The Color of Compromise | Reflections & Notes

Jemar Tisby. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Zondervan, 2019. (253 pages)


We should all be unsettled at our history; the ancestors and ideologies that have preceded us. We should be equally dispirited with how seemingly impotent religious adherence has been, for many, in breeding a more just humanity. And, we should be presently angry that we still perpetuate systemic injustice in and through our institutions. I was most greatly disturbed, however, for seeing my own prejudices and penchant towards complicity in these pages, a spiritually and personally discomforting emotion that is hard to describe. For at the same time that I was raging against the blatant racism of Christianity’s history, I was also distressed with my role in sustaining its existence. I am compelled once again, to repent, and pursue reconciliation, first by the confession of truth.

So, for the record. “I am a racist.” (#iamaracist?)

I’m not sure how I became one (cf. Ijeoma Oluo). I’m not even sure that it matters much. I do know that if I’m unwilling to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable” (cf. Mellody Hobson, et. al.) in being monikered as such, I become complicit in compromise, the same compromise that is recounted in this book.

You may be uncomfortable with the same confession. I understand. Truly. But I encourage you with Tisby’s words, that the “goal of this book is not guilt.” (p.22) The goal is a grief that leads to repentance, a repentance that leads to reconciliation, and all of that which leads to justice. But to get there, we must start with truth. And to get that, I highly recommend The Color of Compromise. Perhaps one day, we will all confess. (Psalm 38, Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9-10)


Forward by Lecrae

1. The Color of Compromise

The failure of many (14) Christians in the South and across the nation to decisively oppose the racism in their families, communities, and even in their own churches provided fertile soil for the seeds of hatred to grow. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression. (15)

| History and Scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth. The Color of Compromise is about telling the truth so that reconciliation–robust, consistent, honest reconciliation–might occur across racial lines. Yet all too often, Christians, and Americans in general, try to circumvent the truth-telling process in their haste to arrive at reconciliation. This book tells the truth about racism in the American church in order to facilitate authentic human solidarity. (15)

One of the reasons churches can’t shake the shackles of segregation is that few have undertaken the regimen of aggressive treatment the malady requires. It seems like most Christians in America don’t know how bad racism really is, so they don’t respond with the necessary urgency. Even when Christians realize the need for change, they often shrink back from the sacrifices that transformation entails. (15)


What do we mean when we talk about racism? Beverly Daniel Tatum provides a shorthand definition: racism is a system of oppression based on race. … Another definition explains racism as prejudice plus power. It is not only personal bigotry toward someone of a different race that constitutes racism; rather, racism includes the imposition of bigoted ideas on groups of people. (16)

| In light of these definitions, it is accurate to say that many white people have been complicit with racism. (16)

White complicity with racism isn’t a matter of melanin, it’s a matter of power. (17)

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. They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing created and maintained a status quo of injustice. (17)

Not only did white Christians fail to fight for black equality, they often labored  mightily against it. – Carolyn DuPont


Even though a survey approach poses several limitations, it also offers the opportunity to see long-term trends and change over time. Throughout this journey several themes dot the horizon of history. One notable theme is that white supremacy in the nation and the church was not inevitable. Things could have been different. (18)

Another theme this survey reveals is that racism changes over time. … History demonstrates that racism never goes away; it just adapts. (19)


There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. – MLK

This study is not about discrediting the church or Christians. I love the church. My concern for the church and for the well-being of its people motivates my exploration of Christian complicity in racism. The goal is to build up the body of Christ by “speaking the truth in love,” even if that truth comes at the price of pain. (19)

Christianity has an inspiring history of working for racial equity and the dignity of all people, a history that should never be overlooked. (19)

The Color of Compromise undoes the tendency to skip the hard parts of history and directs the reader’s attention to the racist realities that challenge a triumphalist view of American Christianity. (20)


The people who will reject this book will level several common objections. What stands out about these complaints is not their originality or persuasiveness but their ubiquity throughout history. The same arguments that perpetuated racial inequality in decades past get recycled in the present day. (21)

The goal of this book is not guilt. The purpose of tracing Christian complicity with racism is not to show white believers how bad they are. It is simply a fact of American history that white leaders and laity made decisions to maintain the racist status quo. Even though the purpose of this work is not to call out any particular racial group, these words may cause some grief, but grief can be good. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation (22) without regret” (ESV). This kind of grief is a natural response to the suffering of others. It indicates empathy with the pain that racism has caused black people. The ability to weep with those who weep is necessary for true healing. (23)

Indeed, reconciliation across racial and ethnic lines is not something Christians must achieve but a reality few must receive. (23)


Minor repairs by the weekend-warrior racial reconcilers won’t fix a flawed foundation. The church needs the Carpenter from Nazareth to deconstruct the house that racism built and remake it into a house for all nations. (24)

| By surveying the church’s racist past, American Christians may feel the weight of their collective failure to consistently confront racism in the church. This should lead to immediate, fierce action to confess this truth and work for justice. (24)

Progress is possible, but we must learn to discern the difference between complicit Christianity and courageous Christianity. Complicit Christianity forfeits its moral authority by devaluing the image of God in people of color. Like a ship that has a cracked hull and is taking on water, Christianity has run aground on the rocks of racism and threatens to capsize–it has lost its integrity. By contrast, courageous Christianity embraces racial and ethnic diversity. It stands against any person, policy, or practice that would dim the glory of God reflected in the life of human beings from every tribe and tongue. These words are a call to abandon complicit Christianity and more towards courageous Christianity. (24)

2. Making Race in the Colonial Era

“Key Slavery Statutes of the Virginia General Assembly,” September 1667. [.pdf of a list of laws, dating to 1607]

It has been longstanding custom in England that (25) Christians, being spiritual brothers and sisters, could not enslave one another. Yet the economy of the European colonies in North America depended more and more on slave labor. So plantation owners discouraged the enslaved from hearing the Christian gospel and receiving the sacrament of baptism. They did not want to lose their unpaid labor and diminish their profits. At the same time, missionaries exerted pressure on the slave owners to evangelize their slaves. (26)

To grasp how American Christians constructed and cooperated with racism, one has to realize that nothing about American racism was inevitable. There was a period, from about 1500 to 1700, when race did not predetermine one’s station and worth in society. This is not to say that racism did not exist; it surely did. But during the initial stages of European settlement in North America, the colonists had not yet cemented skin color as an essential feature of life in their communities. Race was still being made. (26)

Through a series of immoral (26) choices, the foundations were laid for race-based stratification. Yet if people made deliberate decisions to enact inequality, it is possible that a series of better decisions could begin to change this reality. (27)



The decline of slavery in Britain coincided with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. (32)


Christianity had inherent ideas of human equality imbedded in its (35) teachings. If slaves converted to Christianity, would they not begin to demand their freedom and social equality? How could missionaries preach to the slaves when their owners feared the loss of their unpaid labor? Over time, Europeans compromised the message of Christianity to accommodate slavery while also, in their minds, satisfying the requirement to make disciples. (36)

In The Baptism of Early Modern Virginia, historian Rebecca Anne Goetz explains how Europeans on the Atlantic coast of North America developed religious and racial categories in tandem. At first, colonists debated whether Africans were capable of becoming Christians. They adhered to a concept that Goetz calls “hereditary heathenism.” Just as parents passed down physical characteristics to their children, they also passed down their religion. Hereditary heathenism tethered race to religion. From their earliest days in North America, colonists employed religion-cultural categories to signify that European meant “Christian” and Native American or African meant “heathen.” Over time, these categories simplified and hardened into racial designations. (36)

To the English colonists, hereditary heathenism could be interrupted by marrying into the “better” spiritual lineage of English Christians. (37)

| Of course, most indigenous people did not see it this way. European missionaries made few converts because converting to Christianity included European cultural assimilation and the loss of tribal identity. (37)

…Europeans did not introduce Christianity to Africans. Christianity had arrived in Africa through Egypt and Ethiopian in the third and fourth centuries. Christian luminaries like Augustine, Tertullian, and Athanasius helped develop Trinitarian theology and defended the deity of Christ long before Western Europeans presumed to “take” Christianity to Africans. (37)

…the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701), like many European missionary endeavors in North America, preached a message that said Christianity could save one’s soul but not break one’s chains. (38)


In European Nother American, Christianity became identified with the emerging concept of “whiteness” while people of color, including indigenous peoples and Africans, became identified with unbelief. (39)

| Christianity served as a force to help construct racial categories in the colonial period. A corrupt message that saw no contradiction between the brutalities of bondage and the good news of salvation became the norm. European missionaries tried to calm the slave owners’ fears of rebellion by spreading a version of Christianity that emphasized spiritual deliverance, not immediate liberation. Instead of highlighting the dignity of all human beings, European missionaries told Africans that Christianity should make them more obedient and loyal to their earthly masters. (39)

| But if racism can be made, it can be unmade. … “The fierce urgency of now,” to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr., demands a recognition of the ways Christians, from before the founding of the United States, built racial categories into religion. That knowledge must then be turned toward propagating a more authentically biblical message of human equality regardless of skin color. (39)

3. Understanding Liberty in the Age of Revolution and Revival


A draft of the document denounced the transatlantic slave trade by accusing the British monarch of “violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people…captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” (42)

When Africans in America heard white leaders proclaim natural rights and equality for all, naturally they applied those statements to their own situation. In a 1773 letter to the Massachusetts General Court, a committee of slaves wrote, “We cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.” (43)


In the decades leading up to the American War for Independence, another revolution was taking place. The Great Awakening fundamentally altered the shape of Protestantism in the colonies and among African slaves. Influenced by the Enlightenment’s emphasis on experience as the ground of knowledge, evangelists during the Great Awakening highlighted the necessity of a personal encounter with God and the role of emotion in the Christian faith. (44)

The driving goal of evangelical ministers was to spread the message of new birth while combating those who assumed that grace was achieved gradually and by good works. – Alan Gallay

Although the proportion remained small, the Great Awakening (44) initiated the first significant number of conversions to Christianity among enslaved Africans in the colonies. (45)

Nothing is more conducive of divine glory and salutary to men than the preaching of the gospel. Unless these glad tidings are proclaimed, the incarnation of Christ is vain. – Lemuel Haynes, 1785


The focus upon contrast and change in his [Whitefield’s] ideas which has dominated discussion to date obscures a more significant feature of his thought, namely, his deep-seated fear of the blacks. – Stephen J. Stein

The economic impulse for slavery can never be separated from the racist ideas that typecast enslaved Africans as dangerous and brutish. Whitefield and countless other white Christians imbibed beliefs that encouraged fear and suspicion of African-descended people. (48)

Virtually any gathering of black people–even when black Christians congregated for worship–was likely to elicit suspicion. (48)


Why did Jonathan Edwards support slavery? In part, the answer may have to do with his social status. Edwards represented an educated and elite class in New England society. Wealthy and influential people populated his congregation. Slave owning signified status. More deeply, though, the particular brand of evangelicalism developing in America during the Great Awakening made an antislavery stance unlikely for many. (50)

As a revival movement…evangelicalism transformed people within their inherited social setting, but worked only partial and selective transformation on the social settings themselves. – Mark Noll

Evangelicalism focused individual conversion and piety. Within this evangelical framework, one could adopt an evangelical expression of Christianity yet remain uncompelled to confront institutional injustice. (50)

Edwards and Whitefield represent a supposedly moderate and widespread view of slavery. Both accepted the spiritual equality of black and white people. Both preached the message of salvation to all. Yet their concern for African slaves did not extend to advocating for physical emancipation. Like these two preachers, many other Christians did not see anything in the Bible that forbade slavery. In fact, the Scriptures seemed to accept slavery as an established reality. Instead, white Christians believed that the Bible merely regulated slavery in order to mitigate its most brutal abuses. (51)


In 1793 the Baptist General Committee of Virginia had to decide whether it would accept slave owners as congregation members in good standing. … It posed an even stronger statement in 1790 when the outspoken white Baptist antislavery minister John Leland declared the institution of slavery to be not only against the law of God but also “inconsistent with a republican government.” (51)


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. (52)

Black Christians did not always meet in secret. Sometimes they worshiped in the same congregations as white Christians, albeit under segregated seating. This was a pragmatic decision on the part of white believers. Controlling and monitoring slaves was easier if they were in the same building. (52)

| The divide between white and black Christians in America was not generally one of doctrine. Christians across the color line largely agreed on theological teachings such as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, (52) and the importance of personal conversion. More often than not, the issue that divided Christians along racial lines related to the unequal treatment of African-descended people in white church contexts. (53)

…[Richard] Allen helped start the Bethel African Church in Philadelphia in 1794. Since so many black Methodists faced similar racial obstacles with their white coreligionists, Allen helped found the African Methodist Episcopal denomination in 1816 and became its first bishop. (54)

| Black Christians have repeated their exodus from white churches throughout American history on both large and small scales. (54)


The American church compromised with racism in the eighteenth century by permitting slavery to continue. The Christian church grew in the 1730s and the 1740s, but the racial hierarchy remained firmly entrenched in the church and society. In one of American history’s clearest contradictions, not even Revolutionary ideals of independence and equality or the religious transformations brought on by the Great Awakening could deconstruct the foundations of the social pyramid. Instead, slavery and the meaning of race became more institutionalized as the country progressed through the opening decades of the nineteenth century. (55)

4. Institutionalizing Race in the Antebellum Era

At the outset of the nineteenth century, the Untied States could have become a worldwide beacon of diversity and equality. Fresh from the Revolutionary War, it could have adopted the noble ideals written in the Declaration of Independence. It could have crafted a truly inclusive Constitution. Instead, white supremacy became more defined as the nation and the church solidified their identities. This chapter outlines how early leaders embedded race into the foundation of both the fledgling American nation and the church. (57)


cf. 1781, the Articles of Confederation and the “Fugitive Slave Clause” (Article IV, Section 2)

From the beginning, the Constitution ensured that nowhere in America would be safe for an escaped slave. (58)

Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution… …the Three-Fifths Compromise. (58)

The Missouri Compromise effectively guaranteed that slavery would remain an American institution for the next several decades. (59)

All of this demonstrates that early legislation in the United States protected, or at least did not dismantle, race-based chattel slavery. The nation’s political leaders used black lives as bargaining chips to preserve the union of states and to gain leverage for other policy issues. Although the abolition movement started gaining momentum during this time, America made its peace with slavery for the next several decades. (59)

| What about the church? The American church made similar compromises at critical  junctures to preserve the status of slaveholders and (59) to justify the uniquely American manifestation of slavery. (60)


The chattel principle is the social alchemy that transformed a human being made in the image of God into a piece of property. (60)

The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences. – James W. C. Pennington

The entire economy of the antebellum South was constructed on the idea that the bodies of enslaved people had a measurable monetary value. – Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul

cf. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


cf. The Confessions of Nat Turner


As Charles F. Irons wrote in The Origins of Proslavery Christianity, “Sunday morning only became the most segregated time of the week after the Civil War. Before emancipation, black and white evangelicals typically prayed, sang, and worshiped together.” Yet this interracial interaction did not come from the egalitarian aspirations of white Christians; rather, interracial congregations were an expression of paternalism and a means of controlling slave beliefs and preventing slave insurrection. (66)

| Under paternalistic Christianity, the slave plantation was seen as a household, with the male enslaver as the benevolent patriarch of both his family and his “pseudo family” of enslaved black people. Theoretically, a Christian slave owner would care for his enslaved property as a father cares for his own children. But enslaved blacks could never truly be part of the white master’s household, nor would they be considered full and equal human beings, let alone fellow Christians of equal status and dignity. (66)

Slaveholder paternalism viewed the enslaved as perpetual children incapable of adequately making their own decisions, dependent on white people for guidance and protection. (67)

cf. The American Colonization Society (ACS)

[Charles] Finney’s stance for abolition but against integration arose from his conviction that social reform would come through individual conversion, not institutional reform. Finney and many others like him believed that social change came about through evangelization. According to this logic, once a person believed in Christ as Savior and Lord, he or she would naturally work toward justice and change. “As saints supremely value the highest good of being, they will, and must, take a deep interest in whatever is promotive of that end. Hence, their spirit is necessarily that of the reformer.” This belief led to a fixation on individual conversion without a corresponding focus on transforming the racist policies and practices of institutions, a stance that has remained a constant feature of American evangelicalism and has furthered the American church’s easy compromise with slavery and racism. (69)

| The antebellum period was a time of compromise and complicity. During this time, many Christians engaged in evangelism to enslaved and freed blacks. The black church grew, laying the foundation for a distinctive tradition that would stand at the center go the black freedom struggle for the next century. Even as slavery became further embedded in American culture, evangelical Christianity became more mainstream. Unwilling to confront the evil of this institution, some churches lost their prophetic voices, and those who did speak up were drowned out by the louder chorus of complicity. Competing understandings of freedom, equality, and belonging in both the country and the congregation would soon explode into Civil War. (69)

5. Defending Slavery at the Onset of the Civil War

Both [Union and Confederacy] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. – Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.

The president concisely summarized the theological tension that lay at the center of the conflict. Was God on the side of the Union or the Confederacy? Did the bible sanction slavery or oppose it? Who were the righteous warriors in this conflagration? The war decisively ended slavery, but the fighting did not end. The bullets of competing biblical interpretations continued to ricochet across the country. (70)

Massive schisms along sectional lines in the major denominations–Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians–portended the national divide to come. Throughout the conflict, Christians of both the Union and Confederate forces believed that God was on their side. (71)


Two facts about the Civil War are especially pertinent to our examination of race and Christianity in America: that the Civil War was fought over slavery and that countless devout Christians fought and died to preserve it as an institution. (71)


Amid the myriad streams that combined to break the dam of national political unity and usher in the Civil War, five events stand out: the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, John Brown’s raid in 1859, and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. (72)

…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? (75)

| If anyone today still doubts whether the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, they need only to read the declarations issued by the Confederate states upon their secession from the Union. (75)

cf. Confederate States of America, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union”

cf. Confederate States of America, “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union”



These [northern] brethren, thus acted upon a sentiment they have failed to prove–That slavery is, in all circumstances sinful. – William Bullein Johnson

In light of this affront to the southern way of life and the assault on the institution of slavery, Southern Baptists viewed separation as their best option. (78)


The Gardiner Spring Resolutions called all Presbyterians to pledge their allegiance to the federal government and, by implication, to its stance on slavery. (79)

In the 1860s the issue centered on the question of Christ and Caesar, and whether or not the Church could require allegiance to any particular nation as a term of communion. – Frank J. Smith, The History of the Presbyterian Church in America: The Continuing Church Movement

Given this ultimatum, Presbyterians in the South viewed separation as the only option available to them. They formed the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCS), which later changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). The forty-eight Presbyteries that departed from the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) were (79) all in southern states that advocated for each state’s right to determine the legality of slavery. (80)


It may be challenging for modern readers to grasp what was at stake for southern Christians when they considered slavery. Slavery was not just a civil issue; it was a religious one. Christians in the South believed the Bible approved of slavery since the Bible never clearly condemned slavery and even provided instructions for its regulation. (80)

Your cause is the cause of God, the cause of Christ, of humanity. It is a conflict of truth with error–of Bible with northern infidelity–of pure Christianity with northern fanaticism. – J. W. Tucker

Even as white southern Christians denounced northerners for making fidelity to the Union a requirement for fellowship, they made (80) acceptance of race-based chattel slavery a requirement of biblical orthodoxy. (81)

[Robert Lewis] Dabney not only believe that slavery was morally acceptable; he viewed it as a positive for the African: “Was it nothing, that this [black] race, morally inferior, should be brought into close relations to a nobler race?” Dabney accepted the myth of the moral and intellectual inferiority of enslaved blacks, believing that if they were left to their own devices, they would only tend toward “lying, theft, drunkenness, laziness, [and] waste.” In Dabney’s theology, it was only through contact with the “nobler race” of white people in a master-slave relationship that there was hope of elevating the ethics of Africans. (81)

In Dabney’s mind, the gentle ministrations of the whip and the admonition of slaves to obey their masters had the positive effect of commending Christianity to black people. (82)


So, unfortunately, the most potent biblical antislavery argument–demonstrating the differences between slavery in the ancient Near East and that of the American South–also took the most effort to understand. (84)

The argument required a rather sophisticated knowledge of the differences between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament people of God. (85)


According to [James Henley] Thornwell, the church can merely assert what the Bible teaches and must remain silent on that which the Bible is silent. (85)

The spirituality of the church reflected the ways segments of the American church set up dualities between physical and spiritual, moral and political, ecclesiastical and social. Just as the Virginia General Assembly legally separated baptism from emancipation in the 1660s and the Baptist General Convention separated the “political” issue of slavery from “church” issues in the 1790s, Christians during the Civil War made similar attempts to divide slavery’s ethical implications from its political context. (86)

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 (86) racism, but we cannot ignore that its leaders took the step of seceding from the United States in order to protect an economic system based not he enslavement of human beings. From then on, the Confederacy would always and irrevocably be associated with slavery. They prayed over the troops, penned treatises on the inferiority of black people, and divided denominations over the issue of enslavement. The Civil War paints a vivid picture of what inevitably happens when the American church is complicit in racism and willing to deny the teachings of Jesus to support an immoral, evil institution. (87)

6. Reconstructing White Supremacy in the Jim Crow Era

Although the demise of legalized slavery could have led to full citizenship privileges for black people, white supremacists devised new and frighteningly effective ways to enforce the racial hierarchy. They romanticized the antebellum South as an age of earnest religion, honorable gentlemen, delicate southern belles, and happy blacks content in their bonding. They also constructed a new social order, what we refer to as Jim Crow–a system of formal laws and informal customs designed to reinforce the inferiority of black people in America. (89)



It would take the Civil Rights Act of 1965 to reassert the right of all citizens to freely cast their votes. (93)


The “Lost Cause” is a narrative about southern society and the Confederate cause invented after the Civil War to make meaning of (93) the devastating military defeat for southern white Americans. The Lost Cause mythologized the white, pre-Civil War South as a virtuous, patriotic group of tight-knit Christian communities. According to the Lost Cause narrative, the South wanted nothing more than to be left alone to preserve its idyllic civilization, but it was attacked by the aggressive, godless North, who swooped in to disrupt a stable society, calling for emancipation and inviting the intrusion of the federal government into small-town, rural life. Confederates reluctantly roused themselves to the battlefield not because of bloodlust or a nefarious desire to subjugate black people but because outsiders had threatened their way of life and because honor demanded a reaction. (94)

cf. Baptized in Blood by Charles Reagan Wilson

More than just a story about the political fortunes of the South, southerners blended Civil War memory and Christian dogma together as a way of confirming their shared suffering and giving their losses divine significance. (94)

White supremacy lurked behind the Lost Cause narrative and helped cement the practice of segregation in the church as the new normal. (94)

The installation of the 1,000-plus memorials across the US was the result of the orchestrated efforts of white Southerners and a few northerners with clear political objectives: They tended to be erected at times when the South was fighting to resist political rights for black citizens. – Fitzhugh Brundage


Supported by most whites in the South, several groups initiated a sustained and violent effort to reclaim the South from white northerners and freed black people. They saw their efforts as a divine mandate for the white man to take his rightful place atop the social hierarchy. They referred to this period as “redemption.” (96)

…the “Compromise of 1877”

Plessy v. Ferguson


April 1871, the Ku Klux Klan Act

The next movement of the Ku Klux Klan was in the early twentieth century, It did not focus on opposing Reconstruction, since Reconstruction had already failed. Instead, it fused Christianity, nationalism, and white supremacy into a toxic ideology of hate. In The Gospel According to the Klan, Kelly Baker argues that the Klan cannot be understood apart from its unique interpretation of Protestantism. The Klan of the early twentieth century “was not just an order to defend America but also a campaign to protect and celebrate Protestantism. It was a Religious order.” (100)

cf. D.W. Griffith, The Birth of A Nation

Christian complicity with racism, as a generational trait, had now entered the White House in the person of Woodrow Wilson. (101)

In all my years of experience in organization work, I have never seen anything equal to the clamor throughout the nation for the Klan. – Edward Young Clarke

It’s estimated that 40,000 ministers were members of the Klan, and these people were demonizing regularly, explicitly urging people to join the Klan. – Linda Gordon

The KKK’s dedication to race and nation rose to the level of religious devotion because of its overt appeal to Christianity and the Bible. Many people believed that (102) the KKK stood for the best of the “American way,” and in their minds, that meant the Christian way as well. (103)


The name “Jim Crow” comes from a minstrel character played by Thomas D. Rice in the 1830s and 1840s. … Although he was not the first white actor to utilize “blackface,” his career skyrocketed when he began painting his face black and playing the role of a likable trickster named Jim Crow. (103)

cf. September 3, 1944, Recy Taylor

In the Jim Crow era, rape persisted as a sexualized form of racial terror. Women were targeted for a reasons as varied as retribution for perceived offenses to drunken fits of lasciviousness. (105)

A black woman’s body was never hers alone. – Fannie Lou Hamer

Nothing could be more foreign to the ideals of the Christian religion than miscegenation and amalgamation. There is absolutely no foundation for advocating the mixing of the blood of the races as a part of our religious doctrines. – Theodore Bilbo, Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization


Jim Crow could not have worked as effectively as it did without the frequent and detestable practice of lynching. (106)

Many white Christians failed to unequivocally condemn lynching and other acts of racial terror. Doing so poisoned the American legal system and made Christian churches complicit in racism for generations. While some Christians spoke out and denounced these lynchings (just as some Christians called for abolition), the majority stance of the American church was avoidance, turning a blind eye to the practice. It’s not that members of every white church participated in lynching, but the practice could not have endured without the relative silence, if not outright support, of one of the most significant institutions in America–the Christian church. (109)

The North won the Civil War, but the South won the narrative war. – Bryan Stevenson

7. Remembering the Complicity in the North


…in 1886 [Augustus Tolton] became the first person of known African descent to become a Roman Catholic priest in the United States

cf. “Memphis Miracle” of 1994. (AG website)


cf. Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.

cf. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth

Fundamentalists dissuaded other Christians from certain forms of political involvement and encouraged them instead to focus on personal holiness and evangelism. (116)


Despite the pervasive racism that corrupted communities nationwide, it still seemed better for many black folks to live anywhere other than the Jim Crow South. This led to a mass movement of black people from the South to cities int he North, Midwest, and East and West coasts, which has been referred to as the Great Migration. It would not be wrong to cast these migrating blacks as refugees fleeing the racial terror of the South. Some major cities saw their black populations more than double between 1920 and 1930, Chicago’s black population grew from 109,500 to 243,000, New York City from 152,000 to 328,000 and Detroit from 41,000 to 120,066. These rapid and massive changes were not without problems. The influx of southern black people changed white perceptions of the city and increased interracial tensions. (119)

Their churches and charities were broke. It was time for a higher power to intervene. They looked to God, and they looked to Roosevelt. – Alison Collis Greene, No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta

For the first ten years of its existence, Pepperdine admitted black students but did not permit them to live on campus. … Spurred by the open-market business philosophy of its founder and a growing number of Christian entrepreneurs, the school taught its students to distrust unionism and federal intervention, specifically in the form of welfare programs geared toward the poor. Schools such as Pepperdine indoctrinated a new (121) generation of white Christians with ideas that would lend educational and ideological support to an individualistic approach to race relations and that would lead to an aversion to government initiatives designed to promote and protect civil rights. (122)

Due to the resistance of high-level southern politicians seeking to insulate the racial hierarchy in their communities from federal interference, Roosevelt and his administration compromised with racists to pass racially discriminatory laws. For example, while avoiding explicitly race-based language, Social Security provisions excluded most base-level agricultural and domestic workers–the vast majority of whom were black women and men. This exclusion was not accidental; it was by design. (122)


Owning a home in the neighborhood once chooses has o often been seen as a decision based hard work, individual effort, and free choice. Consequently, patterns of racial segregation appear to be the innocuous and unavoidable coincidence of individual preference, devoid of any major racist component. Views like these blue the deliberate and intentional nature of residential segregation. Through a series of rules and customs, government employees and real estate agents have actively engineered neighborhoods and communities to maintain racial segregation. (123)

The HOLC [Home Owners’ Loan Corporation] created color-coded maps of every metropolitan area in the nation, with the safest neighborhoods colored green and the riskiest colored red. – Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law

Neighborhoods with any black people, even if the residents had stable middle-class incomes, were coded red, and lenders were unlikely to give loans in these areas. This practice became known as redlining. (124)

1962…the Religion and Race Conference. Their primary goal was “to assist middle-class blacks to move into the larger community.” Members of the conference wanted to pose a “challenge to conscience” to compel white residents to embrace integration. A similar organization, the Greater Detroit Committee for Fair Housing Practices, focused on white churches. They handed out “Covenant Cards” that white Christians could sign as a demonstration of their commitment to residential desegregation. (124)

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.’ – William Levitt, Levitt & Sons, the most well-known and prolific real estate company in the nation (1940s-1950s)

“Through blockbusting, brokers intentionally stoked fears of racial integration and declining property values in order to push white homeowners to sell at a loss.” [Kriston Capps, “How Real-Estate Brokers Can Profit from Racial Tipping Points,” City Lab. March 3, 2015] Brokers would warn white residents of an impending “invasion” of black home buyers. Whites, who feared losing property value and who harbored stereotypes about black people, would sell at a lower price to the broker. The brokers would then sell the properties at inflated rates to black people desperate for homes and comfortable neighborhoods. Blockbusting is an example of how some agents leveraged racism for their personal advantage. (127)


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 is simply not possible. The South has often been  used as the foil for the rest of America. People in other parts of the country could always look below the Mason-Dixon Line and say, “Those are the real racists.” Yet the very conspicuousness of white supremacy in the South has made it easier for racism in other parts of the country to exist in open obscurity. Christians of the North have often been characterized as abolitionists, integrationists, and open-minded citizens who want all people to have a chance at equality. Christians of the South, on the other hand, have been portrayed as uniformly racist, segregationist, and antidemocratic. The truth is far more complicated. (129)

Compromised Christianity transcends regions. Bigotry obeys no boundaries. This is why Christians in every part of America have a moral and spiritual obligation to fight against the church’s complicity with racism. (129)

8. Compromising with Racism during the Civil Rights Movement

[Martin Luther] King and [Billy] Graham each had large grassroots followings and reached countless people in the United States and beyond through their speeches, sermons, and writings. Both show up (131) frequently in the examples below because their views, while not universal, represent two approaches to religion and justice–moderation and activism. (132)

While the civil rights movement has a well-earned reputation as a faith-based movement led by Christian pastors and lay people, our collective memory of the proportion of Christians involved may be somewhat skewed. In reality, precious few Christians publicly aligned themselves with the struggle for black freedom in the 1950s and 1960s. Those who did participate faced backlash from their families, friends, and fellow Christians. 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. (132)


Like many evangelicals, Graham believed race relations would gradually improve–one conversion and one friendship at a time. … Ultimately, Graham made it clear that his primary goal was evangelism. He took measured steps to desegregate his crusades and encourage Christians to obey the Brown v. Board decision, but he assiduously avoided any countercultural stances that would have alienated his largely white audience and his supporters. (135)


While he was incarcerated, eight white clergymen wrote a letter to King and his supporters advising them to depart and let the community handle race relations for itself. … Their message provides a stark illustration of how much of the American church responded to King and the civil rights movement. (136)

Letter to Martin Luther King

A Group of Clergymen
April 12, 1963

We clergymen are among those who, in January, issued “an Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there has been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experiences of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

Signed by:

C.C.J. CARPENTER, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Alabama.
JOSEPH A. DURICK, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham
Rabbi MILTON L. GRAFMAN, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop PAUL HARDIN, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church
Bishop NOLAN B. HARMON, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
GEORGE M. MURRAY, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
EDWARD V. RAMAGE, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States
EARL STALLINGS, Pastors, First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

What comes through in the letter, more than anything else, is their reasonableness. (137)

But it is the very reasonableness of the letter that reveals the underlying problem of complicity with racism. This letter from white Christian moderates illustrates the broader failure of the white church, a failure to recognize the daily indignity of American racism and the urgency the situation demanded. (137)

It is far more difficult to trace the actions of Christian moderates when compared to the more bombastic resisters in the movement. Their actions were at times supportive of black civil rights, while at other times they stood against the movement. But what we must not ignore is that while segregationist politicians spewed forth words of “interposition and nullification,” while magazines published editorials calling civil rights activists Communists, and while juries acquitted violent racists of criminal acts, none of this would have been possible without the complicity of Christian moderates. (139)



Many Christian moderates failed to incorporate the larger context of the years of systemic racism into their understanding of the civil rights movement. The failure on the part of these moderate Christians and the broader citizenry of the nation to respond to the evils of segregation and inequality experienced in black communities would, in subsequent years, help spur another expression of the black freedom struggle, the Black Power Movement. (143)


As one biographer explains, “The cartoon awakened [Ali], and he realized that he hadn’t chosen Christianity. He hadn’t chosen the name Cassius Clay. So why did he have to keep those vestiges of slavery?” 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. (144)


Up to this point, the discussions about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have revolved around a few famous individuals and organizations–Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, billy Graham, the NAACP, SNCC, and others–but this should not prevent our examination of everyday Christians those who never made headlines or marched for or against black enfranchisement. These women and men filled the pews in their churches on Sunday morning, prayed before family dinners, and did their best to work hard and provide for their loved ones. Some collaborated with the vocal and visible individuals who enforced racial segregation in their communities. Sadly, millions of everyday Christians saw no contradiction between their faith and the racism they practiced in subtle yet ubiquitous ways. (145)

cf. White Flight by Kevin Kruse

cf. Blood Done Signed My Name by Timothy Tyson

cf. The Color of Christ by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey

cf. Head of Christ by Warner Sallman

Warner Sallman’s famous but contrived image of Jesus served to reinforce among Christians the status quo of the American racial hierarchy. (147)

cf. Albert Cleage Jr.’s Shrine of the Black Madonna, formerly Central Congregational Church


In a seminal essay on the civil rights movement, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall wrote that King had been “endlessly reproduced and selectively quoted, his speeches retain their majesty yet los their political bite.” (148)

King saw an indissoluble link between the Christian faith and the responsibility to change unjust laws and policies. … Some Christians (148) opposed King’s activism because they considered race relations a purely social issue, not a spiritual one. They tended to believe that the government should not force people of different races to integrate. As shown above, some even thought that segregation was a biblical requirement. (149)

The Bible says, “A prophet has no honor in his own country” (John 4:44). We might extend it: A prophet (or truth-teller) has no honor in his other own time. (150)

While not all moderate Christians were racists or feared integration, enough went along with the Jim Crow consensus for those like Martin Luther King Jr. to abandon the hope that they would find many allies among their white brothers and sisters in Christ in their struggle for black freedom. Instead, the American church largely chose to compromise with racism through passive complicity, rejecting yet another opportunity to come alongside black people in the nation’s “Second Reconstruction.” (151)

9. Organizing the Religious Right at the End of the Twentieth Century

Atwater articulated what has become know as “color-blind conservatism.” By excising explicitly racial terms like “black,” “white,” or “nigger” from their language, practitioners can claim they “don’t see color.” As a result, people can hold positions on social and political issues that disproportionately and adversely harm racial and ethnic minorities, but they can still proclaim their own racial innocence. As Atwater articulated, it is clear that the switch from racial language to supposedly color-blind discourse was once a conscious and deliberate choice. Today, it has become second nature–and the unconscious practice of many American Christians. (153)

From the late 1960s through ice 1980s, conservative Christians coalesced into a political force that every major Republican political had to court if they hoped to have lasting success. But there was also a cost to this influence; it meant that American evangelicalism became virtually synonymous with the GOP and whiteness. While neither Democrats nor Republicans adequately addressed the multitude of issues that continued to plague black communities, people of color increasingly felt disregarded and even, at times, degraded by political conservatives. Politics became a proxy for racial conflict, and because of the Religious Right that conflict translated into divisions in the church. (153)


Though it was necessary to enact civil rights legislation, you cannot erase four hundred years of race-based oppression by passing a few laws. From the earliest years of slavery in the 1600s, through the legal end of Jim Crow in 1954, and in the numerous and varied ways in which racism is still enacted in law and culture today, the United States has had more than 300 years of race-based discrimination. A few short decades of legal freedom have not corrected the damage done by centuries of racism. (155)

Since the 1970s, Christian complicity in racism has become more difficult to discern. It is hidden, but that does not mean it no longer exists. As we look more closely at the realm of politics, we see that Christian complicity with racism remains, even as it has taken on subtler forms. Again, we must remember: racism never does away; it adapts. (155)


Politicians, including Nixon, began delivering a message of “law and order” to convey to voters their commitment to social stability. (157)

In effect, Nixon was pointing to the civil rights movement and its nonviolent direct action, not as the endeavor to secure long-denied justice to black Americans but as the tarmac to tyranny and disregard for the law. (157)

In the 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority, Kevin Philips, who coined the term Sunbelt, articulated an ethos designed to appeal to this emerging group that was “fiscally and socially conservative enough to win the confidence of the new moneyed suburbanite, but also racially conservative enough to attract [George] Wallace’s voters.” …the Sunbelt ideology was a suburban value system. These were men and women who believed in free-market capitalism, meritocratic individualism, local control of communities, and the idea that America had been founded as a “Christian Nation.” Historian Dareen Dochuk argues that these Sunbelt citizens blended their evangelical religion into their political outlook as well as Sunbelt evangelicalism “melded traditionalism into an uncentered, unbounded religious culture of entrepreneurialism, experimentation, and engagement–in short, a Sunbelt Creed.” (158)

In place of obviously racist policies, law-and-order rhetoric “had become a surrogate expression for concern about the civil rights movement.” (160)

[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to. – H. R. Haldeman, advisor to Richard Nixon

It is possible that white evangelicals were not concerned with matters of race when they voted. But even a color-blind ideology is problematic since it “depended upon the establishment of structural mechanisms of exclusion that did not require individual racism by suburban beneficiaries.” … Nowadays, all the American church needs to do in terms of compromise is cooperate with already established and racially unequal social systems. (160)

Resolution On Abortion
St. Louis, Missouri – 1971

WHEREAS, Christians in the American society today are faced with difficult decisions about abortion; and

WHEREAS, Some advocate that there be no abortion legislation, thus making the decision a purely private matter between a woman and her doctor; and

WHEREAS, Others advocate no legal abortion, or would permit abortion only if the life of the mother is threatened;

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that this Convention express the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother

Fundamentalists were evangelical Christins…who in the twentieth century militantly opposed both modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernism endorsed. – George Marsden, Fundamentalism in American Culture

Fundamentalists espoused separatism from the modernizing culture and even from the evangelical denominations and churches considered too liberal in their beliefs. Their strict rules for moral behavior alienated more moderate evangelicals who sought greater engagement with the world for the sake of evangelism. (163)

In 1975, [Bob Jones University] changed its policy and allowed unmarried black students to enroll, but as clearly outlined in the student handbook, the school prohibited interracial dating. (164)

There are three basic races–Oriental, Caucasian and Negroid. At BJU, everybody dates within those basic three races. – Bob Jones III

God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established. – Jonathan Part, 1998

In 2008 Stephen Jones, the new leader of the school since 2005, issued a formal apology for Bob Jones University’s past racial recalcitrance. The apology reads, “For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture.” Jones was finally able to see the connection between the American church’s historic complicity with racism and the university’s specific policies regarding race. He goes on to explain, “We conformed to the culture rather than providing a clear Christian counterpoint to it.” (165)

What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the [Equal Rights Amendment]…What changed their minds was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation. – Paul Weyrich


In an oft-quoted sermon he gave in 1965 entitled “Ministers and Marches,” Falwell declared, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.” … By 1976, Falwell had completely flipped his position and his stance against mixing religion and politic and embarked on an “I Love America” rally tour. In a sermon delivered on the Fourth of July, he made his new position crystal clear: “This idea of ‘religion and politics don’t mix’ was invented by the devil to keep Christians from running their own country.” (166)

If elected, [Reagan] promised to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them.” (168)

The “welfare queen” became a stand-in for the president’s criticism of an undeserving class of poor people, especially inner-city black women. … In Reagan’s first term, anti drug spending by the FBI went from $38 million to $101 million. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s budget went from $86 million to over $1 billion. A the same time, the budget for the Department of Education’s drug prevention programs dipped from $14 million to $3 million. (169)

What are we doing as Christians while this awful thing called integration, that should be called communism, is destroying our way of life and our entire race?

The welfare state, in the mind of the New Christian Right, undermined the sense of individual responsibility in which public morality rested. – James German

Efforts to reduce funding to social support systems functioned as a subtle judgment on welfare recipients in general, but to the extent that welfare was associated with black people, it also functioned as a judgment against “lazy blacks.” (170)

…as we have seen in this brief historical tour, after more than three centuries of deliberate, systematic race-based exclusion, the political system that had intentionally disenfranchised black people continued to do so, yet in less overt ways. Simply by allowing the political system to work as it was designed–to grant advantages to white people and to put people of color at various disadvantages–many well-meaning Christians were complicit in racism. Of course, there are always unintended consequences for our political choices, and not all of them can be foreseen or even avoided. But when we examine our attitudes about race and consider them in light of the history of slavery and racism in America, we begin to see that Christians have a responsibility to, at the very least, consider how the political connections between theologically conservative evangelicalism and conservative politics, namely through the Republican Party, have supported racial inequities. (171)

10. Reconsidering Racial Reconciliation in the Age of Black Lives Matter

cf. “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation on the 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention”

cf. Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

To frame their study, they used the concept of a “racialized” society which they defined as a society “wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities and social relationships.” It is, as they say, “a society that allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed.” Racialization functions differently from straightforward racism. Emerson and Smith go on to explain that discrimination in a racialized society is increasingly (174) covert, embedded in the normal operations of institutions, and it avoids direct racial terminology, making it invisible to most white people. The relative invisibility of these racialized structures to white Christians often leads them to unknowingly compromise with racism. (175)


…”culture creates ways for individuals and groups to organize experiences and evaluate reality. It does so by providing a repertoire or ‘tool kit’ of ideas, habits, skills, and styles.” (175)

Accountable individualism means that “individuals exist independent of structures and institutions, have freewill, and are individually accountable for their own actions. This belief promotes skepticism toward the idea that social systems and structures profoundly shape the actions of individuals. …relationalism, “a strong (175) emphasis on interpersonal relationships.” According to relationalism, social problems are fundamentally due to broken personal relationships: “Thus, if race problems–poor relationships–result from sin, then race problems must largely be individually based.” And antistructuralism refers to the belief that “invoking social structures shifts guilt away from its root source–the accountable individual.” In other words, systems, structures, and policies are not to blame for the problems in America; instead, the problems come from the harmful choices of individuals. “Absent from their accounts is the idea that poor relationships might be shaped by social structures, such as laws, the ways institutions operate, or forms of segregation…They often find structural explanations irrelevant or even wrongheaded. (176)



Ultimately, the organizations with which one chooses to affiliate in the cause of antiracism is a matter of conscience. The only wrong action is inaction. (184)

In the church, conversations about injustice should include an examination of the circumstances of each incident, but Christians should also analyze the larger patterns–ones that can operate independent of malicious intent–to see the historic and systemic picture and advocate for more effective solutions. (184)


A Public Religion Research survey found that the only religious group that thought Christians in America faced more discrimination than Muslims were white evangelicals: 57 percent of evangelicals thought Christians faced a lot of discrimination compared to 33 percent of Americans overall. (cf. “White Evangelicals Believe They Face More Discrimination Than Muslims”) Trump’s campaign slogan promised to “Make America Great Again.” In the conservative Christian political mind, Trump, despite his, promised to “Make Evangelicals Great Again.” (189)

The election itself was the single most harmful event to the whole movement of reconciliation in at least the past 30 years. … It’s about to complete break apart. – Michael Emerson

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. (189)


…back Baptist minister Lawrence Ware renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention: “My reasoning is simple,” he explained. “As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.” (Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention)

Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past. It looks like (190) Christians responding to black lives matter with the phrase all lives matter. It looks like Christians consistently supporting a president whose racism has been on display for decades. It looks like Christians telling black people and their allies that their attempts to bring up racial concerns are “divisive.” It looks like conversations on race that focus on individual relationships and are unwilling to discuss systemic solutions. Perhaps Christian complicity in racism has not changed much after all. Although the characters and the specifics are new, many of the same rationalizations for racism remain. (191)

| Centuries of racism in the American church cannot be overcome by “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” that ignore the deep social, political, and cultural divides that persist across the color line. If the church hopes to see meaningful progress in race relations during the twenty-first century, then it must undertake bold, costly actions with an attitude of unprecedented urgency. The solutions are simple though not easy. They are, in many cases, obvious though unpopular. No matter their difficulty or distastefulness, however, they are necessary in order to change the narrative of the American church and race. (191)

11. The Fierce Urgency of Now

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. … This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. … Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. – MLK

In this book, I have provided a brief historical survey to illustrate the many ways the American church has been complicit in racism over several centuries. In some cases, they actively constructed ideological and structural impediments to equality. If the twenty-first century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort to break down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place. (193)

To be clear, friendships and conversations are necessary, bu they are not sufficient to change the racial status quo. Christians must also alter how impersonal systems operate so that they might create and extend racial equality. (193)


The ARC (Awareness, Relationships, Commitment) of racial justice helps distinguish different types of antiracist actions. (194)

I am concerned that our knowledge about racial justice in this country tends to extend no further than one chapter in a high school social studies textbook. History is about context, so studying history remains vital. It teaches us how to place people, events, and movements within the broader scope of God’s work in the world. (194)

But awareness isn’t enough. No matter how aware you are, your knowledge will remain abstract and theoretical until you care about the people who face the negative consequences of racism. (195)

Developing awareness and relationships may create a burden for the struggles of others, but does that burden move you to act? … More to the point, are you willing to address the systemic and institutional aspects of racism rather than solely work on an interpersonal level? (196)


In terms of the principle, reparation simply means repair. Injustice obligates reparation. Reparation is not a matter of vengeance or charity; it’s a matter of justice. (198)

cf. Number 5:7; Luke 19:8.

Reparations, on the other hand, can take many forms. [Duke] Kwon distinguishes between “civic reparations” and “ecclesiastical reparations.” (199)

According to Kwon, ecclesiastical reparations occur mainly from and within Christian churches. … (Matt. 5:24). Black people have endured innumerable offenses at the hands of white people in the American church. Injuries to the church body, as Jesus teaches, are so important that one should interrupt worship to go address the problem. Much of the American church has not yet considered racism to be a serious enough sin to interrupt their regularly scheduled worship, at least not much beyond conversations and symbolic gestures, to repair the relationship. (199)


If the American church wants to make a clear break with the racial (200) compromise that has characterized its past, then believers must agree that it is a time to take down the Confederate monuments. (201)


…lament. (202)

The entire church can learn from believers who have suffered yet still hold onto God’s unchanging hand. (203)

| Black theology can teach the American church not just how to lament but how to rejoice as well. … Generations of black Christians have inherited a tradition of unashamed praise for God. The rest of American churches may well discover a new sense of God’s goodness when they engage their full selves in worship. (203)



Education must lead to liberation. The acquisition of knowledge should not result only in personal enlightenment but also the alleviation of oppression. (205)

In the 1960s, activists started Freedom Schools to teach people at the grassroots level about civil rights and methods of protesting for change. Freedom Schools in the new millennium would have a similar purpose. (205)

New Freedom Schools would also teach everyday Christians how to get involved in activism. (205)


Juneteenth, a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth, remembers the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas finally learned about their emancipation. It is the oldest-known celebration of black freedom from slavery. While over forty states currently recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance, it should become a national one. (207)

First, it would highlight freedom. … Second, it would commemorate one the most important historical events in US history. (207) … Third, celebrating Juneteenth as a national holiday would remind us how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go. (208)


Reverend William J. Barber Jr., a pastor and activist from North Carolina, has called for a third reconstruction. The first reconstruction occurred immediately after the Civil War when newly freed slaves joined in a flowering of black political, economic, and social participation. The second reconstruction happened during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s when activists assailed the stronghold of Jim Crow segregation. The third reconstruction is happening right now. (208)

One aspect of the civil rights movement that has remained critical is the role of people of faith. While it is true the the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century had a clearly church-based core of activists, Christians are still involve din today’s black freedom struggle. Leaders such as Brittany Packnett, Bryan Stephenson, and Bernice King often speak publicly about their faith. Pastors and laypeople alike populate the marches and fill the churches where rallies still take place. The question is whether the broader American church will recognize and participate in today’s civil rights movement. (209)

Christians need to pay attention to how their educational choices for their own children reinforce racial and economic segregation in schools. (210)


Public offense calls for public opposition. (210)

The effort to exercise due diligence and gather accurate information may delay a response, but it should not preclude one. In addition, the reticence to call out specific sins specifically poses a problem. If a particular person has done something that violates the spirit of racial equality, then that person should be cited no matter how famous that person is. Confronting the shortcomings of powerful and respected people has ever been easy, but it has always been necessary. (211)

| Publicly denouncing racism should also include disassociating with racists. (211)


Conducting nonviolent direct action protests toward other Christians and their institutions may seem offensive to some. They may decry such activism as divisive, disrespectful of the law, and militant. Those objections echo the ones antiracist activists have heard throughout American history. Change must come to the American church. It is up to Christians who comprise the church to end comprise with racism within the church. (212)


This much is clear–the American church has compromised its racism. Countless Christians have ignored, occurred, or misunderstood this history. But the excuses are gone. The information cannot be hidden. The only question that remains is what the church will do now that its complicity in racism has been exposed. (212)

Conclusion: Be Strong and Courageous

When it comes to racism, the American church does not have a “how to” problem but a “want to” problem. … In my experience of talking to hundreds of Christians–black and white, men and women, young and old–I have observed one (213) primary reason more of us do not exhibit the strength and courage required to root out racism: fear. (214)

We worry that we do not know enough yet, that our good intentions may have unintended negative consequences, or that the very people we seek to serve will rebuke us for our ignorance or missteps. I cannot say this will not happen. Standing for racial justice involves risk. But effective advocacy is a skill just like any other, and skills can be learned. Ultimately, though, you cannot read your way, listen your way, or watch your way into skillful advocacy. At some point you must act. Go forth not in fear but in faith that even your mistakes will increase your capacity to disrupt racism. (214)

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