Summary: A set of books (one for parents and one for kids) to talk about race and racism in light of scripture and Christian faith.
The authors are attempting several difficult things at the same time: 1) to make the process of discussion race and racism simple for parents, 2) to introduce parents and children to a simple, but not simplistic, understanding of race, racism, and the sin of white superiority, 3) to communicate the hope of a Christian understanding of reconciliation in the context of a long history around racial sin. The fact that The Gospel in Color project was completed, and is well done is very encouraging.
There are a couple of aspects of The Gospel in Color that I think were especially very well done. First, the art is very good. It is engaging and there is space in it. The art is not crowded by text and it serves a purpose. It is not surprising that the art is appropriately multi-racial for this project, but I picked up yet another children’s bible a little over a week ago that had entirely White characters. There is no excuse in 2018 for any Christian children’s books to have entirely White characters.
The second aspect of the Gospel in Color that I really appreciate is that with the book was explicit and clear about definition of terms. I do not agree with every definition used, but there is a clarity that is important to this type of project. Two aspects of the terms I think are very important. First, racism is clearly identified as sin. And second, racism is not reduced to only individual animus, but includes systemic aspects of racism and white superiority. It also addresses the belief of color blindness as a denial of God’s creation.
The Gospel in Color is rooted in the arc of scripture; this is a creation, fall, redemption story. The book opens with the affirmation that skin color was not accidental but part of God’s creation and all are created in God’s image. That may seem like a minor point, but is not. Historically, there have been many Christians that have denied one or both parts of that. There have been teachings about God intentionally creating some racial groups as servants or slaves to Whites. Others taught that non-White people did not actually have souls (and were not made in God’s image). Still others taught that through some sort of evolutionary process (either with God’s direction or not) Whites became the superior race. That history is not delved into deeply here, but it is real and not ancient history. This has been taught within the last generation, it is not difficult to find people my age or younger that have been taught one or more of these.
There are some places in the Gospel in Color where I would like some different word choices. It is pretty common among academic and non- academic discussions about race to say that race is a ‘social construct’. This means that race is not a genetic difference, but a difference that is rooted in culture. The best explanation of race as a social construct I have heard, I heard on the podcast We Talk Different which used the example of money. Money is a social construct. There is not inherent worth in a dollar bill except for the value that we attribute to it based on the accepted social meaning of a dollar. Social construction doesn’t mean non-existent or imaginary. It means social (as opposed to genetic) root to the meaning. Trying to explain this concept in The Gospel as Color, the authors chose to use the phrases ‘imaginary concept’ or ‘fictional construct’ which I think conveys something different from ‘social construct’.
I appreciate that the authors made a choice to root reconciliation in God’s reconciliation with us and not confuse it with a prior state between humans. There have been some that have started using language of conciliation instead of reconciliation within the church because there has not been a prior point of equality and relationship that can be restored. That point is valid, but if the language is rooted in our reconciliation with God, then I think it makes sense both theologically and culturally to continue to use the word reconciliation as long as it is clearly defined.
One other minor definition that I have a small quibble with is unity. The problem that many Christians have with unity is that they mistake organizational structure or cultural similarity for unity of purpose in Christ as Lord. So majority culture people tend to understand unity as everyone doing the same thing in the same (or at least a narrowly constricted range of) ways. The definition used for unity is, ‘When people are peacefully joined together in love even when there is a disagreement.” (Page 67 of Kid’s Edition). While in context there is affirmation of unity within disagreement, the focus of the unity (following Christ) is not made explicit. The fact that so many White Christians have charged minority Christians with disunity for cultural differences or resistance to assimilating to White culture or into White controlled Christians organizations I think makes the lack of explicit understanding of unity as unity within following Christ as Lord a missed opportunity.
The next step after unity is forgiveness and again I appreciate the clarity of the main points, because forgiveness is clearly emphasized as being important, rooted in Christ’s example, a responsibility for all Christians and often hard. But that is immediately followed by the responsibility of the one being forgiven to make right the relationship. And it does not excuse continued abuse in the name of forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace do not mean a lack of consequences.
The Gospel in Color, both parent and child, have discussion questions (with answers), prayer points, scripture references and suggestions for memorization. Race and racism may not be an easy topic, but these books are designed to be an easy entry point to the discussion.
For further information there are two less than 3 minute videos that summarize chapters 1 and chapter 2. (More videos coming). And there is a podcast interview with Jarvis Williams about the Gospel in Color project that is worth listening to. I also recommend Raising White Kids, White Awake and White Fragility as good resources for understanding both how racism works and how to fight against it in your own life and in the community around us.