At various times throughout history, the Bible has been used to justify the enslavement of black children, women, and men, and this has created a troubling entanglement of racism and religion that continues to generate books. Tackling headline-grabbing racial conflict, chronicling a black literary giant’s complex relationship with religion, and examining the need to reconstruct Christianity to topple its racist underpinnings are among the topics of new and forthcoming titles.
“Progressive Christians are deeply disturbed and dismayed by the state of our society, our politics, and our church,” says Brad Lyons, president and publisher of Chalice Press, the publishing arm of the mainline denomination Disciples of Christ. “These Christians want to change our world, and we want to provide resources.” Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism by Carolyn B. Helsel (Chalice, Feb. 2018) urges white people to persist in raising the issue of racism with other white people. An assistant professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a minister in the Presbyterian Church, Helsel offers spiritual tools for white congregations to overcome the anxiety that can keep them from advocating for racial justice.
Also from Chalice, Transforming Communities: How People like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha (Nov.) shows how ordinary people can tap into their own power to change their communities. Jha, director of the Oakland Peace Center and a longtime community activist, provides inspiration, tactics, and tools for neighborhood activists.
New York University Press, which has maintained a long-standing focus on religion and race its religious-studies publishing program, has two fall books that “add new dimensions to histories of important African-American movements,” says senior editor Jennifer Hammer. Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem by Wallace Best (Nov.) analyzes Langston Hughes’s thinking about religion and examines religious themes in his poetry and other writings. Best, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton, argues that Hughes, one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance, played a role in larger discussions about race and religion in America. Also from NYU, Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration by Matthew Cressler (Nov.) traces the history of black Catholicism in Chicago and shows how the Black Power movement revolutionized the way black Catholics understood themselves. Cressler is assistant professor of religious studies at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
Orbis Books—the publishing arm of the Maryknoll Fathers, a Catholic missionary order—has two fall books on racism: Anti-blackness and Christian Ethics, edited by Vincent W. Lloyd and Andrew Prevot (Nov.), focuses on social ills related to racial prejudice, including police violence, and mass incarceration, as well as looking at how antiblack racism has captured the attention of the media and the public. Contributors including Katie Grimes, assistant professor of theological ethics at Villanova University, Kelly Brown Douglas, professor of religion at Goucher College, and Bryan N. Massingale, professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, address how today’s movement for racial justice challenges white supremacy.
The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, and Religious Diversity in America by Jeannine Hill Fletcher (Orbis, out now) examines the historical relationship between Christian triumphalism and white supremacy. Fletcher, professor of theology at Fordham University, argues that the tendency of white Christians to view themselves as “chosen ones” has often resulted in racial prejudice, with terrible consequences.
Race-themed books for 2018 will explore both historical and current issues. Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel by Gary Dorrien (Yale Univ., Jan. 2018) is the sequel to his The New Abolition, which traced the roots of the black social gospel from the 19th century into the early 20th, with W.E.B. Du Bois as its public face. In this new book, Dorrien picks up the story during the mid-20th-century civil rights movement and beyond. Dorrien, the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia University, focuses on Martin Luther King Jr. and other black Christian leaders of one of the great liberation movements of the 20th century.
Christianity has been defaced by racism, and a spiritual rebuilding, to undo historical injustices, is needed, according to Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (IVP, Mar. 2018).
Robin Farmer is a Virginia-based freelance journalist working on her debut YA novel.