More Than Equals, co-authored by Chris Rice and the late Spencer Perkins, is considered one of the pivotal books in the Christian racial reconciliation movement that found its greatest momentum in the early and mid 1990s. My husband and I used it for many years in supper club book discussions, and numerous churches and ministries around the nation found it to be an indispensable resource. Against the backdrop of the story of Spencer and Chris’s interracial friendship and evolving ministry during the late 1980s and early ’90s in Jackson, Mississippi, the book covers the definitions of racism in America, white privilege, white blinders, and black rage. A 1994 winner of the Christianity Today Book Award, it’s one of my all-time favorite books on the issue of race, faith, and cross-cultural ministry.
The early ’90s yielded a flood of racial reconciliation books and articles thanks, in part, to Rodney King’s now legendary question: “Can we all get along?” But over the years a host of other books have been written on the subject of reconciliation and social justice in the context of Christian faith. In honor of Black History Month, here is a small sampling of important titles. Please feel free to add your own favorites to the list in the comment box below.
Black and Free by Thomas Skinner, 1968. Skinner’s dramatic story of going from Harlem gang leader to urban evangelist is packed with powerful insights and challenges concerning race relations among evangelicals in the late ’60s. Skinner, who died in 1994, was a pioneer among black evangelicals both in challenging white Christians on the race issue and in calling the church to take seriously issues of social justice and holistic ministry.1.
Let Justice Roll Down by John M. Perkins, 2006 reprint. His brother died in his arms, shot by a Southern deputy marshall. He was beaten and tortured by the sheriff and state police in Mississippi. But through it all Perkins returned good for evil, love for hate, progress for prejudice and brought hope to black and white alike. He is now known as a living legend and prophetic voice for justice and racial reconciliation among evangelicals.2.
3. More Than Equals by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, 2000 reprint. From their own hard-won experience, the authors show that there is hope for America’s enduring race problem. Chris and Spencer present their hope, which is boldly and radically Christian, in compellingly practical detail. “The cause of racial reconciliation needs yokefellows,” they argue, “. . . not solely for the sake of racial harmony — even though it will lead to that — but for the witness of the gospel.”
4. Grace Matters by Chris Rice, 2003. The remarkable journey of Chris Rice, a naive white college student from Vermont, who helped form a thriving interracial community in Jackson, Mississippi. Rice, who’s interracial friendship with the late Spencer Perkins is recounted in richly moving detail, shares his story to uncover the wounds that divide the races and reveal what it takes to bring the different races together, honestly, compassionately, and transcendently.
5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, 2003. Tatum, president of Spelman College and a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, asserts that we do not know how to talk about our racial differences: Whites are afraid of using the wrong words and being perceived as “racist” while parents of color are afraid of exposing their children to painful racial realities too soon. Using real-life examples and the latest research, she presents evidence that straight talk about our racial identities is essential.
6. Breaking Down Walls by Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein, 1994. Drawing on their broad experience in inner-city life and ministry, the interracial team of Washington and Kehrein share eight practical and biblically based principles that can help heal the racial strife and division in America.
7. My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon, 1997. In this poignant and empowering memoir, journalist Raybon traces her path from hatred of white people to love and understanding, as she learns to forgive past hurts, confront her sense of powerlessness, and overcome her alienation from her own race. A moving and fascinating journey of coming to terms with the varied and complex meanings of race in America and in our personal lives.
8. Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, 2001. Through exhaustive surveys, Christian sociologists Emerson and Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America and found that despite recent efforts by the movement’s leaders to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America’s racial chasm. However, they contend that it is not active racism that prevents evangelicals from recognizing ongoing problems in American society, but rather the evangelical movement’s emphasis on individualism and “personal” salvation that makes invisible the pervasive injustices that perpetuate racial inequality. This groundbreaking book continues to influence Christian thinking on issues of race and justice.
9. Free to Be Bound by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, 2008. As a member of a new monastic community, Wilson-Hartgrove began to reach out to his mostly black neighborhood, including a dynamic church. What he discovered forever transformed his view of the body of Christ. With honesty, humility, and passion, he delivers a call for true unity within the church — a unity that will inspire every believer.
10. Gracism by David A. Anderson, 2007. Anderson, the senior pastor of a large multiracial church, responds to prejudice and injustice with the principle of gracism: radical inclusion for the marginalized and excluded. Building on the apostle Paul’s exhortations in 1 Corinthians 12 to honor the weaker member, Anderson presents a biblical model for showing special grace to others on the basis of color, class or culture. He offers practical examples for building bridges and including others.
11. Reconciliation by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, 1997. Theologian DeYoung addresses the “costly problem” of division and animosity between elements in our culture and issues a call for radical commitment to reconciliation which he sees as a fundamental mandate in the Christian gospel.
12. The Beloved Community by Charles Marsh, 2006. Speaking to his supporters at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that their common goal was not simply the end of segregation as an institution. Rather, “the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” King’s words reflect the strong religious convictions that motivated the civil rights movement in the South in its early days. Here, religion scholar Marsh shows that the same spiritual vision that spurred on the civil rights movement continues to have relevance for our church and society today.
13. He’s My Brother by John Perkins and Thomas A. Tarrants, 1994. The story of a black activist (Perkins) and a former Klansman (Tarrants). Their stories are told side by side, from the 1970s to the early 1990s, when they met in Washington, D.C. Tarrants tells of his capture, imprisonment, and conversion from the dogmas of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. Perkins tells of his days living in the South under the shadow of the Klan, striving for equal rights for the people he led. Ultimately, theirs is a story of healing, redemption, and reconciliation.
14. Reconciliation Blues by Edward Gilbreath, 2006. UrbanFaith editor Ed Gilbreath’s compelling exploration of the racial division and misunderstanding among evangelicals encourages honest and forthright communication across racial lines. As a self-described “black evangelical,” Gilbreath shares his story of racial awakening, as well as the stories of other people of color who often feel frustrated and marginalized in the evangelical community.
15. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, 1961. Bothered by the racial inequalities in the U.S., Griffin, a white journalist in the South, headed to New Orleans, darkened his skin, and immersed himself in black society. As he continued to travel across America, his eyes were opened in new ways to the racism, segregation, and degrading living conditions that blacks faced in this country in 1959. A classic case study on race and prejudice in America.
Some book descriptions are adapted from summaries at Amazon.com.