The Color of Compromise | Book Review


Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise is a difficult book to read. The difficulty does not result from a complex argument or dense prose, for the book’s argument is simply and straightforwardly made. Rather, the book is difficult to read because of its subject matter, namely, white Christian complicity with racism throughout American history.

“Historically speaking,” Tisby writes, “when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity. They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing created and maintained a status quo of injustice.”

Tisby makes his case by means of a historical survey of people and events from the colonial era to the late-twentieth century. “Not only did white Christians fail to fight for black equality,” Tisby quotes historian Carolyn DuPont in summary, “they often labored mightily against it.” Did you know, for example, that…

  • George Whitefield—the famous evangelist — urged the colony of Georgia, which had been founded as a free territory, to allow slavery. A large part of his motivation was the financial viability of his Bethesda Orphanage, which could be run more cheaply with slave than with paid labor.
  • Prior to the Civil War, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations split into Northern and Southern branches because of the issue of slavery. Leading Southern theologians, such as Robert Lewis Dabney, defended white supremacy and slavery on providential and biblical grounds: “Was it nothing, that this [black] race, morally inferior, should be brought into close relations to a nobler race?” (emphasis added).
  • According to historian Linda Gordon, “It’s estimated that 40,000 ministers were members of the Klan, and these people were sermonizing regularly, explicitly urging people to join the Klan.” She’s referring to the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, which began in the early twentieth century and spread throughout the North as well as the South.
  • A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, spoke in opposition to desegregation at the 1956 South Carolina Baptist Convention. Desegregation was “a denial of all that we believe in,” Brown v. Board of Education was “foolishness” and “idiocy,” and anyone who advocated integration was “a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up.” First Baptist was the largest Southern Baptist church at the time. For many decades, its most famous member was the evangelist Billy Graham, whose personal views were more moderate than Criswell’s but who stopped short of advocating civil rights for black Americans.

These are but four examples of white Christian complicity with racism, which I have chosen because of their relevance to white evangelical Christians. There are many other examples from across the spectrum of American Protestantism. It is sometimes forgotten, for example, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written to mainline Protestant ministers and a Jewish rabbi. If you’re looking for a searing indictment of white moderates, consider King’s words:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

Of course, there were white Christians throughout American history who opposed racism. But Tisby’s disheartening survey suggests that they were exceptions rather than the rule. As a Pentecostal, for example, I am unaware of any leading white American Pentecostals who publicly supported the Civil Rights Movement during the crucial decade between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

I don’t always agree with Tisby’s reading of the historical evidence. The closer in time he drew to the present day, the more I found myself saying, “That’s not how I would read that particular incident.” The value of Tisby’s survey is that he places those incidents in the light of larger historical forces, showing continuity between them and the past. As a white reader, I found this broader historical perspective forced me to go back and take a second look at how I had been interpreting those more recent events.

So, why bring up this history of white complicity with racism now? While great strides in civil rights have been made over the decades, racism still exists and disfigures American society. “History and Scripture teaches [sic] us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance,” writes Tisby. “There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.” The Color of Compromise tells a hard truth, but one necessary to hear if racial equity is to be achieved in the Church or in America.

Tisby closes his book with practical suggestions. I don’t agree with all of the particulars, but his thoughts about “The ARC of Racial Justice” are an “entry point” for those on a journey to racial equity. ARC is an acronym for awareness, relationships, and commitment. Become aware of the issues. Build relationships across lines of race and ethnicity. And commit to concrete action…such as reading this thought-provoking book.

Book Reviewed
Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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In Search of the Beloved Community | Influence Magazine


Reflecting on race relations in the early days of the Azusa Street Revival (1906–1909), Frank Bartleman famously wrote, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”That unity was short lived, however. Deep-seated feelings of white supremacy and Jim Crow segregation quickly redrew the line, resulting in decades of division and disparity between black and white Pentecostals that persist to this day, though to a lesser degree.

The same thing might be said about American Christians and American citizens more broadly. Though progress undeniably has been made, racial divisions and disparities stubbornly persist. This fact should be an affront to Bible-believing Christians, for the blood of Jesus Christ did indeed wash away the color line. What the apostle Paul said about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles applies to allracial and ethnic divisions: “[Christ’s] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15–16).

The question is, therefore, why racial divisions and disparities persist among American Christians. And what should be done about them? Three new books from evangelical publishing houses point to answers to both questions.

In The Color of Compromise (Zondervan), Jemar Tisby recounts the tragic history of American Christianity’s complicity in racism from the colonial period to the present day. Racism, in this account, is not merely personal animus. Tisby defines it as “prejudice plus power,” the combination of personal animus with impersonal systemic inequities.

“Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity,” Tisby writes about white Christians. “They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing created and maintained a status quo of injustice.” To take just one of many examples, white evangelicals and Pentecostals were silent about the Civil Rights Movement at best. At worst, they opposed it.

Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins take up “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement” in Welcoming Justice (IVP Books). In a 1956 speech, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “the end [of the movement] is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.” Beginning in the mid-1960s, the influence of black churches in the movement began to wane. “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died,” Marsh writes.

For nearly sixty years, however, and starting in rural Mississippi, Perkins has continued to seek the beloved community through faith-based community development. His model of development is based on “the three Rs” of relocation (“incarnational evangelism”), reparation (“sharing talents and resources with the poor”), and reconciliation (“embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’”). Perkins’ life and ministry thus continues the work of Dr. King.

Finally, in Woke Church (Moody), Eric Mason encourages the church “to utilize the mind of Christ and to be fully awake to the issues of race and injustice in this country.” (The word woke is slang for being conscientious about issues of racial and social justice.) According to Mason, a woke church is characterized by four things: awareness of the “overarching truths” that unite the Body of Christ; acknowledgement of our nation’s history of racism; accountability for Christians to “reclaim our roles as light and salt in the world”; and action to “bring healing and justice into our spheres [of influence].”

Each of these books is challenging in its own way. The Color of Compromise shines a light on American church history that whites often overlook or downplay. Welcoming Justice is a hopeful book, but it challenges “the cultural captivity of the church,” a captivity that promotes individualism and consumerism over solidarity and generosity. And Woke Church refuses to let readers separate the gospel from justice. All three books are well worth reading.

As I closed each book in turn, I found myself asking three questions: First, have I listened to the experiences of black brothers and sisters, which are often different from my own because our social locations are different? Two, have I taken what I’ve heard and used it for self-examination to identify wrong attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors? And three, what actions am I going to take to pursue the beloved community in my church and neighborhood?

Christ has washed away the color line with His blood. Let us lean into the reality of the “one new humanity” He has made!

Books Mentioned
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement toward Beloved Community, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018). Individual review here: https://amzn.to/2zwREIC.

Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice (Chicago: Moody, 2018). Individual review here: https://amzn.to/2AthA7T.

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Welcoming Justice, 2nd ed. | Book Review


On December 3, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. opened the first annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Montgomery, Alabama, with a message titled, “Facing the New Age.” The institute was sponsored by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which King led. Almost a year to the day earlier, Montgomery police had arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded bus to a white man. Her arrest began a yearlong bus boycott that ended with a Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of public transportation throughout Alabama.

King began his address by noting that both around the world and in the United States, people of color were throwing off the chains of imperialism and slavery. In place of that oppression, King proclaimed, “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” He defined that love in a mashup of Matthew 5:44–45 and Luke 6:27–28: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” Love—not violence nor hate nor boycotts—was both the means and end of the movement King sought to lead.

It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform oppressors into friends…. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

King’s speech plays an important role in Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins’ Welcoming Justice. On the one hand, it helps explain the fragmentation of the Civil Rights movement that began in late 1964 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee “moved away from Christian formulations of nonviolence and beloved community,” as Marsh puts it. He continues, “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died.”

On the other hand, King’s words provide the setting for Perkins’ life work in completing “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement.” In 1960, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae had returned to their home town of Mendenhall, Mississippi, to teach Bible stories to kids in public school. But the entrenched poverty and racial antagonism he experienced there led him to expand the vision of his ministry and to articulate the “three Rs” of community development, which Marsh defines this way:

  • Relocation: “incarnational evangelism, the lived expression of the great Christological theme that Jesus Christ ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ but took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2).”
  • Redistribution: “sharing talents and resources with the poor,” as well as “observable changes in public policy and voting habits.” More than politics, Marsh explains, Perkins understood the Christian community itself as a “distinctive social order.”
  • Reconciliation: “embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ and that Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ in lived social experience.”

Perkins has spent the last six decades of his life in pursuit of this vision of the beloved community.

Welcoming Justice alternates chapters between Marsh and Perkins, who have been friends for nearly forty years. In his chapters, Marsh, who is director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious and theological studies at the University of Virginia, provides historical background to the Civil Rights movement and Perkins’ life and ministry, as well as introducing other contemporary expressions of community development, such as the “new monastic” movement. Perkins, in his chapters, shares his thoughts about the cultural captivity of the church, what the next Great Awakening will look like, and what it will take to build the “beloved community” in America today.

I don’t agree with everything Marsh and Perkins write in Welcoming Justice. I’m awed by Perkins’ life story, cognizant of the deep strain of racism that runs through our nation’s history—including its churches, and committed to racial reconciliation. I agree that churches must do more than they do now, both to heal our racial wounds and to lift up the poorest in our community. I’m just not sure that Perkins’ brand of community development is the way to go economically. That said, Marsh and Perkins—especially Perkins—inspire and challenge me to do more than I have been doing. My guess is that the book will have the same effect on you.

Welcoming Justice was first published in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The second edition, just published, comes out a year after white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. On the day of the rally, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing Heather Heyer.

The prefaces to the first and second editions of the book, by Philip Yancey and Marsh, respectively, capture the “two steps forward, one step back” character of American discussions about race. Our country has come a long way in the half-century since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, but we still have a way to go before we realize the “beloved community” he dreamed of. Toward that end, to quote the sentence Perkins ends the book with: “Love is the final fight.”

Book Reviewed
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoiming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, 2nded. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Leadership in Turbulent Times | Book Review


The best way to study leadership is to study leaders. How they exercised influence in their contexts provides examples of how we can do so in ours. For this reason, it is paramount for leaders to be well-versed in biography and history, the knowledge of people and their times.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times provides case studies of the leadership of four U.S. presidents at critical junctures in their administrations:

  • Abraham Lincoln exemplifies transformational leadership as he expanded the North’s war aims from union to emancipation through the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Theodore Roosevelt provides a model of crisis management by how he brought labor and management to the table during the Great Coal Strike of 1902.
  • Exuding optimism and executing a plan to respond to the Great Depression in his first 100 days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt offers a master class in turnaround leadership.
  • And Lyndon Johnson demonstrates visionary leadership by using all the forces at his disposal — including persuasion and hardball politics — to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), fundamentally altering the legal terms under which whites and blacks related to one another.

Goodwin presents these case studies in Part III of her book, “The Leader and the Times: How They Led.” Of each president’s White House years, she writes: “There, at their formidable best, when guided by a sense of moral purpose, they were able to channel their ambitions and summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.”

But those ambitions and talents didn’t emerge de novo or ex nihilo. The four presidents were influenced by circumstances just as much as they in turn influenced them. Part I, “Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership,” narrates the burgeoning sense of possibility each president experienced in his 20s especially, along with the recognition by their peers that they were destined for greater things. Part II, “Adversity and Growth,” shows how each one faced a test or series of tests that forced them to ask deeper questions of their life’s meaning — questions that, once answered, steeled their commitment to lead. Finally, an Epilogue examines how each man reflected on his enduring reputation, a fame that would last beyond both his administration and his death. How would they be remembered by posterity?

As with Goodwin’s previous works on these four presidents, Leadership in Turbulent Times is a gripping read, combining biographical detail and historical context. It is the addition of shrewd insights about leadership throughout the book that marks a departure from her earlier biographies. Those insights are well-grounded and explicit.

One of the great dangers of drawing lessons from biography or history is that such lessons smooth over differences, whether among the subjects of  biographical inquiry, or between their times and our own. Doris Kearns Goodwin is well aware of this danger and largely avoids it. The leadership principles she draws organically arise from the events she narrates. Here’s how she explains the matter in the book’s Foreword:

“These four extended examples show how their leadership fit the historical moment as a key fits a lock. No key is exactly the same; each has a different line of ridges and notches along its blade. While there is neither a master key to leadership nor a common lock of historical circumstance, we can detect a certain family resemblance of leadership traits as we trace the alignment of leadership capacity within its historical context.”

That “family resemblance of leadership traits,” the book’s explicit lesson, is what leaders will most appreciate about Leadership in Turbulent Times. Its implicit lesson is that leaders must know themselves and their own times if they want to change them. Leadership never occurs in a vacuum where principles can be applied automatically. Rather, it requires wisdom. Like the biblical men of Issachar, leaders understand the times and know just what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Book Reviewed
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).

P.S. If this review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Arc of the Universe (Ecclesiastes 8:10–13)


“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered those words in the midst of his struggle to lead our nation to acknowledge the full civil rights of black Americans. His words also accurately summarize the message of Ecclesiastes 8:10–13, which serves as an encouragement to righteousness and a warning against wickedness.

The Preacher begins by making two observations:

First, he writes, “I saw the wicked buried.” Like all things that exist under the sun, human beings are mortal. Their lives are hebel, “vanity”—things that go “Poof!” The fate of death befalls all people, regardless of the morality or immorality of the pattern of their lives. In and of themselves, the deaths of the wicked do not trouble anyone’s conscience, for death is a human constant, a universal expectation.

What troubles the sensitive conscience is not the deaths of the wicked, but their lives. This is the Preacher’s second observation: “They [the wicked] used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things.” The spirituality and morality of the wicked relate to one another in inverse proportions: The greater their religiosity, the less their integrity, character, and good deeds. Such hypocrisy is troubling.

It is pointless too, or as the Preacher writes: “This also is vanity.” Why? Because God is just, and if he does not execute justice at the present moment, he will execute it sometime in the future.

Consequently, the Preacher’s words warn the wicked to cease and desist their law-breaking, God-mocking behavior. Unfortunately, because bad people so often get away with their misdeeds, others think that they can live without rules too. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” But all of us—whether we are struggling to be good or striving to be bad—should approach life with one eye firmly on the future. If God is just, he will establish justice in the world, whether right now or eventually.

In the meantime, God offers us a chance to repent and do good deeds (2 Peter 3:9). God’s justice encourages us to do the right thing, even when doing so does not bring immediate benefits, because we know that God desires, honors, and ultimately rewards this kind of behavior. As the Preacher writes, “it will be well with those who fear God,” that is, show him the reverence and awe he deserves n every area of their lives.

At times, I am sure, Dr. King despaired of the progress of the Civil Rights movement. Such incremental steps toward justice, so much persecution, so many setbacks! And yet, because he was a Christian, Dr. King was an optimist. Justice will prevail.

God is just, so his creation is bent toward justice. In the long arc of our lives, we ought to patiently bend with it.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.