Everyone talks about diversity these days, but what does it mean? Unlocking doors for women to enter male-dominated professions? Welcoming people of color into previously white bastions? Integrating the poor into societies of the privileged? Clearing obstacles that keep those with disabilities from full participation in society?
It means all of those things, but at bottom, diversity is about forging relationships with people who don’t look, act, or believe the same way we do, according to new and forthcoming books from religious publishers.
The Power of Friendship
Civil rights activist John Perkins argues in He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World (Moody, Oct.), written with Karen Waddles, that forging relationships is the antidote for the poison of racism. “We are living in historic times,” he writes. “Not since the civil rights movement of the ’60s has our country been this vigorously engaged in the reconciliation conversation. There is a great opportunity right now for culture to change, to be a more perfect union.”
Perkins’s book is part of Moody Publishers’ Salt + Light initiative, which creates church resources linked to its books about racial reconciliation. Randall Payleitner, associate publisher, says, “The overarching theme of unity informs our publishing decisions, encompassing the following four areas that represent the dividing issues within the church: diversity, geography, culture, and community.”
The reach toward transformative friendships can be long. Perkins found an ally in Thomas Tarrants, who as a teenager in the 1960s joined the Ku Klux Klan, spreading terror throughout the South. Tarrants recounts his turn from being a white supremacist to becoming an advocate for racial justice in Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation (Nelson, Aug.).
After converting to Christianity in prison, Tarrants attended college and became co-pastor of a racially mixed church in Washington, D.C. He writes that, while working on his book, “I began to see a resurgence of the racism, anti-Semitism and political extremism that I had been a part of during the turbulent 1960s. This set off alarm bells in me.” He notes that he hopes his book will be a cautionary tale and a call to action.
Another interracial friendship—this one between a young black woman and an older white man—is the subject of Black & White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick (Abingdon, out now). The two became friends while working together at Atlanta’s Buckhead Church, where Hambrick has been pastor since 2004. “Friendship is a foundation for the concrete work of reforming systems and institutions infected with racism,” they write. Hadra is now executive pastor at Church of the Resurrection, an Anglican parish in Los Angeles.
Activist and writer Rozella Haydée White writes of the transforming power of such friendships in Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World (Fortress, May). Bridging divides can be difficult because, she notes, “we are reluctant to take responsibility for all of humanity, and this leads to a continual breakdown of human relationships.”
Christians have a responsibility to make friends across racial, socioeconomic, and religious divides, writes Boston University professor Dana Robert in Faithful Friendships: Embracing Diversity in Christian Community (Eerdmans, Sept.): “The cultivation of risk-taking friendships is an ethical and spiritual imperative.”
Leading Through Faith
Pastor D.A. Horton writes that as people who have experienced reconciliation with God, Christians must lead the way toward reconciliation between the races. His Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World (NavPress, Oct.) offers guidance for reaching that goal.
Dhati Lewis challenges Christians to see discrimination, prejudice, and racism as sins and urges them to repent in Advocates: The Narrow Path to Racial Reconciliation (LifeWay, June). He contends Christians must live their faith by becoming advocates for the marginalized. Lewis is a pastor and vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board’s Send Network.
Another publisher advancing racial reconciliation is Westminster John Knox, the U.S. trade publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “As a progressive religion publisher, we believe we fill a unique role in the religious publishing marketplace,” says publisher David Dobson. “We have intentionally increased both the number of titles around these issues as well as the number of titles published by people of color and other marginalized communities who have perspectives that have not been given the same platform as those from white, Eurocentric voices.”
Joining that list is Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save Us (WJK, Oct.) by Presbyterian pastor Layton E. Williams, who disagrees that unity should be the goal of racial reconciliation. “When we pursue earthly unity at all costs, it becomes for us an idol—a distraction from the greater unity that comes from God,” she writes. “This sort of unity—which seems to value collective togetherness over genuine complex relationship—is unholy and is driving us farther and farther apart.” Shaped by her study of the Bible as well as her experiences as a bisexual female pastor from a conservative Southern background, Williams argues that friendships with those who are not like us give much-needed perspective.
Terrell Carter draws from his experiences as both a former police officer and a black pastor serving white congregations in Healing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity (Chalice, out now), digging at the roots of racism in America and examining how it is perpetuated. Racism persists, he argues, because whiteness is assumed to be the norm: “Most people believe what stems from white assumptions, culture, needs, and thinking should be given priority over and against the needs and preferences of all minority cultures, and all minority cultures should conform to whiteness and its dominance.... Whiteness as the standard is unrepresentative of God and God’s desires for equality and unity.” Carter is vice president and chief diversity officer at Greenville University in Greenville, Ill.
The Ferguson, Mo., uprising and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement was a signal event in the battle for justice, Leah Gunning Francis writes in Faith Following Ferguson: Five Years of Resilience and Wisdom (Chalice, Aug.). Francis reconnects with the faith leaders who joined the protests: “Five years after the Ferguson uprising captivated the world’s attention, clergy and activists have carried on and expanded the work for racial justice in St. Louis and beyond,” she writes. “This revolution will not be televised but its reverberations are being felt around the country.” Francis—also the author of Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community—is a seminary dean and the mother of two African-American sons; she grounds her scholarship and activism on loving and honoring young black men.
Reckoning with the Past
Racism continues to cast a long shadow, Robert W. Lee acknowledges in A Sin by Any Other Name: Reckoning with Racism and the Heritage of the South (Convergent, out now). He recalls what it was like growing up as a descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the South, where nostalgia for the Confederacy lingers and General Lee is still revered. Robert W. Lee was a little-known pastor at a small church in North Carolina until the Charlottesville, Va., protests, when he went public with his denunciation of white supremacy in a speech at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. As letters of support and threats poured in from around the country, Lee was ousted from his church and has joined activists across the South who are charting a new course for the region.
Going back even further, in America’s Unholy Ghosts: The Racist Roots of Our Faith and Politics (Cascade, out now), scholar and pastor Joel Edward Goza traces racist ideologies back to the work of philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith, contending that their work helped create what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the ideational roots of race hate.” The book closes with Goza challenging white people to become aware of their racism and to be determined to change. According to PW’s starred review, “Goza’s ability to sharply discern and clearly explain ideas underlying American thinking will open important conversations about the nature of equality.”
Seeing the Marginalized
Injustice persists, and we walk among people who are invisible because we choose to ignore them—the poor, homeless, and marginalized. Terence Lester’s I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People (IVP, Aug.) aims to illuminate their lives; he experienced firsthand their suffering and alienation when he chose to live for a time on the streets of Atlanta. “When we are able to listen to someone else’s story with an open heart and hear their experience, which may look different from ours, we begin to close the gap between them and us,” he writes. Lester is a cofounder of Love Beyond Walls, a nonprofit focused on the awareness of poverty and the need to alleviate it.
Harry Louis Williams II ministers to the hungry, homeless, addicted, and incarcerated in Oakland, Calif. In Taking It to the Streets: Lessons from a Life of Urban Ministry (IVP, July), he offers an introduction to urban ministry that is designed to encourage a new generation of activists. But Williams cautions that activists must approach the work with the right mind-set—he calls on “Anglo missionaries” to communities of color “not to be religious colonists but to journey beside the people they will serve.” He adds, “Listen to the people’s stories. Hear their voices. Sit underneath the leadership of someone of color before you lead people of color.” Williams is an ordained minister and the author of No Easy Walk and Street Cred.
Women of color are doubly marginalized, writes psychologist and minister Chanequa Walker-Barnes, who argues in I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Eerdmans, Oct.) that their voices must be heard in any genuine effort toward reconciliation: “Women of color... are constantly bending and genuflecting in order to fit into the small, contorted spaces that society has set for us.” That, she writes, is why women of color “have unique vantage points from which to view how the system works.” She adds, “Those who are serious about liberation and reconciliation would do well to sit at our feet and learn from us.” Walker-Barnes is a university professor and the author of Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.
In the face of historic and contemporary oppression, some still rise above their circumstances. Caylin Moore’s A Dream Too Big: The Story of an Improbable Journey from Compton to Oxford (Nelson, June) recounts his mother’s sexual assault and the incarceration of his father for murder; it was his mother’s strong faith that inspired him to avoid a gang, excel in sports and academics, and earn Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships. There is no such thing as a dream too big, he writes: “I’ve been brutally hungry... treated like a throwaway person... known crushing poverty. I’ve had guns flashed at me as I walked home from school, and I’ve lost friends to senseless violence. If all that has taught me anything, it’s that you can get by without food. You can transition from victim of violence to victor over violence. It is only when you give up hope that you will be beaten and lost.”
Some say that the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning, as African-American and white believers still largely worship in their own churches. Upending that narrative is Peter Jarrett-Schell, a white man who pastors a historically black church. He also is married to a black woman and is the father of a biracial son. In Seeing My Skin: A Story of Wrestling with Whiteness (Church, Aug.), Jarrett-Schell tells of his epiphany during what he describes as a racially motivated traffic stop, when police separated him from his wife and son for questioning. The episode threw into sharp relief the effects of racism. “In our nation’s racial structure, to be White is taken as default,” he writes. “We don’t notice the rails of race that our lives run on because they are built for us.”
Jarrett-Schell challenges white readers to confront the ways whiteness distorts their relationships and sense of self, arguing that dismantling racism is also crucial for white people. He is pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
In Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. (Fortress, July), Lenny Duncan writes of being a black pastor in the historically white Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denomination, which was founded by Scandinavian immigrants. Like other mainline Protestant denominations, ELCA churches have been in decline for decades, which is usually attributed to shifting demographics and an overall retreat from religions by Americans. But Duncan—whose documentary film, Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA?, was released in 2017—contends that the denomination’s lack of diversity is what has caused its churches to wither.
Duncan suggests a radical form of reconciliation: “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa can be a model for us,” he writes. “[It] created an avenue for claimants to step forward and ask for reparations, and for sinners to face their accusers. The U.N. believes the United States owes black people reparations. That includes us, Church, and we can lead the way.... This is a dangerous experiment. But so is Christianity.”