Conversation: Edward Gilbreath
Blue over black and white
Edward Gilbreath, 38, has been a writer and editor for
Christian magazines for 15 years. His recent book, Reconciliation Blues: A
Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity, is full of vignettes in
Gilbreath's life that help illuminate how a subtle institutional racism can
influence faith. The book is a mixture of autobiographical content and keen
observation of events past and present. After a dozen years at Christianity
Today International, Gilbreath in October became editorial director at Urban
Ministries Inc. in Calumet City, Ill. He recently spoke with TPE News Editor
John W. Kennedy.
tpe: Why did
you write this book?
GILBREATH: It grew out of my journey as a black Christian.
As a little boy I went to a white Baptist church and as a young adult I went to
a mostly white evangelical college. I ended up at Christianity Today where for
a long time I was the only African-American on staff. I know God has called me
to all these places, but sometimes there are frustrations, loneliness and
personal doubts living as a black Christian in a white Christian world.
tpe: How has the book been received? You make some pointed
GILBREATH: I've talked to a lot of other black evangelicals
who have expressed similar feelings. The church has been hindered in the area
of race relations by not going beyond the superficial. We may have an annual
choir exchange, but we don't have deep, genuine relationships across racial
lines. It's easy in the evangelical world to dismiss folks because of
assumptions and stereotypes. But the call we have to love our neighbor means we
have to be more intentional about loving people beyond racial, denominational
or political labels.
tpe: Why did
you stay in the white evangelical subculture when other blacks have called it
GILBREATH: Even as a boy in Rockford, Ill., I was bused
across town to integrate public schools. I feel called to be a bridge builder.
As a writer, I'm trying to get sensitive issues on the table so we can be more
realistic about our conversations. Although we've made a lot of progress, a lot
of division and misunderstanding remain.
tpe: What are
some areas of progress in the past decade?
GILBREATH: The Promise Keepers phenomenon in the 1990s
served as a catalyst for other Christian organizations to put racial
reconciliation on the front burner. The Pentecostals had the Memphis Miracle
declaration against racism. But by the end of the decade the mood shifted, and
reconciliation isn't driving most evangelicals anymore. The intentional effort
and long-term commitment that it requires are exhausting.
tpe: Are there glaring areas that still need to see
GILBREATH: Some would say today's evangelical institutions
are shaped by white worship styles, theology and business practices and they
are accustomed to doing things a certain way while wearing cultural blinders
they don't even recognize they have.
tpe: What should they do to change their ways?
GILBREATH: We all could be more sensitive to the Holy
Spirit's leadership. If we're in a situation where we're in the majority
culture at a church, in the workplace or in a school setting, are we taking
into consideration the needs and perspectives of those from the minority
cultures around us? We need to be intentional about loving our neighbor and, as
Paul urges in Romans 12, preferring others above ourselves.
tpe: What does racial disunity among denominations say to
GILBREATH: Few non-Christians think about the church as a
place where blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians get together to make the
community better. The world is used to seeing all-white or all-black
congregations. But our unity could be a witness to Christ's love and mission.
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