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A Feature Review of
Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White, Who’s more Precious in God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry
Hardback: Jericho Books, 2014
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Reviewed by James Matichuk
Leroy Barber is my friend and mentor. I trust his voice when it comes to urban ministry and community. So when I saw that his new book was out, Red Brown Yellow Black White Who’s more Precious in God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry, I was eager to read it. I knew it would be a game changer.
But it was much more than that. Red Brown Yellow Black White (RBYBW) is a summons for those of us who ‘say’ we care about reconciliation and justice to quit playing a it; it calls us to get on with working for real change in how we minister across the racial divide. In these pages, Barber opens up about his sometimes painful journey in the urban ministry world, how discrimination from fellow leaders and boards, locked him and fellow minorities out of key leadership positions. Because Barber is such a great relational leader, he sets his story alongside friends and co-conspirators.
In RBYRW, Barber grounds missions in the Missio Dei–the mission of God (God’s larger purpose for his people and his world and the end He is leading us toward). But the history of missions, at different points, bears little resemblance to the Missio Dei. Often white Europeans blended their efforts to spread the gospel with imperialism, colonialism and paternalism. Missionaries came to new cultures to minister, but seldom included indigenous leadership in their mission. Fast forward to the modern era and you find that missions organizations and missionary boards are still predominantly white.
Barber is an African-American leader called to urban mission who launched his own non-profit and has led national and international missions organizations (he is currently the global executive director of Word Made Flesh). His heart burns for more diversity in mission and he has led ministries (like Mission Year) and counseled others to be more thoughtful about how to promote diversity in their organizations. Barber doesn’t tells stories of not-for-profit organizations which have labored to change the culture and are working to promote diversity. While reconciliation is a difficult journey, real diversity is possible. And when it happens, we reveal the Kingdom of God to the watching world.
For us white Evangelicals, this means we share power! Barber observes how even justice-minded, white evangelicals fail to include African Americans in decision making, and fundraising. He also relays several stories from the field, where leaders of color were deemed unqualified by short-term, white teams even though they had years of experience and understanding that these teams lacked. Unfortunately these racial attitudes can still poison the well of real diversity in mission. Leaders of color bring different histories and gifts to the realm of mission and leadership. We are impoverished in our missional attempts when we fail to make space at the table and include people of color. For when we do, they can help shape our mission to the wider community in beautiful ways.
RBYBW is challenging for me. I love and respect Leroy and am grateful for the ways he has invested in my growth (and countless others). I am captivated by his vision of diversity in mission. And yet this book highlights how much work is still to be done. I have recently become pastor at a mostly white church that does care about racial justice and reconciliation. We are making an impact on our city but I still have a lot to learn about doing mission well. Barber highlights the racial and socioeconomic dimensions of urban mission for me and helps me pay attention to the dynamics. This book is a goldmine!
I highly recommend this book. Anyone interested in the mission of God (which should include Christians everywhere) will gain insight on how to engage in mission in ways that are sensitive to race and culture. For white evangelicals (like me), we can be ‘color blind’ in a way that demeans the challenges that people of color face. We can also fail to value the gifts that people of color bring to our organizations and leadership. I give this new book by Leroy Barber five stars and think that this book should be required reading for pastors, non-profit directors and missionaries.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com