Oct 02, 2023 | John W. Coleman

Some Eastern PA Conference members and others, perhaps from Greater New Jersey and elsewhere, will embark this month on a challenging literary expedition through Jemar Tisby’s acclaimed 2019 book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Their trek will lead them to the crossroads of our religious and racial past, as they explore how the two roads became one.

That crossroads has many heroes among those who took the high road to contend for racial justice. But it also is replete with cowardice and complicity among those who took the low road to accept, if not embrace, racial injustice, including discrimination and segregation. While “compromise” can often be a good word, its negatives abound when it is used to accommodate racism and other forms of bias and oppression. Christianity, Tisby writes, is largely responsible for such compromise throughout its history, then and now.

Bishop Alfred Johnson

Bishop Alfred Johnson, a retired clergy member of EPA and former bishop of Greater New Jersey, will facilitate the study’s discussions. Johnson led the merger of the Northern and Southern New Jersey conferences to form the Greater New Jersey Conference in 2000. Steeped in the work of challenging racism and leading multiracial congregations and institutions, he now directs New York Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study and Practice of Urban Religion.

EPA’s Congregational Development Team (CDT) and Commission on Religion and Race (CORR) will cosponsor the monthlong book study, held via Zoom on WednesdaysOctober 4, 11, 18 and 25—at 11 a.m. weekly.  Register here to participate. Then purchase and read the book’s paperback or digital versions. The first 50 registrants can receive a free digital copy from CDT and CORR.  

The Color of Compromise unveils in a compelling narrative how people of faith historically have worked against racial justice and continue to do so. It’s “a history we either ignore or just don’t know,” Tisby says, as he interprets Scriptures in calling for an urgent awareness, response and transformation by Christians today.

The Color of Compromise book study sessions will include prayer, facilitator’s remarks, discussions and supplemental videos featuring Tisby. The videos are available for viewing on Amazon.com (free for Amazon Prime members).

“Throughout the course of U.S. history, when Christians had the opportunity to decisively oppose the racism in their midst, all too often, they chose silence; they chose passivity.” Tisby says in the first video. “The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.”

He warns that to “absorb the facts of the American Church’s…hard, tragic, heartbreaking racial history” can be painful but rewarding, requiring patience and persistence. “This is soul work, and it can’t be rushed.”

The goal of the book and study is not guilt. “But I wouldn’t mind if we all experienced a bit of godly grief” says Tisby, quoting the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:10. “We haven’t done what we should have when it comes to fighting racism, and that should produce in us grief but a certain type of grief that leads to change, that leads to confession and repentance and salvation.”

“I began reading the book a week ago, and it has been challenging and eye-opening,” said the Rev. Alicia Julia-Stanley, CORR co-chairperson. “I’m looking forward to deep and transformational discussions.”

“I have found that it is really easy to get stuck in our routines, our expectations, and our biases without ever realizing we’re there,” observed the Rev. Diana Esposito, CORR co-chairperson. “Jemar Tisby’s book opened my eyes to the urgency of being in the work of anti-racism right now. I really appreciate that Tisby manages to give a survey of historical systemic racism from a variety of perspectives and then moves into a practical model for racial justice in today’s climate. It is not only worth the read; it inspires the work. And I am looking forward to digging into it with Bishop Al Johnson.” 

“I look forward to this journey of unmasking the complicity we, as a church, share in the sin of racism,” said Bishop Johnson, “and the liberation we can experience when we face our truths and become catalytic agents of change and  transformation.”

Bishops Ernest Lyght and Jonathan Keaton, both retired United Methodist bishops like Johnson, will lead a session of the study and introduce their new book, Unmasking Racism: Coloring with Love in the Church, Community, Academy. The 2023 book, cowritten by four authors and published by the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education, addresses eliminating racism as a prophetic response to God’s call and our commitment to love God and neighbor.

CDT and CORR cosponsored similar conferencewide, facilitated, spring and fall discussions of two books in 2021: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and Plantation Jesus. Both delved into explorations of protracted racism and how we can find healing from that personal and social sin.

Meanwhile, CORR’s leaders encourage participants to “put your money where your heart is on this topic,” by ordering books from bookshop.org and using the “Choose a Bookstore” selection feature to select a bookstore owned by persons of color.

Register here to participate in EPA’s The Color of Compromise book study.