Racism in the White Church

Title: Plantation Jesus:
Race, Faith, and a New Way Forward

Authors: Skot Welch, Rick Wilson, Andi Cumbo-Floyd
Genre: Theology / Social Justice
Pages: 196
Rating: 2.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 5/22/18 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC through Net Galley…this does not affect the content of the review)

This book addresses a genuine problem in white American Evangelicalism: an attitude that says (though usually not in so many words) “serious racism doesn’t really exist anymore, you lazy, over-sensitive whiners.” However, for a book with “a new way forward” in the title, it offers relatively little practical help in dealing with the issue (just some “how do you think you can help fix this?” questions in the discussion exercises).

The book as a whole focuses almost exclusively on getting white Christians to acknowledge that they are cavalierly ignorant of systemic racism and shamefully benefited by white privilege. The lack of specific applications left me with little more than the (I’m sure unintended) message that “you and your ancestors are bad and you should feel bad.” Add to this the occasional poisoning the well argumentation (implying “if this is painful for you or you disagree with this it’s because you’re racist/ignorant”), and I just wasn’t at all impressed (and slightly worried about writing this review). Basically, I think that these authors do have important things to say (I have observed and confronted serious racism in both churches I have pastored), but I don’t think that those things were said in a helpful way.

Thoroughly Argued, but Disappointing

Title: Just Immigration:
American Policy in Christian Perspective
Author: Mark R. Amstutz
Genre: Theology/Philosophy/Politics
Pages: 252
Rating: 2.5 of 5

Mark Amstutz addresses the issue of how a Christian’s faith should impact their approach to immigration reform with a plodding academic approach. I don’t necessarily mind meticulously dissecting a topic, but a lot of this book felt redundant with little positive payoff at the end.

For the first hundred pages or so the author describes and evaluates the state of US immigration policy and practice. This was probably the most informative part of the book as it provides a good look at the complexity of the issues and viewpoints involved.

The rest of the book describes and evaluates (i.e. heavily criticizes) the approach of various Christian denominations to the issue of immigration reform. I can save you about 130 pages of reading with this summary of the author’s main points:

  1. The church should stick to its sphere of showing love as individuals and the government should stick to its sphere of dispensing justice
  2. Churches should focus on teaching people a moral framework of general Scriptural principles that can be used to evaluate the moral aspects of immigration law rather than lobbying for specific policy changes which should be left up to those who actually understand political science.
  3. The main Scriptural principles that apply to issues of immigration are the dignity of all human beings, compassion for the stranger, and obedience to legitimate authority (with the first two frequently overemphasized to the neglect of the third).

On pages 230-232 the author gives us a bare-bones summary of his take on various moral/ethical issues discussed throughout the book…if he had focused more on this than on showing how everyone else got it wrong I think this would have been a much more profitable book.

Faith in Action

Title: The Hole in our Gospel Special Edition:
What Does God Expect of US? The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World
Author: Richard Stearns
Genre: Theology / Social Justice
Pages: 335
Rating: 3 of 5

Richard Stearns, the head of World Vision International, wrote this book as a wake-up call to Christians who neglect God’s call for his people to help meet the physical needs of the poor and oppressed (cf. James 1:27, 1 John 3:16-18). This is an area where far too many American conservative Christians/churches have been shamefully deficient over the last century (largely a sinful overreaction to the “social gospel” of theological liberalism that rejected personal salvation from sin in favor of social reform).

While the core challenge of the book is important, I found it repetitive, overlong, and not very helpful in terms of giving practical ways to get involved. It is one part autobiography, one part heartbreaking statistics on world poverty, one part post-millennial theology (the, in my opinion, mistaken idea that Christians have the mission to completely transform society and thus usher in the Kingdom of God), one part advertisement for giving money to World Vision, and a very light sprinkling of other ways you can get involved (one brief appendix at the back was excellent in this regard, but everything else was very generalized).

If you like a lot of personal stories and statistics woven into your theology/philosophy you will probably appreciate the book more than I did, but I think you can probably find other books out there that are more concise, practical and theologically sound than this one. I’m open to recommendations if you know of one.

I want to leave you with a link to one of my favorite compassionate ministries: Women at Risk, International “unites and educates to create circles of protection around those at risk through culturally sensitive, value-added intervention projects.” They are heavily involved in fighting against human trafficking and helping those victimized (or at high risk of being victimized) by it with a wide variety of programs both here in the US and around the world. Please check them out!