Making All Lives Matter: a book review

Wayne Gordon, and John Perkins cofounded the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). For decades they have been prophetic voices to the evangelical community, helping us tackle the problems of racism and economic injustice. In their new book, Gordon and Perkins answer the question Do All Lives Matter? SPOILER ALERT: their answer is yes; however they also showcase why the slogan All Lives Matter is a tone deaf response to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Simply Stated: All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. . .True, all lives matter, but we have to wake up to the reality that our country remains divided over issues related to race. We have to own up to the fact that African Americans and other ethnic minorities in our country are mistreated far more often than most of us care to admit” (22).

all-livesGordon & Perkins discuss the Black Lives matter movement and their protest of the recent rash of African Americans killed at the hands of police (Chapter one) They advocate ‘listening to the stories of others and our own(chapter two).’ Perkins shares  his own journey and struggle against racism and injustice in the deep South. They review America’s troublesome history of racism (chapter three) and the ways the struggles and experience of minorities is invisible to mainstream, white America (chapter four). In chapter five Gordon relates how he and his church community (Lawndale Community Church) in inner-city Chicago entered into the pain of the African Community after the police officer was acquitted in the Eric Gardner case. Chapter six discusses a Christian response to the Black Lives Matter movement and chapter seven gives a snap shot of how Lawndale has responded the problem of violence in their community. In chapter eight Gordon and Perkins provide practical suggestions for learning about injustice and working for social change. Chapter nine discusses the importance of hope in the face of structural evil and the problems that beset at-risk communities like Lawndale. Senator Dick Durbin wrote the forward and Richard Mouw writes the afterword.

Gordon and Perkins are trusted voices for me and I appreciate the way they take an honest look at the issues facing minorities in our country, particularly the Black community.They are unafraid to speak to the way public policy and the justice system (i.e. police departments, stop-and-frisk policies and the court system) have been detrimental and harmful to African Americans. That isn’t to say they don’t have a category for personal responsibility (racism isn’t to blame for every problem) and they are quick to point out that many police officers are good and responsive to urban communities. This book isn’t out to demonize anyone but to help those of us who are white and privileged make space in our hearts for empathy towards minorities in our country for the things they are made to suffer.

It is often the progressives and the political left that is most responsive to issues of race. White evangelicals value diversity but we don’t always do the hard work required for real reconciliation with the Black community. Gordon and Perkins have been doing this work for decades, investing in lives and communities, creating community partnerships and providing opportunities for economic development and systemic change. They are not armchair liberals. They are believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ who believe that it calls them to uphold the dignity of all people and to stand against injustice. This book makes vivid our troublesome historic and current national racial tension and challenges Christians to stand up for our African American neighbors. All lives matter, because Black lives matter. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

10 Reasons Why You Should Read “Embrace”by Leroy Barber

This is not an unbiased review. Leroy Barber is a friend and mentor. I have come to trust his insights on mission, justice and racial reconciliation. When I heard Leroy was writing Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, I knew I would like it. And I do! If you want an unbiased review (because you think there is such a thing) look elsewhere. In lieu of that, here are 10 reasons why you should read Embrace:

978083084471510. Leroy knows what he is talking aboutEmbrace shares Leroy’s own experience as a pastor, urban minister, and community developer. The things this book exhorts us to— a lifestyle reconciliation, a heart for justice, and a commitment to love the other—are things Leroy tries to live out every day. He knows what he speaks of and he speaks with integrity.

9. Leroy is gracious. I don’t love others the way I ought to as a follower of Jesus. There are people, left to my own devices, I would avoid. I don’t measure up to my best ideals. Listening to Leroy, I don’t feel judged, but invited to live a better life—a riskier, sacrificial life, with a lot of pain and hardship, but better. This call is full of grace and compelling!

8. This is an important book because some of us live in Babylon. Leroy opens up about his own experience of following God’s call from Philadelphia to the South (Atlanta) and later Oregon. These new cities were Babylon to him: a place of un-belonging and where he experienced abject racism. I know the New Monastics talk about ‘relocating to the abandoned places of Empire.” Leroy talks about inhabiting  an antagonistic empire and seeking God’s shalom for the city we’re in. For those of us in Babylon, life is difficult but we are still called to embrace the place we’re in.

7. Because left to our own devices, we all have people we’d avoid. There are lots of things which keep people apart: race, religion, socio-economic status, etc.  Leroy’s encouragement to us is to learn to love the other: to not just retreat to our ‘in group,’ but to seek out relationships with people different than us. This isn’t just so we can help them and feel good about how amazingly loving and bighearted  people we are. As we seek out the people who are different from us (or difficult for us), and build relationships with them, we are enriched and our perspectives of the world are enlarged. Our own prejudices and privileges are challenged by learning to love well in relationship.

6. Diversity is a mark of God’s radical shalom and we all need to be more diverse than we are. Generally, we all like the idea of multiculturalism until it gets sticky. White churches welcome minorities but expect them to conform to their dominant church culture. We have similar expectations when we include different cultural groups, classes, and generations. We love the ones we can assimilate and ignore the rest. Leroy invites us to to a deeper communion where we honor the mutual image bearing of those who are different from us:

Our greatest danger as a church and believers is that we don’t actually see all people as made in the image of God. This is an immoral practice and it has ruined how people view Christians in the world. That Sunday mornings are segregated is no big secret; we’ve heard it over and over. For the most part our actions don’t seem to be changing. Worship and its lack of diversity is a joke. What kind of God are we representing? I don’t think we really care that we are segregated. We can quote Scripture of love and grace and yet be as divided as we are—this is the influence of Babylon on the people of God, not the people of God influencing Babylon (90).

5. God’s call for Justice begins where we are but then calls us outward.  Leroy will tell you that his cleaning up the basketball court in South Atlanta was so his own kids could play. But the whole neighborhood benefited. Caring for his own kids ‘became the natural way of justice for all kids.’ (101).  Leroy illustrates well how small acts of justice begin close to home, but because we are called to follow the God of justice, we are continually called to name injustice wherever we find it and stand with the oppressed. Sometimes ‘Justice’ seems like too big of a category. I like Leroy’s exhortation. Justice begins where you are and then wherever God takes you.

4. Because forgiveness and selfless love is the call. Injustice happens. People get hurt and killed. Leroy encourages us to follow the way of Jesus in loving our enemies. He talks about Dylann Roof being forgiven by the family of the fallen members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME church and our call to embody this sort of selfless love (109-110). Leroy doesn’t pretend this an easy commandment especially for those who have experienced profound trauma. I respect that Leroy never makes light of the pain and trauma which some people have faced (including himself), but still exhorts us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

3. Because you shouldn’t be happy with the status quo. Prejudice remains a major problem. Racism is real. The marginalized suffer. The refugee is rejected and regarded with suspicion. Foreigners, immigrants and resident aliens are maltreated and abused by the system. Our world is divided and divisive. We need more of God’s shalom!

2. Because Leroy is a great storyteller. He tells the story of his own journey into racial reconciliation: relationships forged, hurtful conversations and difficult times. He tells of learning to love the other. And he shares the story of friends and fellow justice advocates as well. Leroy weaves this in with the narrative of Scripture. Telling God’s story he explores the story of Patriarchs and prophets and Jesus. If there is anything that makes this book compelling, it’s the stories.

1. Because  yes, Black Lives Matter. Leroy spends his last chapter addressing myths and misconceptions many people have about the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a fitting end to this book because all along Leroy is calling us to stand against injustice, care for the vulnerable and love the other. There is systemic injustice which the Black Lives Matter movement has called our attention to (i.e. unjust police shootings, mass incarceration and lack of legal representation of Black men, etc).  Still many (white) evangelicals view the movement with suspicion. Leroy invites us to lay aside privilege and Embrace the Other as we seek to love and listen well.

Note: I received this book from the author in exchange for my totally biased review. five stars: ★★★★★