Jemar Tisby Says ‘Courageous Christianity’ Is Needed to Combat Racism in America

Jemar Tisby, author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” speaks at Valparaiso University on March 27. (Valparaiso University)

by Jerry Davich

Bishop Larry Shaver surprised me when I asked him for the most challenging issue facing churches in the 21st century.

I expected him to instinctively talk about the steady loss of devout believers. Or all the emerging megachurches that turn old-fashioned sermons into contemporary music concerts. Or concerns by Christian conservatives that liberal-minded media outlets are chipping away at sacred biblical scripture.

But no, the long-time pastor of Anglican Church of St. Andrew the Evangelist in Merrillville didn’t touch on any of these issues facing American churches.

Shaver, a white preacher in his 80s, replied with one word, “racism.”

He told me this months ago. I’ve been pondering it ever since, including the adage that Sundays are the most segregated day of the week in our country. So when I heard about a program at Valparaiso University addressing “American church’s complicity in racism,” I was immediately intrigued.

The speaker was Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” The book explores how people of faith have ignored Christian teachings and human compassion regarding racial justice in America.

“It’s more than just having a cup of coffee with each other and talking about this issue,” said Tisby, who lives in the Mississippi Delta, just south of Memphis.

After watching his captivating program, I later wrote this column on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His legendary speeches about racial justice reverberated throughout Tisby’s hour-long program.

“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice,” King preached in August 1963. “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Tisby told guests, “We’ve seen immense progress in the past half century. But in many ways, King’s sense of urgency still applies in American churches today.”

Historically, the majority of American churches have failed to speak out against racism and its many incarnations. This ongoing complicity of racism remains a sinful stain on the church to this day, Tisby told a packed room.

“Christians bear as much responsibility as anyone in our country,” he said. “The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice.”

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Source: Chicago Tribune