The Color of Compromise
The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity with Racism
by Jemar Tisby
a review by Dwight A Moody
This may be the best book I’ve read about the history of racism in the United States. I’ve read Robert P Jones, and Isabel Wilkerson, and Bryan Stevenson; I’ve read and reviewed a host of other books about racism in the United States. But this may be the best.
It is neither too long nor too short. It is immensely readable. It strings together familiar stories and punctuates them with little known episodes of the sad, sorry description of the way people—Christian people—have perpetuated and defended the racist behavior of American individuals and institutions.
Chapters include reviews of the colonial period, the role of religious revivals, the onset of the slave trade, the politics of the antebellum era, the emergence of Jim Crow America, the development of both the Civil Rights Movement and the reactionary Religious Right, and finally the election of President Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is what needs to be taught in our schools. At every level. I know it is called woke; but what it really is an awakening to the truth. All people of sensibility know that “the truth will set us free” and not just because Jesus said it but because it true in every religion and none, on every continent and for every culture. We need to be free, and this book is one way to that freedom.
As a minister I can say that the most depressing thing about this long narrative is the way racism persisted in public and private ways through all the great religious movements of our history: the first Great Awakening of the 18th century, the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century, and the Pentecostal Movement and post war Evangelical Renaissance of the 20th century. This is the fundamental issue raised: why has American Christianity proved unable to address and overcome the racism of our culture? Further, does this sustained and systemic failure point to a fatal flaw in our religion? Can any religion be defended and embraced that has this history of failure?
My second response to this treatment of racism in our history and culture is a desire for two things: first, a more broad based description of how black life in the United States now differs from what it was then; that is, what progress have we made and what opportunities are available now that were not present two hundred years ago. I do not think it racist to celebrate significant achievements, from a black President and two black Supreme Court justices, to black billionaires in media, business, sport, and entertainment, to hundreds of deans, owners, mayors, captains, principals, and executives, plus, the people next door.
Further, I want a series of chapters on who is doing this racial thing right, and how that works, and why. In other words, are there examples of families, congregations, teams, communities, corporations, and such that have triumphed over racism and exist today as role models for the rest of our society. I know this is another book, but somebody needs to write it. We all need models of success; we need illustrations of how to do what many of us want to do. There is virtually no material of this kind in this book. This is not a criticism, just an observation but an important one.
Keep writing, Dr Tisby. We need to read what you write!