From the blog of Chanequa Walker-Barnes, author of the upcoming release I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation. Walker-Barnes is a theologian and psychologist whose mission is to serve as a catalyst for healing, justice, and reconciliation in the Christian church and beyond.
People often ask me how long it takes me to write a book. That’s a hard question to answer. With both of my books now, I spend years living the book before I sit down to write the book. I spent 10 years immersed in the Christian racial reconciliation movement, from 2006-2016. From the beginning, I was plagued by “Yes, but” moments, but that didn’t stop me from being all in. I loved being in spaces where diverse Christians had honest convo about race and racism. I had only experienced that previously in Black church spaces.
Even though it always felt something was missing, my view of the movement was rose-colored for a long time, probably because I was surrounded by its best: folks like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgove, Dominique Gilliard, Zakiya Jackson, Jonathan Brooks, Soong-Chan Rah, Vince Bantu, and the late Richard Twiss. I thought they represented the norm (spoiler: they don’t).
It honestly took me a while to recognize the movement was almost wholly evangelical. It was an “oh shit” moment but I stayed. Since childhood, I’ve always had an “outsider within” status that helps me bridge diverse groups. If we share common cause, I can be down with you and we can work through our differences. I’ve always been the person whose friendship group included the most popular kids and the social outcasts. And I could usually get them to the same table sometimes.
So there I was: a radical womanist theologian in an evangelical world, bringing my full hermeneutic of suspicion amongst folks with inerrant and infallible views of scripture. Talk about the lion lying down with the lamb! (Wait, am I the lion or the lamb?). It was bonkers. But again, I was surrounded by a “guilded ghetto” of radical evangelicals so I thought there was greater possibility than there actually was. It didn’t take long for me to realize the movement has a very shallow theology of reconciliation. Ok, it has NO theology of reconciliation. It’s more like a vague biblical inspiration lived out through a weak relational praxis. (That kind of describes most of White US Christianity, doesn’t it?)
There are some great scholars who’ve examined the idea of reconciliation. James Cone and J. Deotis Roberts wrote books debating the idea with each other decades ago. The movement NEVER pays attention to them. Allan Boesak and Curtiss DeYoung have also produced rigorous thinking in this area. But the movement prefers literature about friendships among Black and White men. The dominant evangelical paradigm of reconciliation is so weak that it disintegrates whenever issues of intersectionality arise. That’s why womanists generally don’t even fuck with the concept. We know evangelicals ain’t about that life.
It’s a mistake, though, to assume that Black women and other women of color don’t write and teach about reconciliation. We do it all the time, but we don’t use the word “reconciliation.” We don’t even use language that most evangelicals would recognize as being about reconciliation. There is a whole canon of Black women’s literature envisioning what healing and justice look like in a world fractured by racism, patriarchy, and classism. Not to mention all the kitchen table wisdom handed on from Black mothers, grandmothers, and aunties, who know “relationship” is not the answer to racism. Because we have ALWAYS been in relationship with white women, men, and children in our forced roles as domestics. And that doesn’t protect us.
So that’s what I attempt to do in I Bring the Voices of My People. I try to bring all that wisdom to describe how race and racism work, what reconciliation really looks like, and how faith can help us to work toward it. There are no “Can’t we all just get along?” stories here. Honestly, I want to blow up the whole racial reconciliation movement, turn it upside down, inside out, eviscerate it, and then say, “Start all over.” But because I’m pastoral caregiver, I won’t tear down without at least attempting to build up. So I’mma give y’all some tools. I pray that they’re meaningful.