Tisby doesn't hold back, presenting a clear analysis, backed up with twenty-four pages of notes and citations.
And the evidence that Tisby offers is indeed incriminating.
Tisby writes: "Christians of the North have often been characterized as abolitionists, integrationists, and open-minded citizens who want all people to have a chance at equality. Christians of the South, on the other hand, have been portrayed as uniformly racist, segregationist, and anti-democratic. The truth is far more complicated."
"In reality, most of the black people who left the South encountered similar patterns of race-based discrimination wherever they went. Although they may not have faced the same closed system of white supremacy that permeated the South, they still contended with segregation and put up with daily assaults on their dignity, and the church contributed to this. Compromised Christianity transcends regions. Bigotry obeys no boundaries. This is why Christians in every part of America have a moral and spiritual obligation to fight against the church's complicity with racism."
But what about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s?
Tisby offers this perspective: "While the civil rights movement has a well-earned reputation as a faith-based movement led by Christian pastors and laypeople, our collective memory of the proportion of Christians involved may be somewhat skewed. In reality, precious few Christians publicly aligned themselves with the struggle for black freedom in the 1950s and 1960s."
As for the reason behind this organizational lack of involvement within the church, Tisby writes: "Many Christian moderates failed to incorporate the larger context of the years of systemic racism into their understanding of the civil rights movement."
To those who would make the point that racism in the US today isn't as problematic as in previous centuries, Tisby makes the point that "An honest assessment of racism should acknowledge that racism never fully goes away; it just adapts to changing times and contexts... Though it was necessary to enact civil rights legislation, you cannot erase four hundred years of race-based oppression by passing a few laws. From the earliest years of slavery in the 1600s, through the legal end of Jim Crow in 1954, and in the numerous and varied ways in which racism is still enacted in law and culture today, the United States has had more than 300 years of race-based discrimination. A few short decades of legal freedom have not corrected the damage done by centuries of racism."
The final portions of Tisby's book offer practical wisdom on how the church in the US can
I love what Tisby says about what we can learn from the black Christian church. "Black theology can teach the American church... Those who have suffered much find much joy in God's salvation. After laboring all week under the dehumanizing conditions of slavery, black Christians celebrated on Sunday. They thanked God for giving them life and breath and the full functioning of their faculties. They worshipped God as an outlet for the creativity and vitality that had been suppressed all week... Generations of black Christians have inherited a tradition of unashamed praise for God. The rest of American churches may well discover a new sense of God's goodness when they engage their full selves in worship."
Tisby suggests that conservative seminaries should be more sensitive to training students to be more effective in a pluralistic and diverse society. Education is also an important piece of the solution. Actively participating in the present-day civil rights movement is also encouraged. Notes Tisby, "Perhaps the American church should be the object of a mass movement for justice... Christians could conduct pray-ins in the administrative offices of Christian organizations and institutions that refuse to take meaningful action to eliminate racism..."
All-in-all Tisby gives us a straight-forward history of the American church's lack of involvement in combatting racism, but, at the same time, offers hope. A hope that is sorely needed.