Emmett G. Price III on Racial Reconciliation Resources for Congregations
Learning about diversity among Christians is a good way to embrace the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by God.
Emmett G. Price III is professor of worship, church, and culture; dean of the chapel (Hamilton campus); and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience (ISBCE) at the Hamilton Campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He also serves as founding pastor of Community of Love Christian Fellowship in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. In this edited conversation, he talks about resources to help congregations define and move toward racial reconciliation.
What percentage of evangelicals are white, and what percent are of color?
I am working with my wonderful colleagues Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo at Gordon-Conwell’s Center for Global Christianity to do a deep dive on evangelicals who are people of color (POC). They found that, as of 2015, the U.S. has 20.9 million evangelicals of color (non-European). This equates to 41.2 percent of all U.S. evangelicals, a POC increase of 1.6 percent from 2000.
The global stats equally interest me. Although POC are a sizeable minority among U.S. evangelicals, they account for 84.1 percent of evangelicals globally. Worldwide, there are 270.1 million evangelicals of color. This number is an increase of 5 percent from 2000. So, not only are many evangelicals people of color, including blacks, but the domestic and global numbers are increasing.
Is there a difference in the U.S. among people who identify as evangelicals and those who hold evangelical beliefs?
Yes, and that difference highlights the need for racial reconciliation. I can confidently tell you that black Christians (domestic and global) overwhelmingly subscribe to the Bebbington quadrilateral of evangelical beliefs. We accept Christ as personal Savior; live the gospel mandate to “go ye therefore” to evangelize; accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God; and believe in Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
Yet, we don’t fully fit into the rubric of American evangelicalism. According to a 2015 National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) survey, only 25 percent of African Americans who hold evangelical beliefs consider themselves evangelicals. The last few years have become extremely challenging for many Christians who wonder if we’re all serving the same God. When we focus exclusively on personal piety and stay away from issues of social justice and social equity, then we create us/them categories based on our own preferences and proclivities. We get stuck in social perplexities that cause us to not be a good witness.
What resources can help congregations understand the gap, racial and otherwise, between U.S. Christians who hold evangelical beliefs and those who identify as evangelicals?
Melani McAlister’s The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals (Oxford University Press, 2018) and Gina Zurlo’s article in Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015) are extremely helpful in processing the challenges of POC inclusion and exclusion within evangelicalism. Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon Press, 1976) is a classic treatise on the only way for God’s justice to prevail.
For shorter online reads, check out “A Kind of Homelessness: Evangelicals of Color in the Trump Era” and “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches.”
What resources can you recommend to congregations that want to explore racial reconciliation?
Before I recommend four more books—all by brilliantly courageous women of color—I want to point out that reconciliation is a challenging term. It literally connotes a desire to change towards the divine. In many ways, it suggests a return to God’s cohabitation with humanity in the garden of Eden before the fall.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul challenges us (the Church) to the ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is much bigger than race. It first includes issues of individual holiness and righteousness, personal accountability, and integrity. Equal to that, though, is the importance of the social gospel and our social relationships to one another. In the words of Jesus, we must learn to “love one another as we love ourselves.” We often focus more on loving ourselves, leaving one another in great peril.
Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey (InterVarsity Press, 2017) is by Sarah Shin, a Gordon-Conwell graduate. Rather than look at the world through a black or white lens, she suggests looking through ethnicity. Everyone has an ethnicity and a story to tell, whether they are Italian American, Korean American, or whatever. If we each look at our ancestry and deal with our narrative, then it’s easier to come together to be one people of God—with multiple expressions.
Shin points out that if we generalize all white people or all Asian people as the same, then we rob them of their stories. Besides, white is a social construct. At one point in U.S. history, Irish immigrants weren’t considered white. This book is helpful in a church like ours, because, although we are predominately black, we want to value our non-blacks too. We want to give them agency to express their faith through their own ethnic narrative.
Beyond Colorblind has discussion questions at the end of each chapter. This book is easy to read and good for churches to work through together, whether in small groups or as a board of elders. You can download a wealth of free Beyond Colorblind resources, including six videos.
Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice (InterVarsity Press, 2016) is the third book on race, justice, and reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil. Congregations will find Roadmap as readable as Shin’s Beyond Colorblind. Salter McNeil defines reconciliation as “an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.”
I like how this book offers a step-by-step process for leading a church through the stages of reconciliation. Roadmap’s approach is both very pragmatic and very gracious. I teach from it in my ISCBE classes, especially “The Project of Reconciliation: Intersectionality, the Church & Culture” and “The Bible and Race.” Salter McNeil’s website offers many helpful resources, including video clips, to download for free.
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart (Intervarsity Press, 2013) by Cristena Cleveland explains why it’s so much easier to desire unity than to achieve it. Cleveland, a social psychologist, helps readers see and address habits and behaviors that tempt members of Christ’s body to classify each other as “Right Christians and Wrong Christians.”
Cleveland weaves together sociology and organizational psychology studies with stories from her own and others’ lives. She challenges us to rethink many cultural divisions on a macro level. This book can help church members think about language choices, differences in privilege, and groupthink impulses that divide Christians according to gender, race, and socioeconomics. It offers research-based pointers for how to reconcile so we truly accept Jesus as the Christ, not just a cultural icon. Each chapter ends with discussion questions.
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody Publishers, 2014) by Trillia J. Newbell challenges us to define and articulate the blessings of diversity. She explains how and why diversity is God’s gift to humanity. Her stories help readers explore how to balance both ethnic identity and identity in Christ. Newbell also taps into the emotions of seeking diversity, from fear to uncertainty to joy. Just as I teach my church, in the diversity of Christ’s body, we’re able to experience how ginormous God is. God is operating simultaneously in Texas, New South Wales, or Hong Kong. Each cultural expression reveals a new facet of our great God.
Hear Emmett G. Price III speak at the 2019 Calvin Symposium on Worship.
Read about the Institution for the Study of the Black Christian Experience in Contact, the Gordon-Conwell Seminary magazine.