If I was pushed to describe this book in two words it would be uncomfortable and hopeful and the challenge of the book can be summed up by the words of Augustine which are quoted:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
I felt uncomfortable as I read, mainly because my own conscience was pricked. I have been guilty of believing that as a mixed race woman, I wasn’t complicit in racism, but what Ben does so beautifully in this book is confront false beliefs whilst pointing to the way forward full of hope. The way forward is based not on tokenism or shows of diversity; but the kind of radical inclusion that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry.
This has to begin with a recognition of how the church has been complicit not only in historic racism, but in perpetuating oppression; through whitewashing of biblical characters (spoiler – Jesus was middle eastern and therefore not white!) and conforming christianity to white culture, rather than allowing it to be a diverse, inclusive movement.
He also highlights and explains the difficulties many black christians face within white majority or white led churches:
“The paradox for some black people is this: loving Jesus and understanding his amazing grace is one thing; loving the church, with its complicated racial history can be problematic.”
How can church be a safe place when it’s been so complicit in causing pain?
The best parts of “We Need to Talk About Race” are those which present how we can best serve those in minority communities – from ensuring that our leadership reflects our desire for inclusiveness (rather than having a token minority to salve our consciences), to not expecting people to leave their own cultures at the door and conform to how ‘we’ do church.
As the church, we must challenge racism in our pews and communities, because if we remain silent, we are perpetuating injustice that has been present for hundreds of years.
We have a lot of work to do, and Ben’s book is a brilliant starting point and manifesto should be on your summer reading list.