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Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White: Who's More Precious In God's Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry

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Drawing upon two decades of mission experience, Leroy Barber exposes the racial divisions within Christian ministries and offers practical and comprehensive solutions for promoting diversity. RED, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE highlights the historic patterns that have created racial discrepancies within missions. It joins the essential canon created by touchstone books li Drawing upon two decades of mission experience, Leroy Barber exposes the racial divisions within Christian ministries and offers practical and comprehensive solutions for promoting diversity. RED, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE highlights the historic patterns that have created racial discrepancies within missions. It joins the essential canon created by touchstone books like Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith and the ever-popular Race Matters by Cornel West. With a no-blame attitude, powerful personal narratives from a dozen other black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and white Christians, interactive histories of missions, and the writings of MLK and Howard Thurman (the entire "Letter From Birmingham Jail" and Howard Thurman's motivational speech "Sound of the Genuine"), Barber addresses this tough issue in a way that will inspire and motivate readers of all races toward change.


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Drawing upon two decades of mission experience, Leroy Barber exposes the racial divisions within Christian ministries and offers practical and comprehensive solutions for promoting diversity. RED, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE highlights the historic patterns that have created racial discrepancies within missions. It joins the essential canon created by touchstone books li Drawing upon two decades of mission experience, Leroy Barber exposes the racial divisions within Christian ministries and offers practical and comprehensive solutions for promoting diversity. RED, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE highlights the historic patterns that have created racial discrepancies within missions. It joins the essential canon created by touchstone books like Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith and the ever-popular Race Matters by Cornel West. With a no-blame attitude, powerful personal narratives from a dozen other black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and white Christians, interactive histories of missions, and the writings of MLK and Howard Thurman (the entire "Letter From Birmingham Jail" and Howard Thurman's motivational speech "Sound of the Genuine"), Barber addresses this tough issue in a way that will inspire and motivate readers of all races toward change.

30 review for Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White: Who's More Precious In God's Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elsa K

    This book brought up some interesting topics especially in the gray boxes that mostly highlighted different historical events. I struggled to grasp who the target audience was. It seemed to talk a lot about how people of color in missions struggle to raise support and aren't well represented on missions boards. So was it written to those on these missions boards themselves? A lot of it didn't seem to apply to me. I also really struggled with the way the book was organized. One chapter would talk This book brought up some interesting topics especially in the gray boxes that mostly highlighted different historical events. I struggled to grasp who the target audience was. It seemed to talk a lot about how people of color in missions struggle to raise support and aren't well represented on missions boards. So was it written to those on these missions boards themselves? A lot of it didn't seem to apply to me. I also really struggled with the way the book was organized. One chapter would talk about missions boards and the next was about Native American culture then it went back to missions boards. The lack of structure kept it from feeling like a cohesive work to me. I also found the text in the gray boxes interesting, but the way it was laid out drove me crazy. The box would take up 6 different pages and I would have to jump around a lot to read what was written in them. The text in the boxes didn't always seem to fit in the chapter it was in. I think the author has good thoughts and insight, but wish the book had been edited better and laid out more clearly. I guess I don't know what the overarching point of the book was.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    The election of Barack Obama as President gave, for a moment the illusion that America had entered a post-racial era. Finally, we could say that Americans had achieved Dr. King's dream of a society in which persons were judged by the content of the character and not the color of their skin. Facts on the ground have largely disabused us of that notion (though there are still some folks who think electing a Black President is enough to declare victory and move on). Dr. King had judged the American The election of Barack Obama as President gave, for a moment the illusion that America had entered a post-racial era. Finally, we could say that Americans had achieved Dr. King's dream of a society in which persons were judged by the content of the character and not the color of their skin. Facts on the ground have largely disabused us of that notion (though there are still some folks who think electing a Black President is enough to declare victory and move on). Dr. King had judged the American church to be less than Christian because eleven o'clock on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of the week. Unfortunately, that state of affairs remains largely true today as well. I say this much to my own chagrin. There are numerous reasons why this is true, but that we find it difficult to welcome one another fully across ethnic and cultural lines is a sign of judgment on us all. Leroy Barber is an African American evangelical urban missions leader. He is a strong proponent of the missions agenda, and has devoted his life to that agenda. That being said, he has found that all is not well in this movement. Speaking specifically of urban missions, which often ministers to/with persons of color, he shares experiences as a person of color that suggest that white Christians desire to be in control and keep control of the missions venture. There is, he suggests, an unwillingness to entrust leadership to persons of color -- even an unwillingness to contribute financially when a person of color is in leadership. Because financial support often comes from White Christians this is clearly problematic. What he finds in all of this is paternalistic, even neo-colonialist attitudes. As a white pastor who is invested in creating an urban missions project that my own congregation helps fund, and which is largely overseen by white Christians (at this point), even though those being served are largely African-American. I found his words to be a challenge. I tried to take solace in the efforts made by my denomination to overcome racism. I can safely say that efforts are always made to include a variety of persons of color in leadership positions. You could call this affirmative action or something like that, but the purpose is making sure that the leadership of the denomination reflects the diversity found within the denomination (if not in our congregations). All of this may be true, but as a white Christian I find myself needing to hear this word as a prophetic one -- a call to do better. Denominational ministries might be better at this than para-church ones, especially since those called to these ministries are supported by the denomination as a whole and not through individual fund-raising. But, I sense that all is not perfect in our community either. This is a fast read, but it is also a very challenging one. There were points where I wanted to say -- enough already -- but at the same time I know that until change comes we'll need to keep hearing this. So, if you're concerned about matters of mission, ministry, and ethnicity -- take and read!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I picked up this book from someone who had donated his library to a local seminary. Race and cultural differences has both interested me and stirred a defensiveness in me that I have recognized for some time. My husband and I are planning to attend a Christian conference being held in Memphis on the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I’ve begun the process of preparing for that event by reading books and listening to sermons/seminars about race and the Gos I picked up this book from someone who had donated his library to a local seminary. Race and cultural differences has both interested me and stirred a defensiveness in me that I have recognized for some time. My husband and I are planning to attend a Christian conference being held in Memphis on the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I’ve begun the process of preparing for that event by reading books and listening to sermons/seminars about race and the Gospel. I know that I struggle with racism in various ways and that I can be quick to reject perspectives that challenge my own. It was with a hopeful, prayerful heart that I started to read this book as I genuinely want to conform my beliefs to Christ’s example. I was very disappointed, however, with the material presented in this book. It was so poorly written, argued, supported and sourced that even though I made myself finish it, I could not recommend it to anyone working through this topic. I am giving it two stars because I believe the author to be good-willed, because I believe there was value in being able to read his perspective and because it introduced me to Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which I thought was exquisite (though I thought the way the author applied that letter to this subject matter was questionable). My first criticisms regard form and structure and while I understand that this is not the point of the book, I do feel that it takes away from the overall message in a big way. I had a hard time following the content due to an extreme lack of flow and cohesion among and within chapters. There were about three main points that were rehashed over and over in no particular progression and I frequently got lost in what was supposedly supporting material that didn’t seem to add anything or that contradicted other points he hade made previously. Much of what was written were long, personal anecdotes connected by personal interpretation of what those anecdotes mean regarding race and missions. There were hanging quotes, entire sections that are quoted out but have no indication of who said them, missing subjects, and many other grammatical mistakes. One of my biggest frustrations with this book was that some rather bold claims about the history and current state of missions and charity work are made with a severe lack of sources. The vast majority of albeit more innocuous statements of fact were made without sources of any kind. Statistics were mentioned with no references time after time. There are no footnotes whatsoever and the sectioned-off pieces of text that were sometimes cited were recorded in a format not appropriate for this type of writing. Of the insufficient sources listed throughout the book, all but two were websites (including Wikipedia and PBS). This lack of credible sources would have been unacceptable even in papers that I had to submit in high school or college. Statistics, statements of fact, references to historical events and even broad generalizations need to be cited or their legitimacy (and the legitimacy of the book in general) is strongly called into question. I am shocked that a publishing editor signed off on this. The consequence of the dearth of sources is that what was intended to be educational and persuasive is, unfortunately, relegated to the genre of memoir with most everything in it being purely speculation and opinion of the author and the people he interviewed. Setting aside these technical issues, I struggled with the overall tone of the book. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of many personal anecdotes, while relevant and helpful in understanding his perspective, lead to what felt like frequent speculation about the motives of others who played a part in his and others’ experiences. The author uses a broad brush to speak of historical accounts and generalizes heavily. He seems to dismiss the “weakness” of minority leaders but categories “whites” by their flaws, using the same standard both for and against depending on the context. As an example, he recounts a story of several black students (including himself) getting off a bus on a campus filled with white students. He reveals that he is staring at them, noting how different (and slovenly) they look but seems to resent the fact that they also are staring back, no doubt experiencing many of the same questions and and insecurities. The author admits to being weak in certain leadership areas, but assumes that because he feels “called” to lead, that he should be given leadership roles in urban areas because he is a person of color and that white people will not succeed in such situations. On page 32, he laments that people of colored are identified as “black leaders” instead of just “leaders” but he consistently refers to himself and others the same way (on page 34 he said he was gratified that a new job “valued [his] being a leader of color”). These types of double standards are common across the board and I am incredibly prone to them myself, however, a book about this very topic should exhibit extra care and I feel it fails to do so. We could argue back and forth about our own experiences and how it seems like “they” do this, while “we” do that, but this only distracts us from learning how to work together and from understanding the truth about human, sinful nature and the Gospel solution to it. I couldn’t help but feel that any example of a person of color having a negative experience was automatically interpreted to be because of racism. It seemed that when white people responded positively to what he (or another person of color) was doing they were enlightened and were the good kind of white people, but when they were resistant to what he was doing, they were the kind of white people that hoard power and hurt people. It never seemed to cross his mind that white people could disagree with people of color for any other reason than racism. While I can plainly see that humans of all races continue to struggle with racism, I felt that this book is founded on the idea that white people are uniquely, historically and inherently racist. Barber presents an impossible situation for white people (not ever taking into consideration that white people are not the majority in every country around the world). He highlights a story of a woman who was insulted when she, being a person of color, was assigned to work with the black students on campus. Yet in several places, the author insists on people of color being empowered to minister to other people of color suggesting that white people cannot be successful in ministering to black people. People of color should lead urban ministries and, moreover, white people should seek to be lead by people of color in predominantly white ministries as well. Where does this leave white people in ministry? Barber suggests that whites create positions of power and influence and then actively seek to bequeath them to people of color along with the funds to make them successful. It seems, then, that black people should be given all the resources and authority to minister to all races while white people do nothing. Through the centuries and in our current time, the author is frustrated with everything the white church does and does not do. It’s not enough for them to evangelize, they need to change their entire system of doing so. Barber claims that white people have a flawed view of missions, but black people see missions as their natural surroundings. It’s not enough for white people to give money (because he claims that almost all money comes from whites), they must change the way they fundraise so that it doesn’t inadvertently exclude people of color who don’t have rich white friends and family like white people do. White people shouldn’t be “storytelling” about people of color in order to gain funding for mission work in urban areas because they have no business being involved in urban ministries to begin with. It’s not enough for white people to hire minorities (regardless of qualifications), they must consistently forfeit their culture and “power” and wisdom to make way for people of color. It’s not enough for churches to minister to immigrants because their only motive is to “increase their mission numbers,” they must change the laws (even though he claims that immigration is not a political issue). In the chapter about “Caring for the Stranger” Barber says Christians are wrong to not embrace and provide for illegal immigrants claiming that it is “unjust” to have laws that limit immigration. He fails to make the important distinction between legal and illegal immigration. One of the most frequently stated points of this book, which would have more appropriately been titled “Affirmative Action in Missions” is that non-profits and urban ministries must be intentionally diversified, but when this is forced as he initially claims that it must be by setting a percentage of people of color to hire and working toward it, he complains that people of color feel like tokens. This is exactly what happens when you hire someone simply because of the color of their skin. It’s not enough, though, says Barber to have diversity of skin color. The author claims to have attended a conference filled with diversity of skin color but still totally “Anglo.” I’m not even sure how that happens, but apparently people of color were being too white in the way they were conducting the conference. Not only is it insulting to say that they had been “assimilated” but it’s arrogant to claim that they were all too similar to each other (even coming from all different races/ethnicities) to represent true diversity. While the author proposes that diversity can and should come from diversity of location, economics and education (not just race) these apparently not enough when considered among a group of white people. While white people should actively work toward diversity, an entire chapter is devoted to encouraging people of color to being true to yourself as a person of color. It is filled with bad theology and is woefully contrary to Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”). The author writes “Let the light of Christ bring peace and harmony to your soul by allowing you to know yourself.” I find nowhere in scripture that suggests that knowing ourselves is what brings us peace and harmony. Knowledge of God, not self, is what brings peace. According to Barber, while people of color are to embrace their culture, white people should not be attached to any culture and should actively work to deny and dismantle their culture since it is inherently racist and unwelcoming to people of color. He writes that white people should expect and embrace the discomfort that comes from working with, and being lead by, people of color, but he implies that any difficulty felt by people of color as they serve with whites is automatically the fault of the whites for not changing everything they do and turning everything into a quest to make people of color comfortable. In terms of what should be done about the situation we are in, there are plenty of ideas for white people but there are practically no takeaways for humans in general as they seek to live at peace with one another. One frequently stated action point of the book is that white people should seek to give up their power so that black people and other minorities can have power over them, noting that it is major progress when leadership of organizations that the author is a part of is made of of hardly any whites. He writes to white people, “Be ok with following. As a white person, you don’t have to have control. You can enjoy following.” While this is true, it’s true for all people. I would give this advice to anyone who claimed to have a heart for ministry and I would give this advice to the author himself when, earlier in the book, he insisted that because he had a “calling” to lead, he should be trusted to lead and that not being given the opportunity to do so was a sign of racism. Leading is not about being in leadership. This is something the author seems to have no concept of. He speaks frequently of leadership equaling having money to spend and being the person who makes the decisions and who has the power. Anyone who feels called to lead and who believes that necessarily means he must be in a leadership position to fulfill that call has missed the important Bible teaching that those who wish to become great must become the least of all. Speaking of Bible teaching, I assumed that there would be some in the book. For a book about missions, the was hardly any mention of how the Bible teaches us to engage other people about the gospel. Granted, a few verses were quoted here and there (many of which from the Message Bible paraphrase which, in my opinion, should pretty much never be used) but there was precious little theology involved. In the author’s view, white people need to simply butt out (unless they are paying for people of color to do ministry or are creating organizations and then asking people of color to lead them). The fact that God calls all people to follow Christ and to be Christ-like is completely absent from these pages. The more I read the book, the more I started to feel that the misquoting of the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in the title was a mere preview of constant assumption that white people are overvalued and people of color are undervalued instead of embracing the truth that it’s not “which has more value” but that “all have value.” I wanted very much to be challenged and engaged about this topic but was deeply disappointed. The author sounds like a well-intentioned man. I believe he wants to be used by God and I don’t doubt that he has been an asset in all of the ministries in which he has been a part and in the many lives he has touched, but over 200 pages of how white people are doing it wrong (and have been for centuries) just was not helpful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James

    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 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 socio-economic 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 book five stars and think that this book should be required reading for pastors, non-profit directors and missionaries. ★★★★★

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    A provoking topic and read, and an important concept for the church to grapple with. The title refers to Christian missions, but the book seems to focus on the world of community development, which is Barber's expertise.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erin Cloutier

    Incredible! The chapters are what more conference should look like.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Felton L Wooson

    WOW! This is the reality we live as African Americans. Is it possible that we put the, “truncated gospel” before our love for people?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joel Jackson

    Leroy Barber makes a convincing argument for a more balanced resourcing of missions. I admit that outside of the information in this book, my knowledge of how missions is funded is next to nothing. I know what organizations my home church donates and realize, as I consider, that we tend to give to organizations that are most like our church. As a Caucasian individual, I find myself pondering continuing inequalities in the church. Not being inside of missions organizations, I cannot argue with th Leroy Barber makes a convincing argument for a more balanced resourcing of missions. I admit that outside of the information in this book, my knowledge of how missions is funded is next to nothing. I know what organizations my home church donates and realize, as I consider, that we tend to give to organizations that are most like our church. As a Caucasian individual, I find myself pondering continuing inequalities in the church. Not being inside of missions organizations, I cannot argue with the content of the book. The writing style was not entirely comfortable for me to read. There were moments that I was just not captivated by the on-going narrative. Perhaps this is because of my own lack of study in missions related narrative, but I did find it hard to focus at times and struggled with continuing to read. Two areas impacted me greatly in my own spiritual growth. First, chapter 11 on "Harmony" really caused me to ponder the dreams God has placed in my own life. The quotation from Howard Thurman left me pondering. I shall seek to discover the genuine in myself. I shall seek to discover the genuine in others. I shall seek to nurture the genuine in all that I encounter. Secondly, I really enjoyed reviewing Martin Luther King Jr.'s words in the second to last chapters. These words confronted me in places where I am comfortable. I would also like to mention that the entire text left me pondering how my youth mission team approaches missions. Last summer we went to Indianapolis, IN and worked with a church in the city. We led a Bible School. Our mission team was primarily Caucasian. Those we served were primarily African American. I was left wondering how we might direct leadership within the communities we are serving in a way that brings the inherent worth within all people to the forefront. A number of years ago, one of my leaders had a conflict with a leader of the church we were serving with. It was over a disciplinary issue. I have long felt that we did not handle it well. I do feel that we assumed power in the situation. I am pondering how to take steps to cease this from happening in the future. Overall, this was a good read that left me pondering, even if it was a struggle at times to get through the narrative.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Bryant

    This was an okay introductory text into diversity and Christianity, but I was never sure who Barber's audience was. Sometimes it seems like the lay Christian, sometimes is seems the Christian non-profit sector, sometimes specifically urban ministers, and I think what he was trying to say got muddled in not knowing who he was speaking to. Personally, I'd take the first five chapters and leave the next ten. For all that it says, the book was longer than necessary.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    A must read for anyone in the Church.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily Hill

    Definitely raised my awareness about the importance of diversity and the continued lack of it. I'd recommend it to anyone in ministry.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dianna

    Awesome!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andy Bettencourt

  15. 5 out of 5

    Buck Wilson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joy Strube

  19. 4 out of 5

    Viviana E. Cornejo

  20. 4 out of 5

    Krista

  21. 5 out of 5

    Molly Evans

  22. 5 out of 5

    Isaiah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Whitney

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  26. 4 out of 5

    Malia

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth P Guynn Jr

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Wuske

  29. 4 out of 5

    D.L. Mayfield

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Cramer

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