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The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism Paperback – January 7, 2020
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From the Publisher
Praise for The Color of Compromise
“My friend and brother, Jemar Tisby has written an incredible book. It’s powerful.”
— Lecrae, Grammy award-winning artist
“Jemar points courageously toward the open sore of racism-not with the resigned pessimism of the defeated but with the resilient hope of Christian faith.”
— Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor, Anacostia River Church
"The foundation of reconciliation begins with truth. Tisby encourages us to become courageous Christians who face our past with lament, hope, and humility. This is a must-read for all Christians who have hopes of seeing reconciliation."
— Latasha Morrison, author, Be the Bridge
"With the incision of a prophet, the rigor of a professor, and the heart of a pastor, Jemar Tisby offers a defining examination of the history of race and the church in America. Read this book. Share this book. Teach this book. The church in America will be better for it."
— Soong Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary
About the Author
Jemar Tisby (BA, University of Notre Dame, MDiv Reformed Theological Seminary) is the president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture. He is also cohost of the Pass the Mic podcast. He has spoken nationwide at conferences and his writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, and Vox. Jemar is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Mississippi studying race, religion, and social movements in the twentieth century.
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It's fitting that it starts off with Lecrae telling the story of a meme he posted one 4th of July. Because that's all this book is; it's all of the usual memes you have seen on social media by race hustlers, compiled together to provide a very brief 'history' of racism in America and the church's complicity. You know the ones I'm talking about...Jonathan Edwards owned slaves...Whitefield owned slaves...people who don't want to see confederate monuments torn down are racists...people who supported Trump are racists...on and on it goes. If you've been connected to the twitter and/or facebook accounts of Lecrae, Tisby, Ameen Hudson, TGC, Chandler and the like for the past two years, you already know the content of this book.
One reviewer, Samuel Sey, praises Jemar for the "masterful" job he does in the first six chapters regarding early U.S. history, but then criticizes Jemar's handling of modern times. I totally disagree. There's nothing "masterful" about picking out a handful of historical events, simply noting that they happened, providing a quote or two from secondary sources, and then quickly moving on to the next event; all in the effort to overgeneralize about the U.S. and the church. There are obviously cases he brings up in which real racism and injustice occurred. But it's nothing we don't already know. Heck, the stuff has been thrown in our faces over and over again. Did we really need yet another book to remind us? Again, you are not going to see anything that either isn't painfully obvious or you haven't already seen in poorly done memes from the past two years.
To his credit though, Jemar warned in the first chapter that in trying to provide a fast-paced history of the U.S. and racism, he had to be highly selective and brief. Granted, any historian has to be selective. No history is comprehensive. But you can't be brief and extremely selective, not only in what you highlight, but in how you do so, virtually ignoring any and all challenges to your interpretation of events sourced from secondary works, and expect any serious student to just run with what you claim. You can't be extremely brief and generic in trying to explain, for example, the 'Civil War' and all of the factors that led to it in the previous decades. You just can't. Sorry. But Jemar not only thinks he pulled that off, he assures us in the opening chapter that there is simply no other way to understand any of these events/actions than the way he has spun them.
I didn't vote for Trump, in the primary or general. And I'm still not a huge fan. Some things I like. Some things I don't. But does Jemar seriously expect me to just sit here and blindly accept his generalization about all those who did vote for him; that they are all complicit in propagating racism? Give me a break.
The book then ends with a call to action to combat racism. Here, I find the book hysterical and disturbing.
Some of the hysterical parts are like those where he recommends that we white people befriend more people of color. Yes, of course...because all people of color think alike and are going to straighten us out. haha. I have many friends 'of color' who hate these progressive, revisionist theories just as much as I do. I have 'black' friends who hate Lincoln and support Confederate monuments! Imagine that. What's wrong with these 'Uncle Toms,' am i right? What is some generic invitation to befriend more 'blacks' going to accomplish? Depending on who it is, it may actually work against Jemar. How many 'blacks' agree with his assessment? I don't know. But neither does he. Yet, he generalizes the 'races' all throughout this book.
Oh, this one was hysterical too...we need to pour more money into government education. Yes, let's continue funding the evangelistic arm of the anti-Christ. That will be a huge help to our children. Actually, that's both hysterical and disturbing.
One of the more disturbing parts of the book was his call for his freedom fighters to boycott conferences if all of the speakers are white, seminaries, theologians perceived as racist (like Whitefield and Edwards, i suppose?) and so on; and to even show up at the administrative offices of some of these places and do sit-ins and the like. I'm sure that's going to go over real well. Yes...let's have a crowd of ignoramuses show up at churches and seminaries to pick fights with people they perceive to be 'racists' because Jemar told them they were racists. Let's encourage our youth to go LOOKING for racism and fights.
And yes, that is what this is. Jemar, unknowingly, acknowledges it himself. There is one particular line he says multiple times in the book..."racism does not end, it adapts." At one point toward the end of the book, he says this again while explaining that there is no "smoking gun - explicit evidence that connects the American church with overt complicity in racism" today. Hmmm...in other words, if we can't find racism, we'll create it. And then we'll gather and shout and accuse and fight.
With just a few minor changes, this book could have easily been written by any BLM activist unbeliever. There was no call to discipleship with sound, systematic doctrine. Just the opposite, with praises of James Cone and those who founded the BLM and MeToo movements. Nevermind the fact that BLM's official website EXPLICITLY REJECTS God's social order as expressed in Holy Writ. I don't think i'm overreacting by stating that none of this seems to matter to Jemar. In another place, he said it himself..."the only wrong action, is inaction."
Ummm...no. Sorry Mr. Tisby. There's this thing we call the "Law of God." There are a ton of wrong actions one could take, some of which you recommend in your book. And for that, and the shoddy 'historical' analysis from secondary sources, i can't recommend this book.
But let me guess...this makes me a racist, right?
“Historically speaking,” Tisby writes, “when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity. They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing created and maintained a status quo of injustice.”
Tisby makes his case by means of a historical survey of people and events from the colonial era to the late-twentieth century. “Not only did white Christians fail to fight for black equality,” Tisby quotes historian Carolyn DuPont in summary, “they often labored mightily against it.” Did you know, for example, that…
• George Whitefield—the famous evangelist — urged the colony of Georgia, which had been founded as a free territory, to allow slavery. A large part of his motivation was the financial viability of his Bethesda Orphanage, which could be run more cheaply with slave than with paid labor.
• Prior to the Civil War, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations split into Northern and Southern branches because of the issue of slavery. Leading Southern theologians, such as Robert Lewis Dabney, defended white supremacy and slavery on providential and biblical grounds: “Was it nothing, that this [black] race, morally inferior, should be brought into close relations to a nobler race?”
• According to historian Linda Gordon, “It’s estimated that 40,000 ministers were members of the Klan, and these people were sermonizing regularly, explicitly urging people to join the Klan.” She’s referring to the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, which began in the early twentieth century and spread throughout the North as well as the South.
• W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, spoke in opposition to desegregation at the 1956 South Carolina Baptist Convention. Desegregation was “a denial of all that we believe in,” Brown v. Board of Education was “foolishness” and “idiocy,” and anyone who advocated integration was “a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up.” First Baptist was the largest Southern Baptist church at the time. For many decades, its most famous member was the evangelist Billy Graham, whose personal views were more moderate than Criswell’s but who stopped short of advocating civil rights for black Americans.
These are but four examples of white Christian complicity with racism, which I have chosen because of their relevance to white evangelical Christians. There are many other examples from across the spectrum of American Protestantism. It is sometimes forgotten, for example, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written to mainline Protestant ministers and a Jewish rabbi. If you’re looking for a searing indictment of white moderates, consider King’s words:
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”"
Of course, there were white Christians throughout American history who opposed racism. But Tisby’s disheartening survey suggests that they were exceptions rather than the rule. As a Pentecostal, for example, I am unaware of any leading white American Pentecostals who publicly supported the Civil Rights Movement during the crucial decade between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
I don’t always agree with Tisby’s reading of the historical evidence. The closer in time he drew to the present day, the more I found myself saying, “That’s not how I would read that particular incident.” The value of Tisby’s survey is that he places those incidents in the light of larger historical forces, showing continuity between them and the past. As a white reader, I found this broader historical perspective forced me to go back and take a second look at how I had been interpreting those more recent events.
So, why bring up this history of white complicity with racism now? While great strides in civil rights have been made over the decades, racism still exists and disfigures American society. “History and Scripture teaches [sic] us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance,” writes Tisby. “There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.” The Color of Compromise tells a hard truth, but one necessary to hear if racial equity is to be achieved in the Church or in America.
Tisby closes his book with practical suggestions. I don’t agree with all of the particulars, but his thoughts about “The ARC of Racial Justice” are an “entry point” for those on a journey to racial equity. ARC is an acronym for awareness, relationships, and commitment. Become aware of the issues. Build relationships across lines of race and ethnicity. And commit to concrete action…such as reading this thought-provoking book.