While religionpublishers often highlight spiritual wisdom, compassion, and hope, they don’t shy away from difficult contemporary social issues, either. Upcoming titles take on the trauma of racism past and present, the force of Christian nationalism, and the tensions between those who prioritize personal autonomy and those who assert traditional ideas about sexual and gender identity.

Michael Harriot, a senior writer for the Root, minces no words in his emphatically titled Black AF History: The Un-whitewashed Story of America (Dey Street, Sept.). He calls out spiritual practices and clerical politics that he says embedded racism in American life. Loving Your Black Neighbor as Yourself: A Guide to Closing the Space Between Us (WaterBrook, Jan. 2024) by journalist Chanté Griffin, offers readings and prayers designed to push people into action beyond superficial hashtags and tweets of support for their Black neighbors, coworkers, and church members in times of stress or tragedy.

IVP associate editorial director Al Hsu says confronting racism begins with knowledge. It’s the common thread among several IVP titles, he explains, because “the more you understand someone’s history, the better you can see their humanity.” Rethinking the Police: An Officer’s Confession and the Pathway to Reform (Nov.) by Daniel Reinhardt, a retired policeman turned professor of ministry, tracks policing’s historic culture of racism and brutality, and proposes shifting to a servant leadership approach. Minister, speaker, and activist Terence Lester advocates in All God’s Children: How Confronting Buried History Can Build Racial Solidarity (June) the idea that churches can move people toward “long-term solidarity, advocacy, and friendship.” And pastor Bryan Loritts charges churches to push beyond mere diversity and into a biblical vision for uprooting racism in his book, The Offensive Church: Breaking the Cycle of Ethnic Disunity (July).

Two other IVP titles raise the challenge of creating multiethnic congregations, says associate editor Ethan McCarthy: In Church as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Multiethnic Kingdom Culture (June) by Jamaal E. Williams, a pastor and church leadership consultant, and Timothy Paul Jones, a preacher, author, and professor of apologetics, and In Church for Everyone: Building a Multi-inclusive Community for Emerging Generations by pastors Dan Kreiss and Efrem Smith (Feb. 2024). Both books zero in on strategies for reaching younger Christians, who researchers have found want to see more diversity in their church.

Titles from Catholic presses also encourage churches, from the pulpits to the pews, to combat racism and foster reconciliation. These include a handbook from Orbis, Preaching Racial Justice (Sept.), edited by Catholic professors and preachers Gregory Heille, Maurice Nutt, and Deborah Wilhelm, and a resource book from Liturgical Press for white Catholics, Racism and Structural Sin: Con-
fronting Injustice Through the Eyes of Faith
(out now), by theology professor Conor M. Kelly.

Christians aren’t the only ones speaking to these concerns. In Home Is Here (North Atlantic, Aug.), Zen priest and Buddhists of Color cofounder Liên Shutt presents Buddhism-based practices for healing from suffering caused by racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Out from Beacon Press in July, A Master Class on Being Human: A Black Christian and A Secular Humanist on Religion, Race, and Justice, by progressive theologian Brad R. Braxton and secular humanist Anthony B. Pinn, examines the role of religion and spirituality in facing contentious social issues. Sounds True authors Justin Michael Williams, a speaker, recording artist, and meditation guide writer, and mindfulness teacher and activist Shelly Tygielski write about techniques for “inner healing, talking across divides, shadow work, forgiveness,” and more in How We Ended Racism: Realizing a New Possibility in One Generation (Oct.).

Sounding alarms

Several forthcoming books brand racism and Christian nationalism as a spiritual, social, and political threat to society, but Woke Jesus: The False Messiah Destroying Christianity (out now) shouts the opposite. Author Lucas Miles, a pastor and cohost of The Church Boys podcast, asserts that the “Christian Left, Progressive or Woke Christianity” is abandoning “solid orthodox theology” and embracing hedonism, universalism, political correctness and worse, according to its publisher, Humanix Books, a division of conservative news network Newsmax Media.

That is a viewpoint rejected by a clutch of Christian scholars in their latest books. Fortress Press executive editor Carey Newman describes three fall 2023 titles delving into “racism, the root of Christian nationalism, as the most important theological issue of our day,” adding that “if the church is to continue to be a force for good in America, it must address this.” American Heresy: The Roots and Reach of White Christian Nationalism (Sept.), by historian John Fanestil, executive director of a nonprofit serving border communities in San Diego and Tijuana, traces the movement’s beginnings to the legacy of the white settlement culture at the foundation of the nation. Ancient Echoes: Refusing the Fear-Filled, Greed-Driven Toxicity of the Far Right (May), by Old Testament theologian and minister Walter Brueggemann, uses scripture to knock down the “truth claims” made by the radical right in U.S. politics and reassert the value of common goods such as hospitality, justice, and compassion, Newman says. Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice (Sept.) by religion professor Randall Balmer proposes ways churches can reestablish their moral authority after decades of abuse scandals, membership attrition, and political partisanship.

Sociologist Andrew Whitehead, who codirects the Association of Religion Data Archives at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, argues in his book, American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church (Brazos, Aug.), that nationalists have embraced “the idols of power, fear and violence.” David Gushee, director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University and past president of the American Academy of Religion, offers models in his book, Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies (Eerdmans, Oct.), for “sane, ethical, and compassionate politics in a world where many Christians are instigating discord and vying for power,” according to the publisher.

When worlds collide

Not only are Americans up in arms over race and ethnicity but battles are also being fought over issues relating to abortion, gender, sexuality, and the ways families are formed. While some say religious values should have legal force for all, others insist on individual autonomy.

All these complex issues are intertwined in books such as The New Right for Life: Roe, Race, and a Pro-life Commitment to Justice by Ben Watson (Tyndale Momentum, June). Watson, an NFL player turned activist with the anti-abortion movement, is particularly concerned with disadvantaged women facing few alternatives to abortion, including a disproportionate number of Black women. Jan Long Harris, executive publisher for Tyndale House, says Watson advocates for “policy changes that could remove the obstacles preventing many poor and marginalized women from choosing parenting over abortion, and for making churches havens where the vulnerable can turn for not just spiritual but also emotional, material, and financial support.”

Eli Bonilla Jr., a pastor and national millennial director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, asserts that one cannot choose one’s own sexual or gender identity in his book Mixed: Embracing Complexity by Uncovering Your God-Led Identity (W Publishing, May). “God made you the way you are for good reason, and you belong wherever He says you belong,” Bonilla writes. A similar argument is made in Created in the Image of God: Applications and Implications for Our Cultural Confusion (Forefront, Aug.), by theology professor David Dockery and Stand for Life board chair Lauren McAfee, along with 11 collaborators. They say only a biblical perspective can lead to “a full recovery of the doctrine of human dignity,” according to the publisher.

Also underway in the public square are arguments over who can—or should—raise children in an era of assisted reproductive technology and LGBTQ parents. Ethics professor Grace Y. Kao, codirector of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology, takes that matter on in My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy (Stanford Univ., Aug.). Kao, who served as a surrogate for childless friends, draws on her own experience, feminist methodology, and Christian ethics to uphold surrogacy as morally permissible. And Conceiving Christian America: Embryo Adoption and Reproductive Politics (New York Univ., Sept.), by anthropology professor Risa Cromer, argues that efforts to promote the adoption of “unborn children” are designed to advance the Christian right’s political goals, according to the publisher.

For all the issues facing a splintered nation, several authors see ways God, the Bible, the church, and individual faith can mend the tears. Public affairs consultant Denise Grace Gitsham writes in Politics for People Who Hate Politics: How to Engage Without Losing Your Friends or Selling Your Soul (Bethany, Nov.) that the remedy for countering unholy policies and politicians is to “engage in politics God’s way: with the countercultural love, integrity, and unity that will heal our land.” Pastors and authors Joshua Ryan Butler and Jim Mullins see Americans distracted by what they call “political religions.” In their book, The Party Crasher: How Jesus Disrupts Politics as Usual and Redeems Our Partisan Divide (Multnomah, Nov.), they propose ways allegiance to Jesus can guide people in navigating the cultural clashes.