Scholars are addressing the turmoil and wounds associated with race in America. New and upcoming titles provide faith perspectives on racism and white privilege. Writers include Black and women scholars, as well as white scholars who are looking more closely in their mirrors.
Increasing representation in the author ranks of Black scholars brings new approaches and fresh questions to the forefront. “Homogeneous scholars produce homogeneous questions and answers,” says Trevor Thompson, who directs the New Testament project at Eerdmans. “Stated plainly: non-white-male scholars see, experience, understand, interpret, and apply the Bible in ways that are different from white male scholars.”
One of the titles the house is highlighting this year at AAR/SBL is African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation by Lisa M. Bowens (out now). Among the best-known maxims of Paul, included in two of his letters, is the admonishment to enslaved peoples to obey their earthly masters. Bowens, an associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, scoured centuries of primary texts, such as sermons, books, and pamphlets by the formerly enslaved, to see how they understood Paul’s letters—and how they pushed back against the interpretations of their oppressors, Thompson says.
Biblical interpretation coming from Black pastors has been “overlooked and undervalued,” says IVP associate editor Anna Mosley Gissing. Esau McCaulley, an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, takes up the mantle in Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (IVP, out now).
“One goal of Reading While Black is to demonstrate that the Bible really speaks to common concerns of Black Christians,” Gissing says. “McCaulley therefore includes chapters on policing, political protest, social and biblical justice, ethnic identity, rage, and slavery.” Throughout the book, McCaulley shows how hope is always to be found if people bring their concerns to Scripture, Gissing notes.
Wayne C. Croft Sr., pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester, Pa., and an associate professor of homiletics and liturgics at United Lutheran Seminary, writes about the strength, resilience, and commitment to justice that Black Christians have relied upon in their Christian community life. His A History of the Black Baptist Church: I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired (Judson, out now) traces the history of Black Baptists across centuries. Although Black churches are “markedly varied in terms of polity, theology, and history,” he writes, all reflect their “birth in slavery—emergence from oppressive structures, nurture in the bosom of social protest, and continued existence in the 21st century.”
University of North Carolina Press executive editor Elaine Maisner highlights an upcoming history discussing race and faith among evangelical Christians. White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America (Mar.) by Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania and frequent media commentator on religion and politics, delineates a trail across time of “fake morality and real racism,” Maisner says. Butler, she adds, also challenges those evangelicals who have used whiteness as a way to maintain social and political power, even as “unrelenting racism is killing their own movement.”
Theology and racism
White scholars, too, are taking on the ways racism informs scriptural interpretation. In Ethnicity and Inclusion: Religion, Race, and Whiteness in Constructions of Jewish and Christian Identities (Eerdmans, Oct.), David G. Horrell, professor of New Testament studies and director of the Centre for Biblical Studies at the University of Exeter, U.K., shows the roots of constructions of race in biblical interpretation and the ways these “shape our modern ethnic imagination and social interaction,” according to Thompson. There is a “vicious spiral: readers input race (and its attendant notions) into the interpretation of the Bible; the result is racist reading.”
The roots of today’s divisions are also visible in Christian Citizens: Reading the Bible in Black and White in the Postemancipation South (Univ. of North Carolina, Nov.) by Elizabeth L. Jemison, assistant professor of religion at Clemson University. Her book argues that “the Bible-reading strategies that southern white Christians developed after emancipation aided the rise of fundamentalism” and gave “the Christianity of white supremacy a national stage.”
Another scholar being highlighted at AAR/SBL takes on a different element of the Civil War’s legacy: what to do about Confederate war monuments and the cultural ethos that honors them. Baylor Press managing editor Cade Jarrell calls Cut in Stone: Confederate Monuments and Theological Disruption (out now) by Ryan Andrew Newson, an assistant professor of theology and ethics at Campbell University in North Carolina, a “groundbreaking” analysis of the deeper meaning of the showdown over statuary. Newson argues that public objects of commemoration have a theological role because “they amount to a summation of a group’s beliefs about what it means to be human and what is the ultimate good,” Jarrell says. They have “relevance in the ongoing drama—and trauma—of race in America” and the need for Christians to lead in repenting for this tarnished legacy.
Responding to racism
Understanding racism is only the first step toward addressing it. Zondervan Reflective is highlighting three titles about how Christians can identify and challenge racism. The first is How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racism (Jan. 2021), by Jemar Tisby, president of the Witness: A Black Christian Collective and author of one of this year’s bestsellers, The Color of Compromise. Tisby calls it an action handbook and says that “niceness” without awareness and commitment is not in his index.
In Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege (Aug. 2021), Dominique DuBois Gillard, director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church, “uses Scripture to elucidate how privilege emerges from sin, is sustained by our hardened hearts, and keeps us complicit with oppression,” according to Zondervan.
In Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Dec.), Thaddeus J. Williams writes that Christians must be discerning because “not everything called ‘social justice’ today is compatible with a biblical vision of a better world,” says Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor. “The Bible offers a vision of social justice that is far more unifying, compelling, and hopeful than the visions of justice being offered right now by polarized political parties.”