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Aliens in the Promised Land edited by Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (Phillipsburg: R&R Publishing, 2013). (Amazon.com)

In Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions we find a compilation of insightful essays from authors in the United States who represent this nation’s minority populations (specifically Asian, Black, and Latino) and who identify with Evangelicalism to some degree. The book is edited by Anthony Bradley (Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, King’s College) who begins the book (General Introduction: My Story) with his own story as a Black man amongst Evangelicals. Bradley’s essay invites readers to adopt a listening posture, especially white Evangelicals who may not be consciously aware of how their Churches, denominations, and other institutions (especially academic ones) tend to ignore the minorities in their midst in favor of what is familiar to them. For those who are consciously aware this book serves to challenge the status quo. For those who are minorities themselves this book will resonate as the reader recognizes that they are not alone in their struggle for equality. As Bradley’s essay makes obvious, anyone who thinks the United States or Evangelicalism has entered a “post-racial” state have been fooled. Instead, language surrounding color blindness tends to serve as an excuse for ignoring real injustices and inequalities, even among Christians (especially among Christian?!) who identify as Evangelical.

The contributors mix personal narrative with insightful research. Some address parish and/or denomination life. Others address the evangelical academy. Lance Lewis’ essay (Black Pastoral Leadership and Church Planting) is an eye-opening, though somewhat depressing look at how some Evangelical denominations favor giving the bulk of their resources to white Churches that appear more likely to “succeed” than to Black Churches where the struggle may be greater, especially in an impoverished, inner city context where the financial return on investment cannot compare to a thriving white Church in the suburbs. At the end of this chapter Lewis advises Black pastors to avoid accepting Church planting roles, opting to adopt a pastoral role in an established Church, noting how difficult it can be on one’s self and one’s family to plant a Church without the necessary support of their denomination.

Amos Yong writes the only chapter (Race and Racialization in a Post-Racist Evangelicalism: A View from Asian America) addressing matters from the perspective of an Asian. This essay includes Yong’s own story as an Asian in the Assemblies of God (making this the only chapter written by a Pentecostal-Evangelical as well). He observes how racist structures remain intact even as post-racial jargon becomes popular. Then he provides a vision for how Evangelicalism might move forward to a place where racial equality does exist among us.

Juan Martinez contributes one of the most insightful essays (Serving Alongside Latinos in a Multiethnic, Transnational, Rapidly Changing World) I’ve ever read on Evangelical Latino Americans. As a former employee of a seminary who worked in the admissions department this chapter resonated with me because I worked in a very white seminary that wondered aloud how it might attract more minority students but who in practicality did very little to change internally so that this dream could become  reality. Martinez shows how difficult it is for white institutions to consider making changes that would make them more inclusive. Also, he observes that among Latinos many of the Bible Institutes lack the necessary accreditation for their students to move on to seminary studies at the graduate level causing Latinos to have a disadvantage in this regard. As with the other writers this essay is insightful and provides the reader with ways to move toward change.

Vincent Bacote (Ethnic Scarcity in Evangelical Theology: Where Are the Authors?) provides a sketch of the realities that prevent many Blacks and Latinos from being published by some of the more prominent, influential Evangelical publishers. This essay piggy backs on Martinez’s essay observing how a lack of educational opportunities for minorities results in a lack of publishing opportunities, especially by those publishers who want their authors to have received graduate level education to publish certain types of books. For those affiliated with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) many of Bacote’s comments will prove challenging. Though he doesn’t address the Society of Biblical Literature I imagine his observations may be applicable there as well.

Harold Dean Trulear’s essay (Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Professors and Administors) also develops smoothly in light of Martinez’s earlier essay. Trulear’s notes on how Evangelical institutions confuse their restrictive policies against minorities as a  stance for “doctrine.” This was another observation I found all too familiar. He does praise groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) for doing more to integrate minorities into Evangelicalism while noting that most institutions do not follow IVCF’s commitment to diversity. In order to become more inclusive institutions must recognize and address disparities related to geography and demographics, economics and prestige, political history and race, and the role of their perceived orthodoxy in forming the ethos of their institutions.

Orlando Rivera’s essay (Blacks and Latinos in Theological Education as Students) examines the same topic from another angel, that of perspective and active students. As with the essays by Martinez, Bacote, and Trulear this is another must read essay for those working as Presidents, Academic Deans, or in the admissions departments of traditionally white Evangelical institutions. Rivera’s essay is packed with insightful data and he used Nyack College as a model of an institutions that appears to be overcoming some of the very flaws that hinder most Evangelical institutions from recruiting minorities.

The final two essays by Ralph C. Watkins (A Black Church Perspective on Minorities in Evangelicalism) and Carl F. Ellis Jr. (Theology and Cultural Awareness Applied: Discipling Urga  Men) are “big picture” essays, one dealing with Evangelicalism in general and one dealing with Black and Latino makes who live in an urban context. Watkins essay challenges readers to rethink the curriculum used by Evangelicals. He makes a strong case that our curriculum reflects a racist structure and a racialized metanarrative. This chapter challenged me to rethink how seminaries may teach both Systematic Theology and Church History courses. Ellis’ essay was a reminder that issues surrounding gender are often further complicated by matters of race/ethnicity, socio-economic class, and even geography.

The reader of this review will notice two things: (1) this book’s message is mostly applicable for conservative Evangelicals and (2) there is a deafening silence surrounding women, women’s issues, and the role of women as relates to this subject. I don’t know why this is so, since it would seem to be related topic. That said, Bradley has gathered together a good group of authors who have a lot to say. For white Christians like myself who have spent a lot of time around white Evangelical Churches and other institutions the best thing you can do as a reader is engage this book with the posture of a learner. I learned a lot from this book because the authors showed me things I would have never known on the basis of my own experience as a privileged white male. Too often people like myself want to be the one’s who speak and who “fix things,” but this often reinforces the problem. These authors have a lot to teach us if we’ll get ourselves out of the way.

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