Diversity remains a hot topic in publishing, and efforts to increase the representation of nonwhite people in the industry are on the rise. In addition to calls for more diverse authors, editors, characters, and stories, organizations such as People of Color in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books are rapidly growing. Religion publishers are among those meeting the demand for titles that represent minorities and also battling the deep roots of racism. Dozens of new books lay out steps that can lead to racial reconciliation, while others look at ways to bridge divides through biblical teachings.
Katelyn Beaty, acquisitions editor at Brazos Press, says the publisher is actively working to diversify its author base. “I’m pursuing conversations with authors of color in order to listen, and with the hopes that our editorial program clearly reflects the diversity of the American and global church,” she notes. Additionally, she believes Christians can play an essential role in the advancement of racial reconciliation, and that the church “must reckon with the brutality of our country’s past, and [the church’s] complicity in that brutality, as well as work to heal broken systems into the future.”
In August, Brazos will publish Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now by Brenda Salter McNeil, a professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University and an evangelical pastor. The book draws on the biblical narrative of Esther to make a case for why true racial reconciliation is not possible without justice. In the book, McNeil urges Christians to “speak up and out about injustice and... go about the work of dismantling the structures and combating the harmful, even deadly result of this country’s unchecked legacy of systemic inequality and discrimination.”
Also drawing on the Bible—specifically on the practice of lament, or expressing one’s sorrow through prayer—Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation by Mark Vroegop (Crossway, Aug.) explores the ways “weeping with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) establishes a common ground between the church and those suffering from racial wounds. “Reconciliation in the church starts with tears and ends in trust,” Vroegop writes. “While lament doesn’t solve all the problems, it’s a place to begin.”
Rooting out racism
Activism is on the rise for many faith groups, and Zondervan Reflective is targeting Christians who are asking what can be done about racial injustice and discrimination in How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Dec.). Author Jemar Tisby, president of media company the Witness: A Black Christian Collective, writes about issues surrounding religion, politics, and culture, introducing a model based on three tenets: awareness, relationships, and commitment.
“How to Fight Racism is written for people who want to be part of the solution, but they aren’t quite sure how to get started,” says Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor at Zondervan Reflective. “What are you doing to build relationships across racial and ethnic lines? How are you committing to change at the policy level so that institutions and systems become more racially equitable?”
Zondervan is also pursuing authors with diverse perspectives on how faith and culture intersect. Similar to the model in How to Fight Racism, Pazdur uses “a combination of gathering information, developing relationships, and intentional publishing decisions” in order to change the status quo in the industry, he says. “It can be a slow process, taking two steps forward and one step back, but we are grateful for the authors who are helping us make that journey.”
To that end, Zondervan Reflective is publishing How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being That Guy) by Sam Chan in October, as well as a new book on cross-cultural relationships by Michelle Reyes and an edited volume on apologetics in the African-American community by Eric Mason next spring.
Featuring an array of contributors and edited by Episcopal priest and activist Gayle Fisher-Stewart, Preaching Black Lives (Matter) (Church, July) explores how preaching about race is essential to eliminating racism in the church and in society. And taking a closer look at the impact films have on society, A Long, Long Way: Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation by Greg Garrett (Oxford Univ., June) criticizes decades of favorable portrayals of white supremacist groups and racist depictions of African-Americans in films. Garrett, author of The Gospel According to Hollywood and a professor of English of Baylor University, argues that movies have altered cultural perspectives in the same way that religious narratives have; in fact, the publisher notes, Garrett’s account points to how faith traditions can offer powerful correctives to “the racist history of America’s national art form.”
Mending the divide
Along with books on reconciliation between races, new titles are urging readers to pursue a greater sense of community that involves people whose beliefs and backgrounds differ from their own.
In The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best (IVP, Aug.), Irwyn Ince examines ways that the church has contributed to ethnic and racial divides, and suggests how true wholeness and unity can be found. “What will enable us to actively resist the pernicious polarization that has been present in the church in America from the beginning?” Ince asks in the book. “It will not be the fact that diversity is a hot topic in the culture today. It will not be the pressure to appear viable or acceptable to the culture. The pursuit is too hard. It is too perplexing and often too painful, if our commitment is not drenched in the beautiful truth that we are participating in the beautiful plan and purpose of our beautiful God.”
Also from IVP, The Colors of Culture: The Beauty of Diverse Friendships by MelindaJoy Mingo (Sept.) describes the author’s experiences with befriending people from around the world. Leaving one’s comfort zone and connecting with others comes with risk, but the resulting relationships make it worthwhile, she writes.
Anna Gissing, associate editor at IVP Academic, says the book shows how to “appreciate, value, and relate well with people who are different from us,” which, she notes, “is particularly important as we realize both how connected our world is and how divided we are.” She adds that publishing diverse voices has been a longstanding priority for IVP, and that the press continuously searches for new authors by reviewing social media, attending conferences, and contacting its authors for input on new voices.
In another look at how to heal divisions, White Lies: Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us by Daniel Hill (Zondervan, Oct.) defines what white supremacy is and how it functions in order to help readers confront and dismantle it. The book, which is a follow-up to Hill’s White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White, draws upon teachings from the Bible that relate to inclusion, equality, and racial harmony.
“I think that most of us carry this fantasy that if we take the racial awakening journey seriously enough—if we read the right articles, study the right history books, listen to the right podcasts—that we will eventually land at an arrival point where we can exhale and join the ranks of other woke white allies,” Hill writes. “The reality is that I am on an ongoing journey of discovery.”
Also tackling the issue of white privilege, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging by Willie James Jennings (Eerdmans, Oct.) makes a case for how theological educational systems and Christian intellectuals alike continue to promote whiteness and its related ideas of masculinity and individualism, rather than an authentic connection with God and others around us. Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale University Divinity School, writes, “Western education (and theological education) as it now exists works against a pedagogy of belonging. Theological education must capture its central work—to form us in the art of cultivating belonging.”
In her title on belonging, Kaitlin B. Curtice describes how reconnecting with her indigenous heritage both informs and challenges her faith in Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God (Brazos, May). She encourages readers to embrace their own origins, share their stories, and listen to the stories of others as a means for building a more inclusive and diverse future, according to the publisher.
Ashlee Eiland draws on her personal experiences as a black woman in Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together (WaterBrook, out now). The book presents what she has learned about her own self worth as well as insights on others’ inherent value. In a starred review, PW called Human(Kind) “revealing and enthralling” (for a q&a with the author, see “Radical Kindness.”).
I Am Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World by Michael T. McRay (Herald, Apr.) features a collection of true stories from activists, peacemakers, clergy members, and others about their experiences with reconciliation and justice. According to the publisher, each account poses questions such as, Must violence be met with violence? Is my belonging complete only when I take away yours? And will more guns, more walls, more weapons keep us safe?
“We’ve forgotten—or perhaps never really learned—how to live together well,” McRay writes. “Like many people, I am often tempted to believe there’s no hope for us. But I can’t. I believe... we are the ones who can save ourselves.”
Chalice Press is publishing The World Is About to Turn: Mending a Nation’s Broken Faith by religion professors Rick Rouse and Paul O. Ingram in November. The book examines how people of different perspectives and faith traditions can find common ground and mutual respect for one another.
Publisher Brad Lyons notes that The World Is About to Turn provides critically important lessons on how to relate to others. “We learn how to become self-aware of our own degree of prejudice or openness to others,” he says of the book. “We become willing to engage in honest and respectful communication with those who are of a different faith or culture. Most importantly, we embrace diversity by learning how people of various traditions contribute to the rich kaleidoscope that is America.”
Lyons says Chalice is working to develop a diverse pool of authors through its partnership with the Forum for Theological Exploration, a national incubator of young progressive Christian leaders. “We also seek out authors who have demonstrated a commitment to listening to the many worldviews, comparing and contrasting them in ways that help their readers better understand the amazing way our world is one inconceivably large community.”
Last among the books on bridge building, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference by Timothy Keller and John Inazu (Nelson Books, out now) highlights examples of how to approach questions about race, homosexuality, immigration, and other issues with humility, love, and tolerance. It features content from authors Tish Harrison Warren and Trillia Newbwell, as well as from hip-hop artist Lecrae, pastors, educators, and several other Christian leaders. “The smaller the gap between you, the easier the bridge is to build,” contributor Shirley V. Hoogstra writes in the book. “The biggest need for bridge building, however, is where the gap is the biggest.”
Moving forward in faith
Looking ahead, religion publishers are keen to include more diverse voices who can help heal the wounds of racism in the U.S. Zondervan Reflective’s Pazdur notes, “Whether through health disparities, police brutality, or white supremacist attacks, racial hatred steals lives.” He hopes that more readers, regardless of spiritual background, will join the antiracist movement.
Beaty at Brazos would like to see the current moment lead to “courage to use our voices to speak up, to address racial injustice, and to listen to those who are marginalized.”
And Lyons at Chalice aims to guide readers toward a future in which neighbors are embraced without question. “As the religious landscape of America grows increasingly diverse, and with religious intolerance on the rise in the past two decades,” he says, “Christians must be more intentional about finding ways to connect with those of other faiths, finding common ground, and working cooperatively to strengthen our communities and our country.”