Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Getting Reconciliation Blues

I can count on two fingers the number of books that I have read on one day – The Hobbit and, now, Reconciliation Blues by Edward Gilbreath. Granted, I read this book over the course of a day of traveling from St. Louis to NC, but the day wasn’t that long, and the book kept my attention.

I think that this is a new must-read for the Church, both for those of us who already are on board the racial reconciliation movement, and for those who are not sure or have not even begun to think about it. What I think this book does very well is that it presents the racial divide in the American Church in a way that is palatable and readable. In a review quote on the cover, Phillip Yancey calls Gilbreath a “gentle prophet”, and that description is right on. Because Gilbreath is a black man who has lived, worked, and worshipped in a largely white evangelical context, and who identifies himself with the evangelical label, he can speak with experiential authority of the struggles of minorities in the evangelical world. But rather than cast stones and bitterness, he presents his experiences in a truthful and gentle way.

Another strength of this book is its breadth. He does not get bogged down in statistics, nor does he spend a lot of time on one particular area, but instead he covers a broad swath of the evangelical world, from worship (an EXCELLENT chapter) to politics, and he also has some insightful chapters on black evangelical leaders like Martin Luther King, Tom Skinner (click to check out this talk from Tom at Urbana 70, but I would listen to it sitting down because it is amazing and jarring), and Jesse Jackson, and talks about why some/many in the evangelical world hesitate to identify Jackson, and even King, as evangelicals.

Gilbreath is a journalist and an excellent communicator, and I have found his book a terrific blend of facts and experience. While Divided By Faith is an profound and prophetic look into the state of race in the Church, readers can easily get bogged down in the numbers and sociological language, especially if they are just starting down the road of racial reconciliation. This book is easy on the eyes and challenges the heart and mind, but does not leave you feeling condemned or hopeless.

An excerpt from his chapter called The First Shall Be Last:
“Pursuing diversity is not just for the benefit of minority groups; we all stand to gain from it. But without a sustained, intentional effort to make changes, it’s easy for evangelical institutions to fall right back into their “white” default mode.
"I don’t mean to sound jaded or cynical. I understand that a big reason for this lack of a sustained intentional effort is the natural human tendency to gravitate toward that with which we’re most comfortable. But I’m also guessing that much of it has to with appeasing donors and constituencies. Money and economic control go to the systemic root of a lot of our race problems in the evangelical church – but I don’t want to dwell there. Suffice it to say, it’s risky for a nonprofit to upset its funding base. Whether it’s a matter of donors, subscribers or even chuch members, it’s a lot easier – and cheaper – to keep an existing patron than to find a new one. When Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24), he was foreshadowing one of the fundamental complications of running a Christian organization today. Ask any pastor or ministry leader – it’s a crazy balancing act. Yet it speaks to the heart of where our priorities are, and who we are as the people of God.”


Anonymous said...

I read the excerpt on IVPress' site and the little I've read is really good. I'm definitely going to read this book very, very soon.

Anonymous said...

This makes me happy! I read the book right before exams, also in one day. I don't consider it a perfect/everything book (since as you said, no stats, and hey, some people like stats ;o), but it was a really fabulous read. Very interesting, very personal. Brings up a lot of good questions, a lot of genuine pain and frustration. A lot of hope, too. I think it was a much needed addition to the mosaic of voices out there on reconciliation. I especially appreciate someone's talking more about what's going on than simply another book that slightly expands our understanding of the theoretical reconciliation process.

Ashleigh said...

Sorry, I was that anonymous a few days ago-- I am not sure what it didn't show up.

Ashleigh said...

The second anonymous that is... (I wasn't clear)