The Color of Compromise takes readers on a historical journey: from America’s early colonial days through slavery and the Civil War, covering the tragedy of Jim Crow laws and the victories of the Civil Rights era, to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Author Jemar Tisby reveals the obvious—and the far more subtle—ways the American church has compromised what the Bible teaches about human dignity and equality.
Tisby uncovers the roots of sustained injustice in the American church, highlighting the cultural and institutional tables that need to be turned in order to bring about real and lasting progress between black and white people. Through a story-driven survey of American Christianity’s racial past, he exposes the concrete and chilling ways people of faith have actively worked against racial justice, as well as the deafening silence of the white evangelical majority. Tisby shows that while there has been progress in fighting racism, historically the majority of the American church has failed to speak out against this evil. This ongoing complicity is a stain upon the church, and sadly, it continues today.
Tisby does more than diagnose the problem, however. He charts a path forward with intriguing ideas that further the conversation as he challenges us to reverse these patterns and systems of complicity with bold, courageous, and immediate action. The Color of Compromise provides an accurate diagnosis for a racially divided American church and suggests creative ways to foster a more equitable and inclusive environment among God’s people.
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About the Author
Jemar Tisby (B.A., University of Notre Dame, Mdiv Reformed Theological Seminary) is the president of The Witness, a Black Christian Collective where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture. He is also the co-host of the Pass The Mic podcast. He has spoken nation-wide at conferences and his writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, and Vox. Jemar is a Ph D student in History at the University of Mississippi studying race, religion, and social movements in the twentieth century.
Table of Contents
The Color of Compromise uses history to present a jarring picture of how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. In doing so, readers begin to realize just how far back and deep the problem of race and the church goes. But the book doesn’t just look backwards; it looks forward to a future of improved race relations and a more racially inclusive church. But because Christians have worked so hard in the past to divide and separate based on race, believers today will have to work even harder to foster equity and unity. The introduction explains the book’s premise by unpacking its title and its relation to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech where he uses the phrase “the fierce urgency of now.”
Chapter 1- Making Race: The Colonial Era
In the early years of the European colonization of North America, the racial caste system had not yet been rigidly defined. Indigenous people, Europeans, and Africans ranged from free, to indentured servants, to slaves for life. During this period, white Christians grappled with questions of evangelism. If a person of color converted to the faith did he or she become an equal? Should slaves who were now Christians be granted freedom? This chapter explores how Christians in America began to excuse racialized slavery and even participated in its formation during the seventeenth century.
Chapter 2- Christian Slave Owners: Antebellum Era
Over time, slavery became increasingly common and regulated in North America. Christians became slave owners and often failed to see the contradiction between their faith and owning people as property. Growing denominations (like Baptists) punted the question of slavery to the civil authorities and nationally known Christian leaders (like Jonathan Edwards) held slaves without apparent contradiction. This chapter details how racism became staples of American Christianity as slavery became an American institution during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Chapter 3- With God on Our Side: The Civil War Era
By the mid-eighteenth century, the nation faced a sectional conflict about the perpetuation of slavery that would end in a bloody war. The Civil War pitted North against South and those who wanted a country that maintained slavery against those who, for various motives, did not. Both Union and Confederate forces thought God was on their side. This chapter explains how Christians in the Confederacy sanctified slavery and tried to make racism sound righteous.
Chapter 4- Taking Back the South: The Lost Cause, Redemption and Jim Crow
After losing the Civil War, white southerners had to find ways to explain their defeat. They couched their plight in theological terms that made their side seem like tragic victims. Although their cause had been just, they had to suffer through the “Lost Cause.” But Christians who wanted a return to white racial dominance dubbed their crusade “Redemption” as they attempted to return to what they lost. They recast slavery in the form of Jim Crow and used the Bible to defend the inferiority and segregation of black people. This chapter shows how Christians processed the Civil War and adapted their beliefs of racial superiority in the years from 1865 to 1945.
Chapter 5- On the Wrong Side of the Fight for Equality: The Civil Rights Era
By the middle of the twentieth century, African Americans and their allies became increasingly public with their protests of Jim Crow inequality and brutality. They began boycotting, marching, and rallying for their basic civil rights. Instead of siding with African Americans, however, conservative white Christians resisted their efforts. Both silence and outspoken opposition to these protests characterized Christians in this period. They vigorously obstructed integration and often populated racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Citizens’ Council. This chapter details the tumultuous Civil Rights era from its rumblings in the 1940