This post begins a series that will offer a book review and analysis of Ed Gilbreath's Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. I've commented about Ed's fabulous blog here, and I look forward to fruitful engagement and constructive conversation with his important book.
It is important to point out, as Ed helpfully explains in the Prologue, and chapters 1-3 and 5, that he made a decision to stay within "white Christianity," that is live, work, and worship in largely Anglo evangelical institutions. He describes attending a white church/Sunday school early in life, attending a largely white evangelical college, and working as the first black editor at Christianity today.
"I hope to give you a glimpse of what it means to be black and evangelical," Gilbreath writes in the Prologue, "My hope is that this inside perspective on what I regrettably call 'white Christianity' can help both blacks and whites get a better sense of the condition of our racial reconciliation and the distance we need to travel to make it more authentic and true....[t]hat's why reconciliation blues isnt' just a sob story; it's a call to action. The good news is that, despite our frequent missteps, the church is the one institution that's best equipped to overcome the racial divide" (p. 19-21). [Gilbreath is keen to acknowledge multicultural America, but writes out of the primary range of his experiences, black-white relations.]
Gilbreath's aim is a critical point white readers must neither overlook nor take lightly. White folks rarely realize they are white, and don't see that projecting race onto others makes them "raced" beings as well. What am I saying here? Black folks know white folks better than white folks know themselves. Who is willing to admit this? Who actually believes this and is willing to sit silent and learn? (Read more of what I'm talking about here.)
This is a crucial point to make, and represents, in one sense, the signal gift of this book. Gilbreath privileges white readers with an "inside view of white Christianity." Here I'm reminded, once again, of the words of James Baldwin in No Name in the Street (1972): "Actually, black people have known the truth about white people for a long time, but now there is no longer any way for the truth to be hidden. The whole world knows it. The truth which frees black people will also free white people, but this is a truth which white people find very difficult to swallow."
Again, who is willing to admit this? Who actually believes this? Who will take such a posture of listening?
Up next: chapel at Judson and listening to Tom Skinner.