Healing the Divides book review

Healing the Divides: How every Christian can advance God’s vision for racial unity and justice by Jason Roach and Jessamin Birdsall

This is a very timely book.

Issues of race are front and centre of our newspapers, conversations and media feeds. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK, a wave of support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement followed. #blackouttuesday Instagram posts were everywhere. Schools, churches and businesses publically affirmed their support for racial equality and pledged to change. But then a backlash attacking Critical Race Theory (CRT) and ‘woke culture’ left many people in limbo.

If you’re anything like me, you felt a bit clueless. How should Christians respond? What does the Bible have to say about race? What should I think about BLM and CRT? What does real change look like?

Healing the Divides unpacks accessible answers to these questions. Jason and Jessamin write to every Christian – those who are hurting, those who feel overwhelmed, those who are embarrassed that they don’t know or care more, those who have witnessed racism towards loved ones, those who feel confused as to how to feel or act.

Writing as a Black British man and white American woman, Jason and Jessamin don’t point the finger, but educate and offer hopeful paths forward. They bring personal testimonies, helpful explanations of key phrases (woke, BLM, white privilege, intersectionality, CRT) and ways to change that are challenging but also attainable.

I found three things especially helpful in Healing the Divides.

Firstly, the way that Jason and Jessamin unpack, interpret and apply the Bible to issues of race and class struck me. Their insights helped me see how easy it is to miss what the Bible has to say about these issues and fall into the trap of thinking you know what a passage says and means because you’ve studied it before. For example, they helpfully draw out the significance of Ruth’s ethnicity as a Moabite from Moab (those words come up 12 times in four chapters!) who is then surprisingly united with God’s family through marriage to Boaz the Israelite. Their wedding points forwards to the great ethnic reconciliation of the salvation story in Revelation 19:6-9, where people of all cultures and colours will be part of God’s family. They also track the importance of ethnicity through the salvation narrative of creation, fall, redemption and repentance. Bringing these issues to the fore helped me to see how ethnicity is entwined with God’s plan for the world – which gave me a fresh and Biblical perspective on race and ethnicity.

Secondly, having unpacked ethnicity through the salvation narrative, Jason and Jessamin apply what it looks like to live this out – both for the individual and the church. (There’s a really interesting and instructive appendix that breaks down the structuralist and individualist approaches to racism, with the strengths and weaknesses of both.) As a white, middle-class woman, the chapter on ‘What change looks like for the majority culture’ was especially helpful at knowing where to start. Jessamin suggests some simple, practical steps:

  • praise God for his diverse, beautiful, rich creation;
  • examine my heart for specific ideas, attitudes and behaviours that are disrespectful and harmful and repent of them;
  • ask God for humility, wisdom and courage;
  • listen to God’s word and minority ethnic teachers
  • and then cultivate authentic friendships with people of different ethnicities.

This would be a very satisfying book review if I could tell you that I’d done all those things and seen instant results! The reality is that I’m still a long way off. But having a ‘plan of action’, gives me both a direction and hope that there is a helpful way I can respond as a white Christian.

Finally, the third thing I found helpful was Jason and Jessamin’s analysis of the BLM movement. I had heard and read so many things from both sides that I didn’t know what to think as I came to this book. Jason and Jessamin apply a ‘treatment approval process’ to BLM, examining its approach against what the Bible teaches. They caution against dismissing secular approaches to race relations purely because they are not explicitly Christian. I found their question ‘is this particular idea (not necessarily the whole movement) consistent with Scripture or not?’ a healthy and constructive way to approach BLM. It acknowledges the complexity of the movement, while neither necessarily acceding to their broader progressive social policies nor dismissing the valuable ideas and truth that are there. Following their process, I feel more equipped to examine secular ideas against what the Bible teaches and work out what I can learn from them through the lens of Scripture.

In short – go for it. It’s accessible, short and packs a challenging yet gracious punch. I have learnt so much I didn’t know, been sobered by how much I’ve got wrong and been challenged to change how I think and live. As those who are part of God’s great salvation plan which includes ethnic reconciliation, we have a responsibility not to be passers-by, but to think, read, pray, repent and respond Biblically, wisely and intentionally. Healing the Divides is a wonderful place to start. 

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Polly Standring

As the communications content developer at Crosslinks, Polly helps mission partners connect with both Crosslinks and their supporters back home. As well as ensuring Crosslinks' internal communications run smoothly, she also oversees the writing of our external communications, including the Crosslinks blog.