“This book is about revealing racism. It pulls back the curtain on the ways American Christians have collaborated with racism for centuries” (16). Jemar Tisby–self-described as a Christian, historian, writer, and speaker–takes readers on a trip down memory lane. The twist is, many white readers have rarely–if ever–visited this street before.
I cannot underscore how important Jemar’s book is–which is why I couldn’t contain myself to a shorter quote list. As a white pastor in the United States, this book was challenging to say the least. Not because I disagree with the thesis, or was even unprepared for the topic I knew he was going to address. It was difficult because it created so many visceral emotions of righteous anger and uncomfortable wondering. The righteous anger is, I’m sure, self-explanatory. However, I was constantly left wondering two things: 1) as a pastor, what would I have done back then?, and 2) what should I be doing now that I’m not?
If I answer the first question confident I would have been an abolitionist no matter the cost, then the second question shouldn’t give me much angst. The problem is, the second question gives me a lot of angst. I’m worried I would have succumbed to the pressure of the culture–at best, been an Edwards/Whitfield just without the credibility of a theological giant. I fear I would have been complicit then–too scared about what it might cost to be obedient to what I know is right. I fear this is true because I know how scared I get thinking about what action now might cost–at a time when the stakes seem lower for me than they would have been in the past.
My hope is, by God’s grace, I will continue to become more concerned about His view of justice than my view of comfort. I hope that I’ll be willing to continue getting uncomfortable for the sake of my love for God and neighbor. This book, and others like it, are so important. Through Tisby’s work, we’re able to better see the truth of our past, how we’re making the same mistakes today, and how we must act in order to ensure that the cycle of injustice doesn’t perpetuate.
You can read a full book review by Michael Horton here, and you can purchase the book here.
The following is a list of 30 of my favorite quotes from the book. Enjoy!
1. Page 10
Through reading this book, we realize that if we built the walls on purpose, we need to tear down the walls on purposeLecrae, Foreword
2. Page 15
The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression
3. Page 16
What do we mean when we talk about racism? Beverly Daniel Tatus provides a shorthand definition: racism is a system of oppression based on race.
4. Page 31
Black people immediately detected the hypocrisy of American-style slavery. They knew the inconsistencies of the faith from the rank odors, the chains, the blood, and the misery that accompanied their life of bondage. Instead of abandoning Christianity, though, black people went directly to the teaching of Jesus and challenged white people to demonstrate integrity.
5. Page 34
American history could have happened another way. Instead, racist attitudes and the pursuit of wealth increasingly relegated black people to a position of perpetual servitude and exploitation.
6. Page 39
So from the beginning of American colonization, Europeans crafted a Christianity that would allow them to spread the faith without confronting the exploitative economic system of slavery and the emerging social inequality based on color.
7. Page 50
Evangelicalism focused on individual conversion and piety. Within this evangelical framework, one could adopt an evangelical expression of Christianity yet remain uncompelled to confront institutional injustice.
8. Page 51
Beginning in the 1770s, Edwards [Jr.] became an outspoken abolitionist. For instance, he wrote an article entitled “Some Observations upon the Slavery of Negroes” and in 1791 preached a sermon called “The Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave Trade.”
9. Page 52
Harsh though it may sound, the facts of history nevertheless bear out this truth: there would be no black church without racism in the white church.
10. Page 68
One of the theological legacies of the Second Great Awakening was postmillennialism, the view that Christ would return only after an extended era of peace and justice.
11. Page 72
The nation, which emphasized liberty as a natural right, made repeated concessions to allow for slavery. The church, which prioritizes the love of God and love of neighbor, capitulated to the status quo by permitting the lifetime bondage of human persons based on skin color.
12. Page 75
As we have seen, colonization was an easy way for white people to skirt the issue of white supremacy. Rather than combatting racism, why not simply send people of other races far, far away?
13. Page 84
One of the best biblical cases against American slavery was not to deny that faithful people in the Bible enslaved others but to demonstrate how that form of slavery–the slavery of the ancient Near East–was far different from the slavery practiced in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in the American South.
14. Page 86-87
It should give every citizen and Christian in America pause to consider how strongly ingrained the support for slavery in our country was. People believed in the superiority of the white race and the moral degradation of black people so strongly that they were willing to fight a war over it. This is not to suggest that the South had a monopoly on racism, but we cannot ignore that its leader took the step of seceding from the United States in order to protect and economic system based on the enslavement of human beings.
15. Page 96
In many Christian traditions, redemption is a sacred theological principle that undergirds their hope of salvation. Yet in the hands of white supremacists, a social and political version of redemption justified the racial oppression and violence used to retain white power.
16. Page 98
The Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalized what soon became standard practice throughout the country for the next sixty years–the “separate but equal” doctrine. Had the nation’s highest court ruled differently in this case, the color lines of the twentieth century might have been drawn much differently.
17. Page 106
Jim Crow would not have worked as effectively as it did without the frequent and detestable practice of lynching. Laws alone were not enough to reify white supremacy; what bred terror was the combination of legal segregation coupled with the random and capricious acts of violence toward black people.
18. Page 125
[William Levitt] went on to emphasize that the commercial nature of the business precluded their ability to promote racial integration: “As a company our position is simply this: ‘We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem. But we cannot combine the two.'” In this way, private businesses participated in forming the racially segregated housing patterns that have permeated municipal areas in every region of the Unite States, not just the South.d
19. Page 129
Racism stretched far beyond the states of the former Confederacy, affecting every region of the country. Though it would be far simpler to relegate racism to a single region such as the South as the historic site of slavery and the Confederacy, this simply not possible.
20. Page 132
At a key moment in the life of our nation, one that called for moral courage, the American church responded to much of the civil rights movement with passivity, indifference, or even outright opposition.
21. Page 144
A century had passed since the Civil War, and it was the height of the civil rights movement, yet Ali and many other black people still saw Christianity as the religion of the enslavers, the belief system of those who oppressed black people.
22. Page 147
This picture, and hundreds of others like it, subtly reinforced the idea that Jesus Christ was a European-looking white man, and many added to that the assumption that he was a free-market, capitalist-supporting American as well.
23. Page 154
An honest assessment of racism should acknowledge that racism never fully goes away; it just adapts to changing times and contexts.
24. Page 174
One of the challenges we face in discussions of racism today is that the conversation about race has shifted since the civil rights era. Legislation has rendered the most overt acts of racism legally punishable. Hate crimes of various forms still occur, but most American Christians would call these acts evil. Yet the legacy of racism persists, albeit in different forms.
25. Page 179
Black lives matter served as a rallying cry for protests, but it also acted as an assertion of the image of God in black people. In Christian anthropology, saying that black lives matter insists that all people, including those who have darker skin, have been made in the image and likeness of God. Black lives matter does not mean that only black lives matter; it means that black lives matter too.
26. Page 184
The longstanding failure among many white Christians to acknowledge ongoing discrimination embedded in systems and structures means that black and white Christians often talk past each other. One group focuses on isolated incidents; the other sees a pattern of injustice. To properly assess and move toward a solution to racism in America, both perspectives are needed.
27. Page 189
The forty-fifth president did not produce the racial and political divide between black and white Christians, but he exposed and extended longstanding differences while revealing the inadequacy of recent reconciliation efforts.
28. Page 192
[Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech] was August 28, 1963. More than fifty years later, how far has the American church come in terms of race relations? The “Whites Only” and “No Negros Allowed” signs have been taken down, but schools remain segregated. People of color are incarcerated at disproportionally hight rates. Black unemployment remains double that of whites. Most poignantly, churches remain largely segregated. The reluctance to reckon with racism has led to a chasm between black and white Christians in theology, politics, and culture. This chasm only makes it harder to productively communicate and take effective action around racial issues.
29. Page 202
The implicit message from many conservative white pastors and professors is that black Christians have theological integrity to the degree they adopt the teachings that come from approved European and white American sources. This should not be so. Rather, the body of believers should commit themselves to valuing and learning from the distinct contributions that come from marginalized groups such as black people in America.
30. Page 212
In the Bible, James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them”…The church today must practice the good that ought to be done. To look at this history and then refuse to act only perpetuates racist patterns. It is time for the church to stand against racism and compromise no longer.