A bevy of books from religion and spirituality publishers are tackling hot-button social and political issues through the lens of faith leading up to the 2020 election. The left and the right remain deeply divided on issues such as gun rights, health care, and abortion, and several new titles are striving to heal the polarized nation, while others are looking to the past to help answer questions about the future.
Religion has often intersected with social issues, says Lil Copan, senior acquisition editor at Broadleaf Books. “It’s been a source of activism in every decade and generation,” she adds.
At HarperOne, senior editor Miles Doyle says there is a need among readers to better understand “how faith and politics continue to intersect in unexpected ways.”
And when asked why more religion books are covering political topics now than in years prior, Oxford University Press editor Theo Calderara says he thinks political and social issues have become “inescapable.” He adds, “There are no longer any plausible ‘apolitical’ spheres of life. Religion is no different. As every aspect of American life has been politicized, it forces everyone to engage with politics.”
The root of the problem
“Given how heated our political rhetoric has become, and how much of a circus it can seem to be, the book provides a grounded, empirical, and enlightening argument about an important force in American politics,” Calderara says. “It looks at American politics through an entirely new lens.”
In June, OUP will publish The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors, which chronicles the changing values of evangelical voters over the last century. Author John W. Compton argues that during the 1960s, large groups of white suburbanites shifted away from mainline Protestant churches and toward evangelical congregations with conservative leaders, which has resulted in the current political alignment in which evangelicals firmly back President Trump.
A third title from OUP, Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement (May) traces a distrust of the media to the explosion of right-wing radio programs during the late 1950s and ’60s. Author Paul Matzko makes a case for how the political influence of what he identifies as the Radio Right provides “the essential prehistory for the last four decades of conservative activism, as well as the historical context for current issues of political bias and censorship in the media,” according to the publisher.
Presenting yet another deep dive into America’s religious history, White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America by Khyati Y. Joshi (New York Univ., July) examines what the author calls “Americanness” and the struggle for religious minorities to be recognized as legitimate members of American society. “This book traces how the accumulation of advantages for Christians, through laws and public policy, has shaped America,” says Jennifer Hammer, senior editor at NYU. “Joshi shows how white Christian supremacy has been created and sustained through centuries of slavery, westward expansion, immigration and citizenship laws. The book offers concrete examples of present-day experiences of American Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Jews, and provides models for how America can offer the benefits of Christian privilege to non-Christians.”
Ready to fight
Gearing up for battle is a common theme among the books on faith and social issues. Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons (Broadleaf, Sept.) examines the past to make a case for how the religious left has contributed to every major progressive advance in American society. Additionally, the book calls on progressive Christians to raise their voices and fight for “the biggest political battles of our time—from immigration and economic fairness to LGBTQ+ rights and abortion rights,” according to the publisher.
“Just Faith is starting a conversation that progressives of various faith traditions need to have: about developing a cohesive sense of vision and about reclaiming a language of faith that has often been coopted by religious conservatives,” Broadleaf’s Copan says.
Religion News Service national reporter Jack Jenkins is championing the progressive values of the religious left in The Religious Roots of Progressive Politics and the Ongoing Fight for the Soul of the Country (HarperOne Apr.). In addition to profiling progressive faith leaders such as Linda Sarsour, cochair of the Women’s March, the book examines liberal faith-based activism from America’s founding through today.
Doyle of HarperOne calls the book “a much-needed narrative resource on what progressive faith-in-action looks like today, and a paradigm-shifting discussion of how the country’s moral force has always come from the left, not the right.”
In his new book, Jesus Politics: How to Win Back the Soul of America (Nelson, Aug.), Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, contends that “identity politics, creeping socialist policies, and the vast partisan divide threaten the very fabric of America,” according to the publisher. Robertson, who is a prominent figure among Christian conservatives, writes that Christians must use all resources, including their votes, “to protect and advance the policies of King Jesus.”
Along with titles on partisan battle lines, several authors are offering a way out of the discord. These include faith-based guides to communication across the aisle that aim to restore unity amid the deep political unrest of today.
“It’s no surprise that our society is divided; our online conversation is both evidence of that division and one of the reasons for it,” says Taylor Combs, associate publisher of Christian living and leadership at B&H. “Unfortunately, Christians haven’t been innocent in this regard, and we’re often tempted to speak unhelpfully online or to abandon the platform altogether.” As a corrective, B&H is publishing A Way with Words by Daniel Darling (Aug.), which takes a biblical approach to technology.
In Brave Talk: Building Resilient Relationships in the Face of Conflict (Broadleaf, July), Melody Stanford Martin points to an unlikely solution for better understanding and deepening ties between those with opposing views: the suspension of our desire to resolve differences. “Disagreement plays a vital role in shaping our ideas and relationships,” explains Lisa Kloskin, acquisitions editor at Broadleaf. “When we learn to disagree well, we can replace polarized ideological bubbles with vibrant communities that are strong instead of fragile; communities that can hold and sustain awkward and uncomfortable difference.”
Lutheran pastor Emily M.D. Scott details the foundation of what she calls a church for misfits—St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn—in her debut, For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World (Convergent, May). Congregants gather for dinner each Sunday as well as conversations that have resulted in greater empathy and courage among them, she writes.
“Emily’s story is a reminder that there’s something we can do with this deep, churning sense that things aren’t right,” says Derek Reed, senior editor at Convergent, “and that our small actions of connection and solidarity hold more power than we give them credit for.”