"America's Original Sin"

By Greta Brackman, Housing Counselor

Jim Wallis, the President and CEO of Sojourners Magazine, is the author of several books dealing with faith, politics, and social justice.  His most recent, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, was just released in January.  He is on a book tour and made a stop at Seattle First Baptist Church in February.

Wallis_JimWhen Jim was young he committed his life to a movement which would cultivate social change.  Since the 1970s, Sojourners Magazine has confronted racism, sexism, wealth inequality, violence, and other provocative topics in a way most Christian magazines never dared.  Sojourners’ writers have continued to challenge systematic injustice and acknowledge the church’s role in the existence of injustices. 

I was fortunate to attend Jim Wallis’ book tour discussion.  I have enjoyed several other speaking engagements and events held by Jim and Sojourners Magazine, but I’d like to share why this one was so impactful.

Jim designs his book tours as others design town hall meetings: interactive and informative.  Not only does he share his vision for how his books will promote dialogue and change, but he engages with guest speakers and audience members to promote fruitful discussions.  For his America’s Original Sin tour, he did just that.Americas-original-sin

Jim began by providing a framework for his book, and personalized it by drawing all-too-real comparisons between the ages and experiences of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice with those of his own sons.  Jim, a White man, was intentional about publicly acknowledging the systems at play which continue to perpetuate racism.  He paid special attention to White American Christianity, speaking to its deeply-rooted racial biases in this country.  Jim spoke about his provocative challenge to White Christians to act more Christian than White, meaning that Christians ought to celebrate the beautiful mosaic of humanity intended by God.  This challenge requires honesty about privilege, and deep repentance for perpetuating a system that continues to disadvantage people of color and other oppressed and marginalized communities.

Following Jim’s presentation, Brian Bantum, a man of mixed-race and professor of theology from Seattle Pacific University, shared his story of moving his family to Seattle.  He spoke about the profound racial and wealth inequality of Seattle. He illustrated the irony of Seattle as a city of Progressives who he says are “down with the cause,” while continuing life in segregated communities.  After Brian spoke, Jim and Brian both took questions from the predominantly White audience and engaged in rich and impactful conversation.

The time is ripe for change within our communities.  As stories become increasingly public, more and more Americans recognize the signs of institutional racism.  Jim’s call to repentance within our communities – especially our churches – sets the stage for real transformation.

America’s Original Sin is a book that I think should be read by everyone committed to the common good – people of faith, people of goodwill, and all who seek a community where justice is for everyone. 

The book and free downloadable study guide (www.americasoriginalsin.com), are ideal resources for small groups, agencies, and congregations alike to study the issues Jim raises.

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