Book study group discusses complicated relationship between race and church

Augustana students freshman Benita Manzengo and senior Claire Eiswirth are leading a book study group this semester which discusses Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, and it’s leading to deeper discussions about racism in the United States and the church’s role in promoting it.

The group started as a result of discussions between Manzengo, a freshman, and The Rev. Ann Rosendale concerning racism and the church during the fall 2020 semester. 

“I was struggling a lot,” said Manzengo. 

So Rosendale suggested that she center the conversation with other members of the Augustana community around a book. Soon after, Eiswirth, campus ministry president, got involved, and “The Color of Compromise” was chosen.

“The Color of Compromise” dives into the history of racism in the United States and the church’s role in it. It focuses on the concept of complicity and the harm that it does in upholding racist systems. Tisby, the author, is a pastor in the Reformed Church. While he was attending seminary, he started a Facebook group for other Black seminary students. The discussions within the group gave rise to the need for “The Color of Compromise”.

The group’s meeting on Feb. 25 discussed the first few chapters of the book. The discussion centered around a number of different topics relating to the church’s historical role in racism. 

All agreed that Tisby’s perspective as a pastor is more powerful on this issue because it “comes from a place of loving Christianity,” as faculty member Sharon Gray said. It was also discussed how in many ways, that makes the book’s message easier to digest for many readers.

One of the main focuses of “The Color of Compromise”, and by extension the book group, is the path to racial reconciliation. 

“Racial reconciliation efforts have focused on building relationships,” Eiswirth said, and this can lead to people believing they are “not racist because they have cordial acquaintances across ethnic and racial lines.”

They also highlight the concept of complicity. During the meeting, the group defined complicity as “to have played a role,” which raises Eiswirth’s question “Is it too weak a role?” 

In other words, is the church’s role in upholding racism in the United States more than just that of complicity? 

Manzengo related the issue to the colonization of the Congo, saying that “the church definitely played a role […] it’s more than complicity.”

Toward the end of the discussion, the group talked about finding peace with Christianity. They talked of looking at Jesus’ actions and teachings separate from the actions of the church because Christianity itself does not support systems built on racism and bigotry. 

As Manzengo said, “Christianity itself preaches love.”

Students that want to get involved can email Eiswirth or Manzengo, and the Zoom link can be found on Viking Central. They meet Thursdays at 11 a.m. “The Color of Compromise” is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Tisby’s companion video study series “How to Fight Racism” is also available on Amazon Prime Video.

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