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Book Review – Gracism: the Art of Inclusion

I just finished the book Gracism by David A. Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway Community Church and a former staff member at Willow Creek. I would probably never have read it, but I forgot to cancel my selection of the month with IVP book club, so it showed up on my doorstep. I thought it was another book on the doctrine of grace, which, quite honestly, I have no real desire to read. What I didn’t catch was the play on words, combining grace and racism.

I grew up in a small Wisconsin town where I was a racial minority because I was a non-Norwegian Caucasian. It was not until I started meeting people of other races, specifically African Americans, that I began to become prejudiced. The reason? I feel like the race card is perpetually played against me. I have come to believe that if I ever act negatively towards someone that happens to be African American, I will be accused of being racist. I hate that. I mean I really hate that.

Anderson helped me understand aspects of race relations that I never understood before. Here is how he begins his book:

Maybe you have heard of the social experiment in which ten people were to interview at a company. Before they went to the office for the interview, a red dot was painted on one cheek of each interviewee. Each interviewee was to go into the office and sit across the desk from the interviewer. After each interview, the interviewee was debriefed. Each of the ten interviewees stated that the interviewer kept staring at the dot on his or her cheek.
Here’s the kicker: Out of the ten who received a painted dot, five – unbeknownst to them – were actually given a clear dot that was not visible on their skin. Yet they still felt as if the interviewer was focusing on their dot. From this experiment we learn that people feel self-conscious about whatever makes them insecure.

This illustration helps me understand race issues in a new way. It helps me understand why some people perceive me to be racist even when I’m really not. It helps me recognize that the real problem is not one of “reverse racism”, but rather perception that many black folks have that race is a liability for them, a red dot, if you will.

Anderson’s solution for race problems is in recognizing the God’s preferential treatment for the underprivileged. The privileged often discriminate against the underprivileged, and in reference to race, this becomes racism. Anderson suggests that privileged Christians (and this will include almost all of us in at least one circumstance) must discriminate towards the underprivileged by extending extra grace. He defines gracism as “the positive extension of favor on other humans based on color, class or culture.” I think he is right on to suggest gracism as a big part of the solution to race problems.

Following 1 Corinthians 12, which Anderson makes a compelling case for reading in terms of racial tensions, he suggests we adopt seven sayings towards racial others:

  1. “I will lift you up” – giving special honor to minorities.
  2. “I will cover you” – helping minorities save face in dishonoring situations.
  3. “I will share with you” – refusing to accept special treatment simply because we are not in the minority.
  4. “I will honor you” – giving greater honor to minorities.
  5. “I will stand with you” – rejecting divisions based on race.
  6. “I will consider you” – showing equal concern for those who are different.
  7. “I will celebrate with you” – rejoicing with those who are different.

Though I think Anderson has a great message, the book has the feel of a twenty minute message expanded into a 160-page book. I’m still not entirely sure what the difference between the first and fourth sayings. And some of the illustrations seem forced, like the story of his friend Rick, whose flight together with Anderson was delayed, and who chose to fly economy with him instead of wait for a later flight where he could have flown first-class. This is supposedly an example of saying three, refusing to accept preferential treatment. I thought it was an example of someone taking the quicker flight.

Nevertheless, at only 160 pages, it is a quick read and well worth it. It makes me want to consider ways I can be a gracist in my day-to-day life.

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