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Summary

A clear and compelling discussion of how the church can better reach, support and champion black congregation members.  

From the UK church’s complicity in the transatlantic slave trade to the whitewashing of Christianity throughout history, the church has a lot to answer for when it comes to race relations. Christianity has been dubbed the white man’s religion, yet the Bible speaks of an impartial God and shows us a diverse body of believers.  

It’s time for the church to start talking about race. Ben Lindsay offers eye-opening insights into the black religious experience, challenging the status quo in white majority churches. Filled with examples from real-life stories, including his own, and insightful questions, this book offers a comprehensive analysis of race relations in the church in the UK and shows us how we can work together to create a truly inclusive church community.  

About the author: Ben Lindsay is a pastor at Emmanuel Church London. He is passionate about inclusion and wants to see a racially diverse church that better serves and represents the local context. Ben is CEO and founder of Power the Fight, a charity empowering communities to end youth violence. He has a background working in local government and the charity sector. This is his first book.

©2019 Ben Lindsay, SPCK (P)2019 SPCK, Spokenworld Audio & Ladbroke Audio Ltd

Critic reviews

"Ben Lindsay’s book is a must-listen for the UK church. He is lucid, punchy and deeply honest about the issue of racism in the UK today, and in the UK church. It is my prayer that we heed this call and respond together to the mandate to challenge discrimination in all its forms." (Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury)

"This is one of the most important books to be written in recent years and is essential reading for every Christian and especially every church leader in the UK. Ben puts on speakerphone the voices of people of colour which are often whispered or silent and invites us to listen." (Selina Stone, Lecturer in Political Theology, St Mellitus College)

"Too often Christians have assumed that being colour blind is the best way to approach race and ethnicity in the church. Ben Lindsay’s compelling book opens our eyes to this naivety and challenges us to be willing to have a more serious conversation. At this critical moment in our national life where race, immigration and the UK’s relationship with the world is being negotiated, this important and timely book needs to be discussed and acted upon."(Dr Krish Kandiah: Founding Director, Home for Good, author of God Is Stranger)  

What listeners say about We Need to Talk About Race

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Very useful, with some questionable points

In general, I thought this was a very solid book. Ben Lindsay does a great job of explaining the difficulties that BAME people face in a church context. This is particularly the case in respect of feelings – for example: How do certain words, actions, appearances, and facts make black people feel in church? What impact does the historic slave trade have, in the present? What is the difference between tokenism and actual representation – and in what ways does this distinction matter? I found considering these questions, and others, very useful. The “performance” – it always feels odd using that word in this context – in the audiobook was also excellent.

I don’t want the sincerity of the above paragraph to be underestimated simply because of the overall rating I’m giving to the book: I would have given 5 stars to large swathes of it. However, there were a few distinct issues/questions which troubled me.

Theology:
In certain parts of the book, it seems like Ben is presenting theology as solely a racial issue, and not a question of truth. For example:
i) He implies that some churches select pastors from certain “white” theological colleges, rather than “black” ones. In my experience, this question has never been about race, but about doctrine. A (theologically) liberal church will never hire a pastor from a (theologically) conservative college, and vice-versa; a Baptist church will not hire someone from Edgehill (Methodist), nor will a Pentecostal church hire someone from Oakhill (Reformed Anglican).
ii) One seminary graduate notes that it always felt like black churches were the butt of jokes in the seminary. While I do not like this kind of trivialising behaviour in seminaries, I would wager – from experience – that the same seminaries joking about (mostly black) Pentecostal churches would also put down white “pastors” such as Osteen, Copeland, Meyer, etc., as well as predominantly white groups such as Bethel and Hillsong. The key seems to be theology, rather than race.
iii) I would agree with the author’s conclusions on Moses vs. Paul, in terms of the result of overemphasising Paul to the exclusion of Moses. However, I do note that he does not constructively criticise an overemphasis on Moses, leading to the impression that he views the “black church” view – which, again, is primarily a *theological* point – as superior.

Reparations:
I do not think that any solutions were provided to square the circle of:
i) discussing inter-racial relations & reparations in a way that does not stray too far from economic redress (whatever “not straying too far” would look like); and
ii) not visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children.

Statistics: Growing churches & growing communities
Ben repeatedly remarks on the growth of black churches in the UK. He also notes, separately, that BAME communities are projected to make up approx. one-third of the UK’s population in a relatively short timespan. I work in statistics, and one of my pet peeves is what I’ll call the “assumed driver”. In this case, the assumed driver of growth in black churches seems to be a better preaching of the gospel. However, looking at the statistical growth in the number of black people in the UK over the past number of years, this seems to be a very strong driver, in its own right. Because of my background, this lack of discussion on the influence of demographic changes may affect *my* review of the book significantly more than it would affect somebody else’s.

Facts: Trump
It is stated that Donald Trump did not condemn the white supremacists at Charlottesville. This is false. I do not like Trump, but he did condemn white supremacists in his speech, and has done so more than 25 times in the past 4 years. These occasions can be found quite easily, online, if you care to look. He may be a racist, but we cannot extend beyond the facts in supporting that claim.

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Tragically Flawed

This was one of the more interesting books I have listened to. I didn't really have any idea what to expect going into it and I'm still a little unsure how to leave it.

The fundamental premise of this book is that the Church needs to take on board Critical Race Theory (CRT), as espoused by Reni Eddo Lodge. The problem with that is it's a fundamentally unchristian ideology. Now, Ben Lindsay certainly puts a far, far more Christian spin on it than the raw product, but it still won't mix.

The best parts of the book are where Lindsey shares his personal experiences. They are powerful and often disturbing. The treatment that he received as a child (and sometimes mentioned as an adult) is wicked and horrific. The more that we can get stories like this into the open, the more that we can move to address the problems themselves.

The problem is the solutions are sought through the prism of CRT. When everything is about race, nothing is. In the chapter "The Guinness Effect" he bemoans that the elderly black ladys in a London congregation clamour around the white priest and look up to him (despite having many more years in the faith). Lindsay can only put this down to race and racism. Yet I've known similar situations in Nigeria with young black pastors. The situation isn't so much about race, as it is about respect for the office of pastor (which is something good) perhaps going too far. Pouring race into the situation can perhaps confuse what is actually going on.

The same is true when he talks about how Churches are exclusive as many of them want people to have done unpaid internships before giving them jobs or further training. Thankfully that Churches I've been a part of only run paid schemes, but the unpaid internship problem is not so much a Black/White issue, but a Middle Class/Working Class issue. That is the main challenge facing the CofE today. The fact it can't understand the poor it claims to love.

He also brings out how Church leadership (and leadership more generally) isn't racially diverse enough. Lindsay puts this pretty much exclusively down to racism. But when you factor in age in most of these roles it seems like it's less racism and more that they are just a reflection of the racial make-up of Britain when they came of age. I'm certain the future will have far more non-white faces in leadership, just because that's what Britain looks like now.

One thing I found deeply disheartening to read was the idea that unless you can see someone like you doing something you can't do it yourself. This is a persistent theme in Lindsay's book. Now, while it certainly makes it easier when you can see someone like yourself in a position that doesn't mean you can't be a trailblazer. It also seems like more genuine Black history is required here as there have been (and currently are!) a great many Black theologians and leaders who have shaped and are shaping the world.

A final point that I found myself thinking throughout was "What would happen if we applied this ideology in an African Church?" The main point throughout is that the dominant culture ought to adapt to and bend to the minority (of course something we should all agree with to different extents). But I wonder if he would be keen to apply this kind of method in Kenya? Or even closer to home, in the local Korean or Polish Church? Are they oppressive because they have a more Korean or Polish culture? Or is it just White churches that must shed their Whiteness for other ethnic minorities? This significant question is never addressed.

Still, there is much food for thought here and I am glad that I read it. I just wish it could have been a bit less Reni Eddo Lodge and a bit more of Ben Lindsay.

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What the uk church needs to hear

As a white church leader in a multicultural area, this book resonated with me. Ben explains the issues, but this book is also hope filled with reflections and practical actions we can all take to ending racism in the UK church.

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  • Jo
  • 24-08-20

So useful for people of all races

It's made me think how my own church and me personally need to get more involved in social justice and not just social welfare.

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For all Christians of any denomination

I enjoyed the comparison of scripture into current events. Cleverly showing us the consequences of our actions

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Great introduction to so many related issues

Great to have a book looking the experience of black people. Should be read by all Christians as what Ben discusses is relevant to all types of white majority churches. Really like different questions for different audience members!

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More CRT than Biblical

On a positive note, Ben Lindsay clearly has a big heart for the struggles of those in the British black community that are facing challenges of knife crime and gang violence. He does provoke thought about how the church should engage more with the issue of the community they are in, and for these things I commend.

On the other hand, Ben in this book seems to approach life, church, and Scripture through the lens of race. His handling of Acts 6 and the reference to dismantling of 'existing power structures' seems more like a critical race theory view of the passage than one that handles the text appropriately. Again when talking of the 'ministry of reconciliation' (2 Cor 5) that we have as the people of God, he uses this as an illustration that white Christians need to give reparations to black Christians rather than using it as intended, as a mandate for Christians to offer reconciliation to God through Christ to non-Christians.

I listened to his book along side Voddie Baucham's Faultlines. Both are written by black ministers, but both have very different ways of handling the increasing racial tensions happening both in and outside of the church. If you want a book that will help you think Biblically about this issue and capture the heart of Jesus, DO NOT read 'Let's Talk About Race', read Faultlines.

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A must listen

This book has helped me (a black person in a white led church) to articulate the frustrations I have felt. Though the geographical contexts are different, I felt that it spoke to the heart of the matter. It was a balanced read that engaged with the issues and provided a way forward using reflective questions at the end of every chapter. I recommend this book to every international church that would like to honour Christ's vision of a united culturally diverse and inclusive body.

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A book everyone in church should read

Loved this book so much, Ben Lindsey gives such valuable insights into the issues surrounding race in our churches and in society as a whole.

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A necessary and compelling audiobook

I devoured this audiobook from the moment I pressed play. The author presents some powerful observations and truths around race in a way anyone could consume. Black or white this is a book you will want to finish.

It’s read fantastically by the author as well which makes this even more truthful on listen.
Thank you Ben for this fantastic God given book.

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  • Isaac Moore
  • 11-02-20

Must read for all Western Church leaders

As a white man I found this book incredibly convicting, informative, and helpful as I wrestle with the reality if my own privilege and seek to be advocate for my black brothers and sisters.