Engaging Faithful Justice
by Sheila Wise Rowe
Across America, thousands of people have taken to the streets. Some were once in denial, ignorant or had minimized the realities of police brutality, racial profiling and systemic oppression. Now they clamor, “No Justice, No Peace.” They’ve awakened to the fact that whole swathes of American history have been withheld or ignored while justice books could be found on the dusty shelves of local libraries and in bookstores. Suddenly it seems almost everyone is eager to learn. So much so that the New York Times reports that racial justice and reconciliation books now hold prime spots on its bestseller list. We know from the scriptures the transformative power of story.
Jesus spoke in parables that were profound, piercing and healing. Yet few of today’s best-selling titles are faithful justice books that are biblically sound, factual without sacrificing the truth and life-affirming even in tragedy and travesty. There have been critiques about the significance and long-term impact of faithful justice books. Some accuse White individuals and book clubs of superficially reading these books because it is the latest fad or a virtue signal of how they support Black and Brown lives. If these ones do not heed the call of faithful justice books to put their faith into action and commit to the long road of (re)conciliation, they’re merely engaging in voyeurism. For those who are fully engaged, a faithful justice book can disrupt the echo chambers and silos where we live and encourage inward transformation.
There are many ways that faithful justice books challenge us: We learn and unlearn some things and embrace others to run and not grow weary and walk and not faint as we pursue justice. We learn about life stories that have never been told. People from all walks of life learn how to engage in tough conversations about racism with wisdom and grace. These books offer a unique glimpse into the lives of others, which helps us grow in empathy and even reconnect with our hearts on a deeper level. Faithful justice books challenge our implicit and explicit racial biases. As we finally acknowledge the truth of American history and our ancestors’ role in it, we can lament. Some churches and ministries are reading faithful justice books and are now confronting how they have been complicit in systemic racism. Congregations are reprioritizing how they use their resources and learning how to be more welcoming communities. There is a commitment to make room for Black, Indigenous and other members of color to bring all of who they are, which is a blessing to the fellowship.
Faithful justice books help believers, and non-believers, confront pessimism and counter the temptation to give up or give in to complacency, raging or fear. They encourage us to look beyond what we are now witnessing in the world. Ultimately faithful justice books remind us of what the Lord has done, is doing now and will do in and through each of us to bring transformation. In this season, we desperately need more faithful justice books.
Sheila Wise Rowe is a graduate of Tufts University and Cambridge College with a master’s degree in counseling psychology. For over twenty-five years she has counseled abuse and trauma survivors in the United States. Sheila ministered to homeless and abused women and children in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she also taught counseling and trauma-related courses for a decade. Sheila is the executive director of The Rehoboth House and the cofounder of The Cyrene Movement, an online community for people of color seeking healing for racial trauma. She is the author of The Well of Life: Heal Your Pain, Satisfy Your Thirst, Live Your Purpose, The Wonder Years, and Healing Racial Trauma. She lives in the Boston area, where she is a writer, counselor, speaker, and spiritual director.