The Color of Compromise

I just finished reading Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise. I first heard about this book last summer. The Staff at Estes Park Leadership Training worked through the material week-by-week as a group. And the book seemed to prompt so many powerful interactions that it got my attention. I put it on my list of Books to Read. But it languished on that list until the Staff at our church started thinking about a book to guide group interaction in the H2O Summer Intensive this year. We’d recently been lamenting the deaths of Ahmaud Arberry and Breonna Taylor. We felt troubled by the general history of Racism in the United States. So we decided to order copies of the book for every participant in the Summer Intensive. And for our church Staff team, as well.

We knew it was going to be a worthwhile book. We didn’t know, however, how timely it would be. In the same week that we started ordering copies of the book for everyone, the death of George Floyd. rocked the country (and even the world). Demand for the book skyrocketed overnight. Consequently, some of the students who were slower in responding to our request for their mailing addresses had to wait weeks before their copy could be delivered. Even so, we forged ahead with reading one or two chapters per week — and we learned so much about the past that informed our understanding of current events that unfolded throughout the month of June and still to this day.

I feel like the Holy Spirit guided us through the process of choosing and working through this book together. But make no mistake: The Color of Compromise was not a comfortable book to read. Especially not as a white, Christian pastor.

A full fifteen percent of the book is footnotes and endnotes (I know because I read it as an e-book). It’s a rigorous historical analysis. And sadly, the history points to well-documented, systematic, sinful Racism that oppresses people of color. Not just in society at large, but specifically within the Church. It’s an oppression that has permeated my own understanding of church leadership, biblical interpretation, public policy, political affiliation, and economic dynamics from birth until the present. I never understood how the D.A.R.E. (drug abuse awareness) club at my elementary school related to Racism. It never occurred to me that the “Moral Majority” might be immoral, with its roots established in school segregation concerns. These things were just normal parts of my childhood. I thought they were good. After reading this book, however, I can see that they’re more complicated.

One of the things that struck me the most as I read through this book was the way that America’s Racism is so closely linked to America’s Idolatry of Money. People say: “Follow the money.” But it’s not just a truism. It’s true! Economics served as a primary driver in many of the decisions that enslaved, intimidated, and oppressed people of color. The evils of Capitalism were exposed in story after story. And they were sharply juxtaposed — both by Tisby and by my own study of Scripture — with the teachings of Jesus. It felt damning. Convicting.

We’ve strayed from God’s design. But we can also take heart! Jesus offers salvation! The last chapter of the book packs a lot of practical suggestions for how to repent from our Racist past and chart a new course for the future. It won’t be easy. If we choose to take Jesus seriously, our society will face significant disruption. But after finishing this book, I’m more convinced than ever that significant disruption is exactly what we need.

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