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America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

by Jim Wallis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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355671,432 (4)16
Christian Nonfiction. Religion & Spirituality. Sociology. Nonfiction. Bestselling author and leading Christian activist Jim Wallis shows how Christians can work together to overcome the destructive and pervasive nature of racism in American society.

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As this isn’t the first book on racial justice, not even the first book on the topic written by a Christian that I’ve read, there wasn’t a whole lot of new information. Not sure that’s what I was looking for, maybe just the topic approached from a Biblical perspective. Here, it falls a bit short.

Certainly, there are a lot of Bible verses quoted and referred to, and Jesus’s response to things he encountered, etc. But overall, the Gospel Wallis talks about is not the ultimate Gospel. There is talk of sin, our need for change, redemption, repentance, but all in the context of interpersonal relationship. I’d like to see the book that talks about how if we are rightly related to God and see ourselves and others correctly through his eyes, how that would change our hearts and actions. This book, on the other hand, has a different base and motivation.

Wallis shares a lot of his personal experience and long history of working toward racial justice, and tho from time to time it can come across a little as patting himself on the back for it, it mostly serves as a testimony to a life lived to know and love others who are different from him. He has obviously done a lot to be an ally, and he has a lot of ideas of how that can look in an every day kind of life.
I also liked that he had actual statistics for disparities along racial lines, related to economics, interactions with the justice system, etc.

Overall, the biggest takeaway for me was the continued exhortation to get involved, get to know other people with different skin tones than yourself and engage in their lives. His own story alludes to this being a difficult and messy road, but one that has borne much fruit and helped change lives. I also appreciated his suggestion for outright rejection of racial classifications. It had sort of been in my head “wouldn’t it be nice if we could train ourselves out of that thinking”, but he actually had a couple of ideas on how to do it. ( )
  Annrosenzweig | Oct 15, 2021 |
In America's Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians--particularly white Christians--urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing. Whenever divided cultures and gridlocked power structures fail to end systemic sin, faith communities can help lead the way to grassroots change. Probing yet positive, biblically rooted yet highly practical, this book shows people of faith how they can work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a multiracial church and a new America. ~Amazon
  rootbranchesbib | Jun 9, 2021 |
A powerful book, showing some of the current problems in the US and some solutions on how to address these problems. The use of religion, in particular Christianity, as the vehicle to implement these solutions could be the way to get people on both sides of the aisle to listen (we really need to get away from only having two sides). Definitely worth reading. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
This book is a powerful exhortation to white Christians to learn about and combat the systemic injustices in our society that operate against people of color. He brings statistics, personal stories (his own and others), and biblical arguments together well. If you are already willing to believe in white privilege and the stories of communities of color, this book will be an excellent resource and motivator.

I read this book as part of a Christian men's group that meets every Friday morning. One of members decided to drop out of the group for the time we read the book. His reason was the same as many others who will never open this book: the name on the cover. For better or worse, many conservatives see Jim Wallis as a puppet of the radical Left, funded by the likes of George Soros; therefore, whatever good is in this book, they will never read it.

The book also has some structural difficulties. While each of the chapters is well-written and stands well on its own, they lack a overall coherence. For example, after multiple chapters talking about African-Americans, he devotes an entire chapter to immigrants. This is a very important and moving discussion, but it does not fit well in the flow of the rest of the book. Two of the chapters are not as much his work as summaries of other very important documents (the Justice Dept. report on Ferguson and the President's task force on 21st Century Policing).

The final chapter does a good job of bringing these threads together and offering advice on how to move forward and cross the bridge in the title. He thinks it will be the result of the actions of millions of individuals meeting and learning from people different from themselves. We each have a responsibility to break out of our homogeneous social circles and become friends and neighbors with people of different colors and economic situations than ourselves. ( )
  lsky2061 | Sep 8, 2020 |
Summary: Explores our nation's deeply ingrained history of racism and particularly the challenges facing white Christians in bridging these racial divides.

"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."

The author of this book contends that this sentence, in a 1987 issue of Sojourners, was the most controversial sentence he ever wrote. The controversy behind that statement supports the thesis of this book, that racism is America's "original sin," a part of our beginnings as a nation that we have wrestled with throughout our national existence, but never truly repented of.

Wallis begins with his own story of growing up in Detroit and working with Butch, a black man who opened his eyes to two very different Detroits and two different realities--for example "the talk" that all black parents have with their children when they learn to drive that white parents do not have with theirs. This concerns how to act if stopped by the police, where to put one's hands and so forth. He considers Ferguson, and Baltimore, two cities riven with turmoil after police-involved shootings of black men as parables revealing the racial fault lines in the American story. He then reviews our past history and current demographics and events to show that our attitudes around race are indeed our national "original sin" that only profound repentance can heal.

The next chapters explore the nature of true, rather than superficial, repentance, and that this means for the white community to which he writes a "dying" to our whiteness as we recognize the "white privilege" we have enjoyed. I suspect that for many this may be some of the most controversial material. I find this language uncomfortable. I grew up in a working class neighborhood and didn't feel terribly "privileged" compared to more affluent people in the suburbs ringing my city. It was not until later years that I understood blacks had been red-lined out of our area of the city and I had the benefit of attending one of the best city schools with over 95 percent of the students being white. I began to realize the privilege that I had enjoyed in a racialized society. It also separated me from blacks in my city, made them an "other" who were treated differently in retail establishments, by the police and more. Real repentance means, even though I didn't choose this "privilege," to acknowledge that I have benefited from a sinful division of people, to not hold onto or idolize "whiteness" and to begin to intentionally seek a very different future.

The place, Wallis contends, where we begin, is the church, still a highly segregated entity. It means listening to different ethnic voices, and submitting to leadership from ethnicity other than one's own. Another important place to begin is in the policing of our communities, where police move from being warriors to guardians and where police become integral part of the communities they protect and serve so that both they and their communities affirm both that black lives matter and that blue lives matter. It begins with advocating for restorative justice rather than a new form of Jim Crow justice with differential incarceration rates for the same crimes depending on one's race.

Dealing with the sin of race extends to our immigration policies. Until our recent election cycle, there was a growing conversation in the evangelical community supporting immigration reform. Reading this post-election seemed like reading from a different world. Even the chapter title, "Welcoming the Stranger" seems foreign. Wallis then concludes the book talking about "crossing the bridge to a new America." One of the most compelling passages for me was the interaction Wallis had with a group of fifth graders in a Washington, DC public school, who asked Wallis why Congress seemed afraid to change the immigration system. He writes:

"I paused to consider their honest question and looked around the room--the classroom of a public school fifth-grade class in Washington DC. I looked at their quizzical and concerned faces, a group of African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and European American children. Then it hit me.

'They are afraid of you,' I replied

'Why would they be afraid of us?' the shocked students asked, totally perplexed. I had to tell them.

'They are afraid you are the future of America. They're afraid their country will someday look like this class--that you represent what our nation is becoming.'"

Re-reading this passage, I think of a Sunday School song I grew up with, admittedly one that indulged in some stereotypes about skin color for which I apologize, and yet that represented the underlying gospel values of my white evangelical congregation:

"Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Wallis's quote challenged me with the reality of whether we will love all the children of the world that God is gathering in our country, or fear them. Will we see that fifth-grade classroom as the realization of our deep gospel values, and strive for churches that reflect this in our love and our life. Or will we remain racially separate, hiding behind walls of fear, saying that it is OK for Jesus to love these children as long as they are somewhere else in the world.

Wallis contends we stand at the approach to a bridge between the racist America of the past and a different America that values "all the children of the world" in our midst. His book is an invitation for white evangelical America to walk the way of repentance and cross that bridge rather than walk away from it. I'm reminded that God does not forbear forever. If we miss this chance, dare we presume there will be another? ( )
1 vote BobonBooks | Dec 7, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wallis, JimAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lawlor, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, BryanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Christian Nonfiction. Religion & Spirituality. Sociology. Nonfiction. Bestselling author and leading Christian activist Jim Wallis shows how Christians can work together to overcome the destructive and pervasive nature of racism in American society.

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