We’re less than a month away from the May 19th release of my book and I’d like to tell you about the circumstances that led me to this project in the first place.
It was early 2017 and I’d left the Chicago winter for a few days of training in California. One morning I was sitting on the hotel patio, reading the news on my laptop, and I happened onto a story about new polling data that showed how the new president’s approval continued to rise with white Christians. It appeared to me that while these supporters had often dismissed candidate Trump’s ugliest rhetoric - “He doesn’t really mean it.” - they were actually satisfied as he began putting those words into action.
And then I wondered, What churches are these white Christians attending? It’s embarrassing to admit, but it was the first time I started to think about about these individuals as belonging to particular Christian communities. (I know, I know: Not all the president’s Christian supporters regularly go to church. I was thinking about the ones who do.) And then came the follow-up question: What sort of discipleship is happening in these churches that has contributed to these Christians supporting this man, despite the loudly voiced concern of Christians of other races and ethnicities? I posted these half-formed questions on social media and, by the responses, realized that others were wondering similar things.
A couple of months later I reached out to some friends from around the country - mostly white - who I trusted with these questions. For a few months we got on the phone together and started to chase down some answers to these questions about race and discipleship. We even spent a chilly January day together in Chicago digging into the conversation.
Then one day, after we’d spent some months talking, I realized that we needed to write about this. I’d already been talking with InterVarsity Press about another book and they were open to redirecting to this idea. I pitched it as a collaborative book, with each of my conversation partners contributing a chapter, but eventually it evolved into a solo project. One of the reasons I wanted to write about how this book came to be is to make plain my debt to Liz Mosbo VerHage, Daniel Hill, José Humphreys, Luke Swanson, Rob Fairbanks, Brandy Liebscher, and Brett Widman. This thing never would have happened without their insight and wise questions.
The first proposal I sent to IVP was mostly focused on the why questions about white Christian resistance to racial reconciliation and justice. But - and I’m so thankful for this - my editor asked for another proposal that would include practical ways that white churches could grow in solidarity with the racially and culturally diverse body of Christ. This new direction forced me to think long and hard about discipleship: What is a Christian disciple? How are disciples made? What are the other cultural discipleships that are directing white Christians away from the reconciled kingdom of God and toward racial segregation and injustice? Working through these questions helped me to see that many of the existing discipleship practices in our churches held latent potential to do the deep formational work toward solidarity that has been almost completely neglected in white Christianity.
You’re going to have to let me know if I was successful or not once you read it, but I hope my indebtedness is evident. While my name is on the cover, there’s no way this book would exist were it not for a lot of thoughtful people, doing really good ministry around the country, who helped me imagine a different future for white Christians and our churches.
I hope you didn’t miss the conversation with Dr. Michael Emerson last week, but if you did you can view it here.
This coming Wednesday evening I’ll be taking with a good friend, Rev. Shaun Marshall. Shaun is a brilliant thinker and (I don’t say this lightly) a prophetic voice with a lot of experience in diverse organizational spaces. We’re going to talk about why white churches and other organizations struggle to make the shift to genuine cultural and racial equity. I’m also going to ask him why it is that white Christians have such a hard time holding together gospel proclamation and the pursuit of social justice when so many other Christians have no trouble seeing the continuity.
You can register for the conversation here.
This week’s endorsement for Rediscipling the White Church comes from Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom.
David Swanson offers all Christians a gift in Rediscipling the White Church. He not only presents redemptive practices that white Christians might engage as discipleship pathways, he challenges white Christians by offering us his intellect and his story as sacred entry points into the work of confronting racism. The end is good news—Christ’s reconciliation is an invitation wide enough and deep enough to save our lives and our communion.
Dr. Clifton-Soderstrom teaches at our denomination’s seminary and is the director of its School of Restorative Arts which offers graduate level classes for degree seeking students who are incarcerated. She’s become a good friend as we’ve done some anti-racism work together in our denomination. Thanks Michelle!