This country faces huge divides when it comes to politics, systemic racism, economic disparity, the treatment of women and immigrants, and more. Religion publishers’ approach to these monumental social issues is to bring forward titles analyzing how America reached this trying state and looking toward where solutions—and bridges—might be found. These new and forthcoming books offer faith-based suggestions and hope for wounded hearts and a fractured nation.
David Bratt, acquisitions editor at Eerdmans, says, “If Christians can stand united in what they believe and reject the polarizing tendencies of the broader culture, they can be a stronger countercultural witness, in keeping with the best traditions of the Christian faith.” Among Eerdmans’s titles is The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship (Mar.) by Daniel K. Williams, professor of history at the University of West Georgia. The book draws on history, policy analysis, and biblically grounded theology to show how Christians can honor traditional teachings while avoiding the politics of fear, power, and partisanship.
“This book reminds Christians that neither side of the political divide is rooted entirely in the Christian message—that Christians have to be on their guard against uncritical acceptance of anyone else’s political agenda,” Bratt says. “Williams has long been a careful student of the relationship between faith and politics.” He cites the author’s “loving and clear-eyed approach toward politics that helps the most vulnerable and safeguards religious freedom at the same time.”
Other titles that speak to the political discussion include one from former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam. Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square (Nelson, May) casts a vision for the redemptive role of faith in politics, examining issues such as partisanship, suitable character traits for a public servant, and the separation of church and state.
In A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community (Broadleaf, Sept.), Adam Russell Taylor, president of Sojourners and former v-p of advocacy at World Vision, reimagines a contemporary version of society in which privilege and punishment are not tied to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status. “Given the deep polarization in our society and politics, often framed in the language of religion, this is a book that speaks to a return to our roots—from a constitutional call to a ‘more perfect union’ to the ‘beloved community’ rooted in the call for faith and justice led by Martin Luther King, Jr,” says Lil Copan, senior acquisitions editor for Broadleaf. The book has a foreword by late civil rights activist John Lewis. Taylor’s vision is, as Copan puts it, “necessarily religious and civic, a vision that starts when we disabuse ourselves of the lies we’ve told ourselves about this nation, our history, and what leads us to become toxic and polarizing.”
Broadleaf is also offering Our Fair Share: How One Small Change Can Create a More Equitable American Economy by Brian C. Johnson (Sept.). Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, an LGBTQ rights organization, offers a solution to America’s economic disparities and moves away from the country’s core values. His solution, called the citizen dividend, is a model that assumes economic growth is built off the wealth Americans have created together as a country, and proposes that together we should all reap its benefits.
Johnson outlines the benefits of his model, tackles common concerns, and provides examples using the accounts of six Americans of diverse backgrounds, each wrestling with what it means to survive and thrive in today’s economic reality. While not explicitly Christian, the author’s views are centered “in shared American values,” Copan says.
Conflict Resolution and Healing
Several upcoming titles address conflict resolution at a time when deep disagreements seem to exist everywhere. Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution: A Guide for Turbulent Times by Tony Merida (B&H, May) deals with conflict in all areas, from the latest culture war to marital conflict. Pastor and author Merida offers steps geared toward helping one discover where conflict comes from and learn how to overcome evil with good.
The Space Between Us: Conversations About Transforming Conflict by Betty Pries (Herald, Aug.) aims to help readers see disagreements as opportunities for growth and push them toward developing healthier relationships and communities. Pries, founder and CEO of consulting company Credence & Co., roots the book in Christian practices of mindfulness and deep listening. “Think of this as a toolbox of reflections about conflict and spiritual practices,” says Herald publisher Amy Gingerich. “Pries’s artful writing draws those two together to help readers draw on God in times of deep conflict. She pushes us toward the opportunities that arise out of conflict and, in the end, builds our own resilience.”
Also forthcoming from Herald is How to Have an Enemy: Righteous Anger and the Work of Peace (July) by Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor of a Mennonite church with degrees from Duke University and Princeton Theological Seminary. She draws on what the Bible says about enemies to build a theology that encourages readers to name their enemies as a form of truth-telling about themselves, and to face their enemies as an essential step toward loving them. “Melissa Florer-Bixler pulls no punches in this book,” Gingerich says. “She exposes how our cultural systems have brought us to this spot, and lays out a brave call to stand up against injustice.”
Portraits of Peace: Searching for Hope in a Divided America by John Noltner (Broadleaf, Sept.) blends storytelling and photography to create a uniquely human and accessible examination of social issues such as racial equality, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, and tolerance, according to the publisher.
Conflict causes its own form of grief but now that is compounded by a global pandemic. It has changed our lives and taken so many that we all are experiencing grief in some form. Shambhala offers Finding Refuge: Heart Work for Healing Collective Grief (July) by Michelle Cassandra Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, social justice activist, and yoga teacher. “Many of us face unprecedented grief and loss due to Covid-19,” she says. “The psychological impact of being faced with so much death, overrun hospitals, and a broken healthcare system will be profound. We need to grieve because we will likely continue to create systems that cause harm if we do not. We need to grieve to heal.”
Beth Frankl, executive editor for Shambhala, says, “Michelle shines a spotlight on the personal and collective trauma caused by dominant culture and systemic racism—and all the collateral damage they have caused. But she also gives us hope.”
Immigration and Poverty
Under Joe Biden’s presidency, immigration policy is back on the table in Washington—and it’s back on the new release lists for religion publishers. No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities (Eerdmans, May) is a multi-perspective guide to the work of evangelism with immigrants and refugees. Editors Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page have gathered contributors who affirm the importance of evangelism that heals and is sensitive to the dynamics of differences in culture, race, and language, according to the publisher.
Pastor Kevin Wiebe, who grew up below the poverty line and now pastors a “low-resource” church of mostly immigrants, is the author of Faithful in Small Things: How to Serve the Needy When You’re One of Them (Herald, Mar.). He delves into concepts such as brokenness, mutuality, and dignity to expose gaps in the mainstream Christian understanding of economic inequality.
We Cry Justice: Reading the Bible with the Poor People’s Campaign (Broadleaf, Oct.), edited by Liz Theoharis, cochair of the campaign, presents the views of pastors, community organizers, low-wage workers, and lay leaders who interpret sacred stories about the poor seeking healing, equity, and justice. Each of the 52 chapters focuses on a key Scripture passage.
A group of new books offers three unique anti-abortion rights perspectives: those of an activist, a physician, and a survivor.
Lila Rose, the founder of Live Action and the face of the millennial anti-abortion rights movement, presents a guidebook to becoming a force in the debate. Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World (Nelson, May) aims to show readers how to develop relationships and bounce back from mistakes when acting in the campaign against abortion rights and other social issues. The publisher calls it “a much-needed handbook on how to truly make a difference in today’s world.”
OB-GYN physician Patti Giebink, in her book Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-life (Focus on the Family, July), chronicles her journey from performing abortions to speaking on behalf of the anti-abortion rights movement, after being “overpowered by God’s perspective at a healing conference,” according to the publisher.
Another vantage point comes in Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption by Claire Culwell (WaterBrook, Apr.). The author details how she offered forgiveness and love to her birth mother who, when pregnant with Culwell, had attempted to abort the pregnancy. However, when Culwell faced her own unplanned pregnancy, she was subject to censure and rejection from anti-abortion rights and Christian organizations. She invites readers to offer love and compassion toward those facing unplanned pregnancies.
Caleb Kaltenbach, a former pastor raised by gay parents, provides a playbook for Christians, church staff, and ministry leaders that strives to answer the question of what should be done regarding those who identify as LGBTQ. Messy Truth: How to Foster Community Without Sacrificing Conviction (WaterBrook, Aug.) offers tools for encouraging church involvement, increasing empathy, and engaging in pivotal conversations around this topic.
Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear by Michael O’Loughlin (Broadleaf, Nov.) recounts stories of those who, at great personal cost, chose compassion in the face of the AIDS and HIV epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. He hopes their acts of compassion will offer hope and inspiration to readers questioning how to best care for those most in need.
Baptist-raised Julie Rodgers believed God would make her straight, but that path proved destructive. In Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story (Broadleaf, June), she details her journey from her self-denial in the name of faith to her role in leading the takedown of Exodus International (a large anti-gay organization that was shut down in 2013), to her marriage to a woman at the National Cathedral. She sheds light on the debate between evangelical Christians and the LGBTQ community and offers a hopeful vision for how the church can heal.
In Staying Awake: The Gospel for Changemakers (Chalice, Apr.), millennial pastor and activist Tyler Sit outlines nine spiritual practices rising from the queer people of color at New City Church in Minneapolis to argue that following Jesus compels creating justice.
Eerdmans’s Bratt sums up what may be many publishers’ thinking regarding books on fraught topics: “It is part of our mission to publish on social and political issues,” he says. “Our religious and cultural tradition makes clear that all of life is touched by the claims of faith—every square inch of life, to paraphrase the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. We feel greater urgency than ever before to publish books that speak to the ways that people of faith interact in the public square.”