Two years ago Carolyn Helsel and I sat down and talked about a book she wanted to write that would help Christians, especially white Christians, learn how to talk about race and racism by overcoming their anxiety and discomfort around the subject. A preaching professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Helsel is an ordained minister who wrote her PhD dissertation on racism after being in ministry on the U.S.-Mexican border, working in a seminary admissions office, and more than a decade of writing and teaching about racism.
By the time Anxious to Talk about It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully about Racism launched this past February, we knew how needed it was. We’d heard chants of “build that wall.” We’d seen the travel ban. We’d seen Charlottesville. We’d seen people with ties to white nationalism in powerful positions. Carolyn spent the spring and summer talking to study groups, speaking at events, and putting the finishing touches on her next book, Preaching about Racism: A Guide for Faith Leaders, available now from Chalice Press.
“My congregation had the joy of spending six weeks reading and discussing Dr. Helsel's book, Anxious to Talk about It,” said Rev. Stacy Ikard of Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin. “Over 100 adults in my congregation took part in the experience, in ten different discussion groups. What a profound experience! I am grateful to Carolyn for her insight and her pastoral sensitivity. I am grateful for her time with us, answering questions and educating us in the basics of racism and white privilege.
“Most importantly, I am grateful for the way her presence and her book pushed us as a faith community to have honest, courageous and difficult conversations. This experience deepened our ability to share and honor personal stories. It helped us recognize the ways we have been racialized and allowed us open discussion around white privilege. My congregation came out of this experience better skilled in difficult conversations, and eager to continue this important work.”
While Anxious reaches out into the pews, Preaching about Racism enables pastors – those whom laypeople usually expect to lead the conversations – to call out racism in ways that that are Biblically rooted, thoughtful, and consider the array of views on American racism.
Even before Preaching about Racism had come out, Helsel was already sharing the manuscript with local pastors who sought her help. One pastor in Austin preached a sermon series on racism, and afterwards wrote:
“I truly can't express how timely it was to get to visit with you and what a gift your manuscript was to me,” said Kelly Shoenfelt, pastor of Servant Church. “The racism [sermon] series was so challenging to me personally as a disciple of Jesus, and being able to use your books to help frame my discomfort and give me encouragement for the preaching journey was life-giving.” –
Chalice Press has many books on preaching and pastoral professional development; Preaching about Racism is a natural fit for our line. Beyond that, though, Preaching about Racism addresses racism in a way that calls pastors to muster the courage to say what needs to be said – and to say it in ways that will spark productive conversation instead of divisive anger.
Racism will always be an emotional tender spot, easy to inflame and aggravate, painful when poked. Faith, religion, and Christianity can help deliver us from this evil. That will require brave pastors trained to address racism while keeping the audiences attention and respect – not to mention keeping their jobs. And it will require everyday Christians to support those pastors in their courageous moments and continue the conversation, person by person, to finally, truly address racism in our society.
As much as we’d like to think racism can be erased by a few books or an election, the fact is racism will endure the rest of our lives and probably the lives of everybody we’ll ever know. I look forward to when books like Preaching about Racism or Anxious to Talk about It merely document a bygone era in American history. Until then, buy all the books you can find that will help us weed out racism and build the Beloved Kindom we dream about.
President and Publisher