candidates’ campaigns and still loom as the Trump era begins.
Faith groups historically have made addressing such problems as racism and poverty central to their mission. Christians in particular, from both the progressive and conservative ends of the spectrum, strive to follow the command of Jesus by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, protecting the vulnerable—and publishing books to encourage and guide activism.
Among publishers with 2017 books on these key issues is Chalice Press, the denominational publisher of the progressive Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As political power passes to the right, Chalice publisher Brad Lyons says: “Progressive Christians now have the sense of urgency that the evangelical church has had for a long time. Conservative Christians built their movement through a variety of media, and book publishing has been a key part of that. Now it’s the progressives’ turn.”
Robert Hosack, executive editor of the evangelical Baker Publishing Group, points to change on the conservative side: “For too long American evangelicals perpetuated a version of the gospel that emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus. This left evangelical churches lagging on some of the crucial social issues of the 20th century.” Now younger evangelicals in particular are turning their gaze outward, and Hosack says that “faith-based houses have an obligation to correct what the standard gospel narrative became” to focus on bringing Christian principles to righting society’s wrongs. As for the outcome of the election, Hosack says, “The audience that looks for resources to inform and facilitate their service will always be looking for such books, regardless of the Caesar who is reigning.”
Truth in Black and White
Some hailed Obama’s presidency as evidence of a postracial America, but police shootings of unarmed black men and the eruption of unrest that followed revealed a harder truth. Chalice adds to its long history of publishing on the subject with Stakes Is High: Race, Faith, and Hope for America (Feb.), by pastor, activist, and community leader Michael W. Waters, which Lyons says “takes a gritty look at the many social issues entangled in race and racism.”
Baker Books tackles racism in two new titles about the life and work of civil rights activist John M. Perkins. In his memoir, Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Jan.), Perkins tells of his own work in the movement and urges the contemporary church to lead the nation away from racism and bigotry toward love and reconciliation. In Do All Lives Matter? The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore and the Solutions We All Long For (Feb.), Perkins and coauthor Wayne Gordon help readers understand the current crisis over race relations and offer practical strategies to overcome it.
Abingdon, denominational publisher of the United Methodist Church, also has long published books about racism, many of them by clergy taking up the cause of racial reconciliation. Constance Stella, senior acquisitions and development editor, says, “Our Christianity calls us to emulate Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions, and we want our work to reflect that imperative. Our task is to help Christian leaders help others to live out our faith.” Abingdon’s Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community (Jan.), by Methodist pastor F. Willis Johnson, urges ministers to fearlessly confront the issue. Johnson writes from ground zero: he currently pastors Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Mo. Also from Abingdon is Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism (Feb.). Retired Methodist bishop Will Willimon uses as a jumping-off point the 1947 sermon delivered by pastor Hawley Lynn after the last lynching in Greenville, S.C. Willimon wants pastors of white, mainline Protestant churches to combat racial violence from the pulpit.
Authors also call churches to look beyond the pews and have an impact where they live. Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Empowering Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World (Chalice, Mar.), by pastor Tim Conder and university professor Dan Rhodes, offers principles of community organizing for congregations.
For evangelical publisher InterVarsity Press, “engagement in social justice, racial reconciliation, peacemaking, and community development are just as important to our religious expression as talking about our beliefs,” says Helen Lee, formerly acquisitions editor and now marketing director. “The recent election has uncovered racial tensions and misunderstandings that have simmered under the surface, in part because those in the majority culture have not fully engaged with issues of privilege, power, and identity.” White Americans often don’t grasp the advantages conferred by their race.
In The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege (IVP, June), pastor, educator, and social entrepreneur Ken Wytsma examines the origins and benefits of privilege, which has become a watchword since recent racial violence hit the headlines. Wytsma founded the Justice Conference to teach principles of biblical justice. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill (IVP, Sept.), pastor of a multiethnic church in Chicago, “helps readers understand the cultural and personal dynamics of being white,” she says.
Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David Leong (IVP, Feb.) “examines how geography matters, opening our eyes to the physical challenges and literal roadblocks to achieving true reconciliation,” says Lee. Also from IVP, The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action by Michelle Ferrigno Warren (July) encourages the privileged to step outside their bubbles and into the worlds of those who struggle for justice.
It is often said the most segregated places in America are its churches, and for Christians a deeper understanding of others can begin with opening the church doors to people who are not like them. Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry by pastor Mark Hearn comes in June from B&H Publishing, the trade arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Hearn’s Duluth, Ga., church has welcomed members from different ethnic groups and other countries. How to Be a Multicultural Church by Douglas Brouwer (Eerdmans, June) brings home lessons the Presbyterian pastor learned while ministering in a multiethnic, multiracial, multicultural church in one of Europe’s largest cities.
Racism often breeds violence, and in Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope (Abingdon, May), seminary professor Mai-Anh Le Tran shows how to educate for justice and against entrenched injustice. Executing God: The Death Penalty and Our Spiritual Apathy by Jeff Hood (Chalice, Apr.) urges Christians to take a stand against the institutionalized violence that is disproportionately imposed on people of color. Hood is a Baptist pastor, theologian, and activist in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions every year since 1976, according to Amnesty International.
Strangers Not Welcome
Immigration was a pressing issue even before the election, and new books approach it from a religious point of view. Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective (Eerdmans, May), by political science professor Mark Amstutz, shows how Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants bring biblical teachings to the issues; he argues for solutions rooted in Christian political thought.
Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why, and a Just Response (Anselm Academic, Aug.), by Elizabeth W. Collier and Charles R. Strain of Catholic Relief Services, examines immigration through the lens of Catholic social teachings.
In All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands (Univ. of North Carolina, July), travel writer and university professor Stephanie Elizondo Griest returns to her native South Texas, which has been devastated by drug wars and bifurcated by an 18-foot steel wall to prevent the undocumented migrants from crossing over into what was once their nation’s land. Elizondo Griest found northern parallels in the struggles of Mohawk people living on the border of New York and Canada who also are in conflict with the U.S. Border Patrol as they try to return to their ancestral lands.
The Persistence of Poverty
Advancing technology promises continuous progress on many fronts, but one problem never goes away. Always with Us: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis (Eerdmans, April) examines how Jesus’s words “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11) have been used to justify inequality and blame its victims. Theoharis argues the passage should be seen as a biblical mandate to end poverty.
Engaging Globalization: The Poor, Christian Mission, and Our Hyperconnected World (Baker Academic, Aug.), by seminary professor Bryant L. Myers, analyzes globalization and offers ways for Christians to address poverty around the world.
Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell (Eerdmans, Mar.) tells how LaSalle Street Church in Chicago gave $160,000 to church members—$500 each—with instructions to use it to do good. Truax and Campbell examine how the experiment in generosity affected the church and the members, who gifted others and were themselves transformed.
Many in poverty end up with no place to live. Welcome Homeless (W, Mar.) is by Alan Graham, founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which provides homes and delivers food to homeless people in Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Nashville, and other cities. Graham also is developing and building Community First! Village, a planned community that will provide affordable housing and support to the disabled and chronically homeless in Austin.
Is there an ultimate solution to the problems that vex humanity? In one of President Obama’s last speeches in office he summarized the cure for society’s ills: love. Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigert (IVP, Sept.) also reminds readers to confront conflict from a place of love, becoming the peacemakers Jesus calls Christians to be.