Living in a post-2016-election world, and in expectation of Donald Trump entering the White House, I find myself struggling to grapple with all the controversies, ideas, surprises, and scandals of the past year or so. It seems prudent to spend some serious time reflecting, studying, questioning, and reading in the midst of what by all appearances is to be an unprecedented political era.
We are in a time of serious transition. America’s political culture and climate is radically changing. At the same time, Evangelicalism’s relationship to American culture and politics is shifting. Evangelicalism is at risk of fracturing on a variety of demographic and political lines.
The overwhelming support for Trump among Evangelicals, regardless of whether it pleases or disappoints us, has furthered the divide that already exists between this predominately-white religious group and America’s increasing diversity. It is now imperative, perhaps more than ever before, that we think carefully and strategically about what our relationship should be to our country, to the world, and to political power in general in this new era.
With all this in mind, I have created a reading list to guide my own reflection, and I hope it might be helpful for others as well.
Here are 11 books, in no particular order, most representative of what I see to be the most crucial issues raised by the election. With each book I also have some further reading suggestions in that topic area and make sure that a variety of voices are represented. I pray that through these and other works the Holy Spirit might guide us as Christian believers to discern what we are called to be in the coming years.11 books representative of what I see to be the most crucial issues raised by the election. Click To Tweet
1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
This election has made us more aware of the oft-forgotten world of rural, white, America and their economic suffering. This memoir brings this world to our hearts and imagination, and forces us to come to grips with the fears, struggles, and crises of the rural white working class. This book has been recommended by conservative thinkers in particular. For a more left-leaning perspective, see Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash. There is also a great series of articles by Chris Arnade, a photojournalist who produces a very human, personal, look into America’s most economically depressed areas.
2. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
This book argues presents a groundbreaking thesis on the racial disparities in America’s criminal justice system. The merits of the argument aside, Alexander’s book is crucial for understanding the political landscape because of its seminal impact on #BlackLivesMatter and related causes. Libertarian conservatives and the political left alike have raised issues and concerns about race and criminal justice like those in Alexander’s book. Read also
Between the World and Me by Te-Nahisi Coates. Prison Fellowship’s list of resources, from a more libertarian-conservative angle on criminal justice reform, is also very helpful. For a law-and-order-conservative response, in defense of our current system: The War on Cops by Heather Mac Donald.
3. Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole by Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter is not known for her subtlety, and this book seems to be no exception. This book is significantly important because of its purported influence on Donald Trump and the formation of his political platform.
While Coulter does not identify as a member of the so-called “Alt-Right,” and I don’t want to unfairly associate them, there is some resonance between her thought and this emerging group that has also strongly supported Trump. They share with Coulter a disgust with the mainstream conservative movement and a strong stance against immigration. The alt-right demands some careful study in their own right, although there are few books by or about them. I should issue a warning: Conservatives and liberals alike, including Trump supporters, have not been shy to call the Alt-Right, or at least certain factions of it, a racist movement. They are also, intentionally, quite crass and offensive with their language. The best places to start are this NPR interview with Robert Spencer. The Alt-Right has written a manifesto on Breitbart. See also this critical, outsider perspective, from Ben Shapiro, and the powerful “Why I Left White Nationalism,” by R. Derek Black.
4. Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity by Christoph Baumer
This work promises to be one of the most accessible, yet thorough, accounts of the history of one of the often-forgotten wings of Christianity: The Assyrian Church (which was spread around present day Iraq and Syria, and also scattered throughout Asia). They and their Muslim neighbors are daily in our headlines, knocking on the West’s doors as they flee their homelands in
Syria and Iraq. It is imperative that we get to know them, and see them as family and partners in Christ in our time of war and division. See also America’s War by Andrew J. Bacevich. Also, these further books provide some important perspective on Christian and Islamic relations, and the Middle East: Zygmunt Bauman’s Strangers at Our Door, Light Force by Brother Andrew, and Hugh Goddard’s A History of Christian-Muslim Relations.
5. The Seeds of Destruction by Thomas Merton
Merton was an American monk who used his gifts in writing and political commentary from within the monastery walls in the ’60s. His insights into the spiritual pitfalls, poverties, as well as possibilities, for America are, I believe, as true today as they were when he wrote them. This title features essays and letters on a variety of topics, and some of his comments seem almost prophetic in 2016. Other apt theological reflections: Bonhoeffer’s classic, The Cost of Discipleship and Dorothy Day: Selected Writings; By Little and by Little ed. Robert Ellsberg. While Merton, Bonhoeffer, and Day are sometimes associated with the political left, Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) by Jordan J. Ballor provides a broad treatment of some of the most important theological figures that undergird classical Christian conservative thought.
6. Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited by Marie M. Fortune
In the wake of Donald Trump’s unearthed sexual assault comments, many found themselves remarkably unnerved by what appeared to be a failure of many male evangelical leaders to not take violence against women seriously enough. Christians need to have an honest and sober reality check about the widespread nature of sexual violence. This book is a broad starting point, with particular focus on the presence of sexual violence in Church, and pastoral care. See also The Abusive Personality by Donald G. Dutton and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
7. The Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin
The election has revealed deep divisions and crises within the Republican party and the conservative political movement. This new book by Yuval Levin has been recommended by some of conservatism’s most thoughtful commentators as a great place to start rethinking what the right should look for those who want to separate from Trump, the Alt-Right, and other particular factions that have become recently significant in the GOP.
Furthermore: Why the Right Went Wrong by E.J. Dionne.
8. Saving Capitalism: For the Many, not the Few by Robert B. Reich
On the other side of the aisle, Bernie Sanders has introduced America to the idea of ‘Democratic Socialism.’ Senator Sanders himself has endorsed this book as a helpful introduction to some of the key arguments of American democratic socialism. It is going to remain a key topic of conversation as the Democratic Party considers how to re-organize after their unexpected loss. Also, Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank.
9. Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
This book sparked a paradigm-shift for me, and I plan to reread it in the coming months. This book accomplishes one simple, but very profound, task: It analyzes the different ‘worldviews’ of white Evangelicals and black Christians, when it comes to issues of race and God’s place in the political realm. The consequences of these unspoken assumptions in Church and society are significant. In a slightly different vein: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think similarly treats the inner-working sof liberal and conservative ‘worldviews.’
10. The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
America’s religious and ethnic demographics are shifting rapidly, and this shift has played a major, though generally subconscious, role in the election. This book highlights the social and political ramifications of this transition, specifically the decline of a previously predominant and powerful white Christian culture. This book considers the pros and cons of this transition, from the perspective both of those who mourn, and those who celebrate, this change. It poses serious questions for us as Evangelicals moving forward. See
also: God’s Own Party by Daniel K. Williams. The Next Evangelicalism by Soon-Chan Rah should be a priority as well.
11. Drown by Junot Diaz
This book, now nearly 20 years old, is now a classic fictional presentation of Latin American immigrant experience in the United States. In light of portrayals of immigrants in the political sphere, it is important to take a human look into world of an immigrant in the United States. I hope that this is only a launching pad, however, for the much more important task of seeking real-life relationship with our immigrant neighbors. Also, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Latino Politics by Lisa Garcia Bedolla. An important memoir on Islamic life in America: Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie by Ranya Tabari Idliby.
As I survey the current political climate, I believe that our country is in serious need of a particular type of people. We need a people who, in a time of divisiveness, open their hearts and their arms and hearts to the stranger. A people who, in a time of fear and resentment, will be willing to sacrifice power and privilige to stand up for the weak and the oppressed. People who will speak the truth in a time of pundits, propaganda, false news, and aloof media elites. A people who can look beyond political machinations and speak to America’s spiritual needs. All this to say, our culture is in desperate need of people committed to the Gospel. Many may be discouraged with the current state of Evangelicalism: Concerned about it being too-right or too-left or too-divided or too-apathetic. But I am hopeful that Evangelicals committed to sharing the love of Jesus, hand-in-hand with other people of Jesus from other traditions, can be just what our country needs in this time.
It is a crucial time for Evangelicals to pause and reflect. And we must do so in order to act and be salt and light in America. I hope these texts are a good place to start determining how to be this sort of people.
As you do your own processing, what books are you interested in or finding helpful? How would you add to this list and why?
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