The Nitty-Gritty of Healing Our Histories: Three Recommended Readings

Three new books worth taking a look at—all written by friends who are remarkable signs of hope to me today in their various vocations …

We’ve got lots of inspiring books now telling stories of communities crossing divides, and my shelf overflows with Christian titles written on justice and peace over the past 10 years—a remarkable sign of hope.  But we have surprisingly few books with both historical and theological depth which get into the deeper, messier stories of the challenge of healing in actual places.

This is why Open Friendship in a Closed Society:   Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship by Peter Slade (Oxford University Press) is so significant.  Slade (a protégé of Charles Marsh at the University of Virginia, author of The Beloved Community) gives us an extraordinary account of the 15-year movement of Mission Mississippi based in Jackson.  Slade shows how Mission Mississippi (birthed partly by whites in a historic Presbyterian congregational bastion of white supremacy) has taken heat at one end from white evangelicals fearing “the social gospel” and at the other end from those who think the ministry sacrifices truth-telling about the past and needed justice for a cheap peace of one-to-one relationships.  The power of Slade’s account is to both probe critical theological questions around friendship, justice, and the past, and at the same time get us inside the nitty-gritty stories, lives, people, and messy ground of conversion within Mississippi’s racial history.  The critical question is: “Is Mission Mississippi an authentic movement of Christian conversion toward God’s new future within such a history?”  Said differently, “Can Reconciliation 101 get us to the ultimate need for Reconciliation 201?”  While the seminal work Divided by Faith offered a firm “no” to that question, Slade takes a probing, nuanced approach, noting both weaknesses around engaging the trajectories of the past (economics and white flight, for example) and yet also arguing how few movements have successfully engaged mainstream white Christians as widely as Mission Mississippi has.  In other words, if you can’t get more than “the choir” into the room, how do you move folks toward conversion?  I know of no better book for contextually engaging the critical and complex relationship between justice and reconciliation and questions of histories of social division and faithful Christianity.  Slade’s book is a critical resource for any Christian leader or community wrestling with what it means to be faithful within the divisions of their particular historical drama.

Trustbuilding:  An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility engages a very different account of another city’s attempt to grapple with its history.  I posted recently about Richmond, Virginia as “America’s Unlikely Capital of Racial Healing.” This book is by a primary actor in that story—Rob Corcoran, national director of Initiatives of Change and founder of Hope in the Cities.  Slade and Corcoran’s books tell of two distinct approaches:  one explicitly Christian and evangelical, focused on particular Christian practices of interracial prayer and relationship, the other a broad attempt to engage the story and healing of a city at multiple levels from grassroots to business and political leaders.   Unlike Mission Mississippi, the non-negotiable conviction of the Richmond change agents in Corcoran’s story has been to explicitly describe and engage the past and its trajectories to distrust, inequality, and bitterness and privilege today, yet with the slow and difficult work of a change of heart that turns eyes and imaginations toward possibilities for a new future.  The story of this slow work and the kind of people and practices it requires offers crucial insights about the painstaking work of reconciliation.

Finally I recommend the 15th anniversary updated edition of Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity by Curtiss DeYoung.  Of special interest is a “roundtable discussion” between Brenda Salter-McNeil, Native American Richard Twiss, South African Allan Boesak, and Palestinian Jean Zaru, as well as a contribution by Mimi Hadad on gender issues.  I have written elsewhere about a new racial time; while this book presses far beyond race, these voices added to DeYoung’s offer a fresh resource for discernment.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

Related Reconcilers posts: Richmond, Virginia: America’s Unlikely Capital of Racial Healing

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