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America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

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America's problem with race has deep roots, with the country's foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another. Racism is truly our nation's original sin.

"It's time we right this unacceptable wrong," says bestselling author and leading Christian activist Jim Wallis. Fifty years ago, Wallis was driven away from his faith by a white church that considered dealing with racism to be taboo. His participation in the civil rights movement brought him back when he discovered a faith that commands racial justice. Yet as recent tragedies confirm, we continue to suffer from the legacy of racism. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation. The church has been slow to respond, and Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.

In America's Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians--particularly white Christians--urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing.

Whenever divided cultures and gridlocked power structures fail to end systemic sin, faith communities can help lead the way to grassroots change. Probing yet positive, biblically rooted yet highly practical, this book shows people of faith how they can work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a multiracial church and a new America.

238 pages, Hardcover

First published January 19, 2016

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About the author

Jim Wallis

59 books148 followers
JIM WALLIS is a globally respected writer, teacher, preacher, justice advocate, regular international commentator on ethics and public life, and mentor for a new generation. He is a New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, including Christ in Crisis, America's Original Sin, God's Politics and The Great Awakening. Wallis is the Founder of Sojourners. He served on President Obama's White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and has taught faith and public life courses at Harvard and Georgetown University. "Coach Jim" also served for 22 seasons as a Little League coach for his two baseball playing sons.

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
March 20, 2021
How To Be Saved

I recently gave a talk on this book to some church-going friends. I summarise that talk here without yet knowing what effect it had on them.

Racism is a spiritual malady; its legal, psychological, and behavioural symptoms are derivative. Racism exists, like language, as something embedded in individuals but simultaneously floating beyond them as an independent fact.

Some racists are indeed criminals or psychotics but all are sinners who have inherited their sin - but not through their parents’ genetic legacy. Rather they have become racists through their religion - which exists in the same personal/spirit form as language and racism.

The specific vector of the spiritual disease of racism is a variant of the Christian Faith which is used to establish and justify a privileged status in the world. This is Wallis’s central message, although presented with more nuanced finesse than my summary. But I question whether nuance is what’s needed. The fact of racism is a profound and pressing challenge to Christian theology that should be faced without dissemblance.

Christianity has always tended toward a sort of self-conscious tribalism. The ‘Other’ - Jew, pagan, Muslim, heretic, reformer, apostate - has always been an acute threat from its inception. Uniquely among the world’s religions, Christianity has demanded unwavering acceptance of a set of doctrinal principles. Although variable from sect to sect, these principles define who is a member, who is ‘in’, who is saved, and, most crucially, who is to be considered lost, unworthy and inferior. Its purported universalism is advertised right up to the moment that a prospective convert says ‘No thank you,’ at which point he or she is eternally doomed.

Christian superiority is the central message carried by every organised Christian Church. The Church with its hierarchical structure is necessary because doctrinal faith requires an arbiter, an interpreter, of the principles to which members give obedience. The Church exists functionally to prevent dangerous contact with others who threaten the faith of members with doctrinal miscegenation. The result is a de facto religious apartheid, the effects of which can be observed from Ireland to Burma, to Ferguson, Missouri for those who have eyes to see.

In many places around the world, this spiritual apartheid has transformed easily into a racial apartheid. South Africa and the United States are the two clearest examples of the phenomenon but it is the norm everywhere. Not only are Christian sects divided rather sharply by race; those of the white Christians also have - by commission and omission - enforced the basic tenets of racism as a matter of faith and moral probity, equating the two as rationale for the other in the social attitudes. The rapid segregation of the Pentecostal movement from its mixed-race roots in California is typical. Black churches have been complicit in this through their acceptance of this fundamental distortion of spiritual life.

Racism is a perennial Christian teaching. Like liturgical customs and holiday celebrations, racism persists long after the source-doctrines are forgotten. Just as the Christian Church has taught anti-Semitism through its official teachings and its ‘off the record’ acceptance of violence and discrimination, so it has also taught the doctrines of white supremacy. Slavery was justified for almost 2000 years by the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Christian missions in Asia, South America, and Africa were part of the white man’s burden to bring true civilisation to inferior cultures. Christ, many of his adherents have contended, was not even a Jew much less a Semitic man of colour.

The Christian Religion was, and still is, considered inseparable from a smugly content bourgeois style of life which is predominantly European, white, and protective of its privileges. And, most important, Christianity, it believes, has nothing to apologise for. Any historical ‘excesses’ or mistakes were the fault not of the Church and its teachings but of individuals acting in aberrant ways. This is indeed institutional Original Sin.

It was Augustine who, in the 5th century, formulated the theological theory of Original Sin which Wallis alludes to. Augustine recognised that the character of this sin is such that it cannot be overcome by the efforts of the sinner. It is self-sealing and inescapable. A metanoia, a complete and fundamental transformation of one’s nature, is the only remedy for this condition. Such a transformation can only be experienced as a gift from elsewhere. According to Augustine, the source of this gift is God, who either grants it or he doesn’t.

On the face of it therefore, Wallis has a serious problem. There is nothing he or anyone else can do directly to promote the necessary metanoia among the Church community. It appears that a hopeful resignation is all that he can suggest. Theologically this presents an apparent ecclesiastical dead end. What rationale could there be for the church to take action other than looking to legal protection and continuing its tradition of spiritual defensiveness?

The answer depends on one’s view on a more fundamental, in fact the most fundamental, theological question: Who, what, where is this being that is casually caused ‘God’? If it is some remote transcendent Presence who governs the universe through arbitrary fiat, then there is no recourse from the Augustinian (and strict Calvinist, Jansenist Catholic and Evangelical Republican) doctrine. Racism is then merely an unintelligible fact of an inherently corrupt world. Action in that case would be an impertinence against the Divine Will.

If, however, God is imminent, that is, as the Gospel of John says, “He dwells among us,” then there is one certain location in which to find God: Other people. It is in and through other people, that is to say politics, by which Original Sin can be overcome. But this politics is not the current coercive Evangelical politics of changing laws. Such politics has nothing to do with metanoia.

The politics of spiritual transformation is demonstrative not coercive. It requires acting one’s way into another way of thinking rather than thinking one’s way into a new way of acting. Such action is not an argument or a directive, it is a demonstration of a relationship. Such a demonstration requires no explanation, no exposition; it is self-explanatory and complete in itself.

This kind of action has a single motivating principle: the superiority of the interests of the Other over one’s own interests - personal interests, congregational interests, ecclesiastical interests and even national interests. There is no way that this principle can be transformed into law since it involves a legal paradox - the superiority of the claims of others.

So take it or leave it. Continue to defend your indefensible history, and doctrines, and self-righteous claim to superiority; or allow yourselves to be transformed by those you have harmed and continue to harm. Only they can help you. James Baldwin knew this. I’m just reminding you of his wisdom and theological understanding.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,062 reviews694 followers
September 12, 2018
The following is a review of the book broken down into each section of the book.


The Foreword was written by Bryan Stevenson


The June 17, 2015 shooting at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in Charleston South Carolina occurred shortly before the manuscript for this book was scheduled for printing. Jim Wallis used this Preface as a last minute chance address the incident as an extreme example of how African Americans have reason to fear racial violence. Wallis continues in this Preface to set the tone for the rest of the book.


This Introduction provides a summary of issues to be addressed from the founding of the country based on taking land from Indians and enslavement of African American to issues of poverty, crime, and hopelessness. This section ends with a play of the biblical injunction, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The reader is informed that the book will present the truth that my cause a variety of responses. It may make some defensive, and others perhaps dishonest, bitter or angry. But if received in the correct way it can serve to make the reader a better person, and ultimately truly free.

Chapter 1. Race Is a Story

Jim Wallis shares his own personal story of being dissatisfied with his home church’s avoiding issues of racism. He tells of his experience as a teenager visiting the home of an African American friend and noticing how their understanding of the role of the police as being different from what he had been taught in a white family.
... Butch’s mom told me about the experiences all the men in her family—her father, her brothers, her husband, and her sons—had with the Detroit police. Then she said something I will never forget as long as I live. “So I tell all of my children,” she said, “if you are ever lost and can’t find your way back home, and you see a policeman, quickly duck behind a building or down a stairwell. When the policeman is gone, come out and find your own way back home.”
Wallis continues with a description of “the talk” that African Americans have with their children. Most white families have no familiarity with the term “the talk” and what it means.

Chapter 2. The Parables of Ferguson and Baltimore

In this chapter Jim Wallis takes to Trayvon Martin case in Ferguson, MO and the Freddy Gray case in Baltimore and shows how they serve as a parable of racial attitudes in the United States. Other cases of police mistreatment of blacks are discussed as well.

Chapter 3. The Original Sin and Its Legacy

The following is a quotation taken from early in this chapter:
The most controversial sentence I ever wrote was not about abortion, gay marriage, the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, elections, or anything to do with national or church politics. It was a statement about the founding of the United States. Here’s the sentence: “The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.”
Chapter 4. Repentance Means More Than Just Saying You’re Sorry

The following is a quotation taken from early in this chapter:
If the near genocide and historic oppression of America’s Native American peoples and the enslavement and debasing of African peoples for profit were both sins, how can we possible respond today? And if the consequences of those sins still linger in the many ways we have been discussing, what do we do now?
Jim Wallis proceeds from this point to answer that question.

Chapter 5. Dying to Whiteness

The following is a quotation taken from early in this chapter:
In the deepest and most honest sense, the real issue at stake in US racial history is the persistence of white privilege, which is profoundly rooted in the ideology of white supremacy.
He proceeds from this point to discuss his experience with antiracism training.

Chapter 6. A Segregated Church or a Beloved Community

The following is a quotation taken from early in this chapter:
This chapter will explore the biblical call to multiracial communities of faith, how we’re doing in regard to that call, and what practical steps can be taken to make real progress toward that wonderful but difficult goal of a beloved community.
Chapter Chapter 7. From Warriors to Guardians

The following is a quotation taken from early in this chapter:
This chapter explores the ways we can improve the way we do policing in America and ways to reform our criminal justice system. .....
“The problem comes when those who have been chosen to be our guardians behave instead like warriors or soldiers—a crucial difference.
Chapter 8. The New Jim Crow and Restorative Justice

I found this chapter to serve well as an abridged version of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. The following is a quotation from this chapter.
As a result of our profoundly unequal law enforcement system, we have seen much of the progress of the civil rights movement stalled, and in many cases rolled back, in a number of insidious ways. And the worst parts of this process have happened under the very noses of those of us who have fought for civil rights since the 1960s.
Chapter 9. Welcoming the Stranger

This chapter focuses on the expected demographic changes that will change culture and politics of the country. Issues related to immigration and the growing Latino community are discussed in particular.

Chapter 10. Crossing the Bridge to a New America

Jim Wallis recalls his experience on March 7, 2015 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama by civil rights activists of the 1960s. President Obama was there as were many who were present fifty years earlier. Excerpts from Obama’s address to the gathering are included in the book. This together with Wallis’ hope for the future provide an optimistic picture of the future. His optimism seems dated in light of the subsequent election of Trump since the book was published.


In the Afterword Jim Wallis recalls his relationship with Vincent Harding to whom this book is dedicated. They first met at Eastern Mennonite University.
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
515 reviews435 followers
September 13, 2016
This book tied me up in knots, like the question, When did you stop beating your wife?

The book is heart-felt and seems to accord well with liberal values.

Then why do I have misgivings? If it's all so right and true (and some of it may be), why must it work through guilt (if guilt even works)? He says not but I think so.

Then there's the question of whether people really do give up power voluntarily--a question I recently confronted in another review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). Likely not, I think. If you'll concede law enforcement personnel aren't high status, could lower-status white and black people be being played against each other? That would leave the powers-that-be as beneficiaries who aren't relinquishing their power.

Not so long ago it pleased those powers-that-be to uphold our caste system (and that's what I think it is: a caste system) with the police as enforcers. Now, with that notion having become unpopular, those of lower status are left holding the bag and getting sermonized. It's like sending soldiers to Viet Nam and then they're the baby killers. ...And the police were pigs. Hard to believe that has come around twice in my lifetime.

Very possibly society needs its common enemies. A group requires boundaries and definitions, in terms of who is not-us and who must be bad in order to illuminate our goodness.

By that logic, if we're going to love a previously unloved group, we'd need a substitute for our opprobrium.

But it gets so old. The author indulges in some old anti-Judaism, exhuming a work from the 1960s that defines Jesus' main challenge as racism.

I was wondering if he'd like to hold up dying to one's Christianity as he does dying to whiteness--giving up the power and historical misuses of his Christian identity--then realized that has already happened. That worldly power of the church has been circumscribed, as per Christian ethicist David Gushee said in The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Future.

What kind of book is this one? If Between the World and Me is a polemic, this one's apology. Obviously I'm not seeing it as being entirely on the level. Even in the good parts, I can't say I was really learning.

The author is exhorting us to stand up for our black brothers and sisters. And I want the injustice to stop, and the profiling and violence to stop. But wait.... Something has changed (reminiscent of the ubiquitous phone message to "listen closely as the menu options have changed"). In the middle of the last century you'd be in danger for standing up, for standing with, even for speaking up for, civil rights. (See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... .) Now it's the reverse. Today, speaking up the way Jim Wallis wants us to isn't dangerous, it's popular.

I'm hypothesizing that we can't judge this book by its cover and that it's first and foremost a public declaration of policy and position, not a moral but a political statement.

So confusing! So what I've done is to go through chapter by chapter with notes and thoughts for after I return it to the library--behind spoiler brackets for a shorter look.

What would my "white privilege" be but the privilege--the stipulation--to pass?

Profile Image for Sheryl.
62 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2016
My present-day dream dinner party guest list would now include Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, Shaka Senghor, Cornel West, Rebecca Traister and Jim Wallis. What an amazing experience that would be!
My favorite books are those that challenge me, make me uncomfortable, make me rethink things I'd always assumed to be true, and help me understand things from a new perspective. This book definitely did all of that and more. After reading "Just Mercy", "Between the World and Me", and "The New Jim Crow", this was the book I needed to add in the theological perspective on the issues of racism (America's original sin), white privilege, repentance, and the church's role in helping us cross that bridge to a new America. Wallis challenges us as white Christians to be more Christian than white, which is a rather profound statement when you stop and think about it. He also calls the church to repent of the original sin of racism and discusses the complexities of that word "repent" and what that actually involves and looks like if we are truly to repent as God calls us to do. The book not only offers statistics, stories, and challenges, but also offers tangible things we can do to help bring about the "beloved community" God calls us to be a part of in this world, through our schools, churches and sports. I am well aware of the fact that many people will disagree wholeheartedly with what this book proposes and, sadly, I know that many people who need to read this will not read it. But this book leaves me feeling hopeful about the future, about conversations that can take place, about hard work that can occur to move us forward so that we can embrace our diversity and view it as a strength in all its glorious beauty. In the words of MLK, "Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem...Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always right to do right."
Profile Image for BMR, LCSW.
649 reviews
February 20, 2016
I didn't finish it, I stopped about 25% into it. The people who should read this book never will, the people who will read it already know the info it contains...
Profile Image for Wm. A..
21 reviews
April 22, 2016
Excellent read and the need for our faith communities to become more vocal about the prejudices we support by saying or being bystanders. We need to take the mountain!
Profile Image for Robert D. Cornwall.
Author 31 books77 followers
February 22, 2016
Racism is America's original sin. Racism has been deeply embedded in the American psyche since the first European settlers stepped foot on the shores of North America. The Civil War brought an end to slavery, but not racism. The Civil Rights Movement and the legislation that it pursued put an end to most overt forms of segregation, but it did not rid us of racism. The election of the first Black President was a move forward, but it didn't end racism. Indeed, nearly fifty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. the church remains just about as segregated today as it did then.

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and Christian social activist, has written an important primer on America's original sin. In a book that is deeply personal, Wallis, who is White himself, addresses the often unaddressed problem of White privilege that hangs over our national conversation, including the conversation within the Christian community. He admits, as we who are white and male must do, that he is the beneficiary of a system that rewards those who are white and male. He grew up in Detroit, a city that has been deeply affected by racial divisions and white flight. As an adult he has spent much of his life living in communities where is the minority ethnicity. He encounters with his neighbors has influenced his life and vision. He also admits that "no matter what you do to help overcome racism, you can never escape white privilege in America if you are white" (p. xxii).

This is a challenging book, but it is also a hopeful one. It involves a confession of sin, but it also offers a vision of a bridge to a new America. The cover of the book features the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Those who crossed that bridge in the 1965 participated in one of the most pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement. That is one bridge that has been crossed, but we still bridges to build and to cross so that we can become the nation that Dr. King and others envisioned.

The book begins with the story of race, takes us to Ferguson and Baltimore. It develops the premise of original sin and its legacy. Being theological, there is also a call to repentance, which is more than saying your sorry. Moving further in Wallis talks about dying to "Whiteness." That doesn't mean we who are of European ancestry must feel guilty about our heritage, but does require that we reject the ideology of whiteness, that is the ideology of white supremacy.

An important chapter takes us into the church, which remains largely segregated -- that includes most liberal/progressive congregations. What does a truly multi-racial church look like? Getting here will require intentionality, acknowledgement that diversity isn't an end in itself, developing a spirit of inclusion, and empowering leadership that is multi-racial. This all requires a great deal of adaptability!

Any conversation about race and America cannot avoid discussion of the role of police in our country. Wallis speaks of moving from envisioning the police as warriors to guardians. Serving and protecting needs to be made a priority! It is important to affirm that both black lives and blue lives matter. All of this requires building trust within communities, and this requires moving more fully toward community policing, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. Speaking of that, we need to address what has come to be called the "New Jim Crow." The racial disparity of our prison population must be addressed. Much of the problem is rooted in America's drug policies, which affect African American communities much more than other communities. Along with recognizing the disparities in our laws, Wallis encourages a move toward restorative justice, so that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to repair harm.

It's not just the African American community that faces the impact of original sin. Immigrant communities do so as well. Immigration policy today has become very politicized, and peoples lives are at stake. The system is broken, but there is no political will, despite the fact that both the Roman Catholic Church and evangelicals have been calling for reform. There is, of course, fear in the land that "those people" will come and take over. White America feels threatened. The response isn't pretty. It's also not very Christian.

Racism is our original sin. It affects everything that occurs in our nation. But it need not have the final word. We can build a new bridge. We can cross the bridge to that new America Jim Wallis envisions. We must do so because the demographic shift is leading quickly to a multi-racial country. So will we adapt and embrace the other, or will we dig in our heals. Wallis suggests the former, and I agree.

I believe this is more than an important book. It is an essential book to read. It is important that those who, like me, are white hear from one who is also white calling on us to repent. Repentance is not easy. We prefer a cheap grace that requires nothing of us, but that is not what Wallis offers. So, let us read and consider what it will take to cross the bridge.
Profile Image for Sharon :).
338 reviews32 followers
July 30, 2020
Enlightening read! Highly recommended for Christians who want to roll up their sleeves and help make real change.
Profile Image for Steven Tryon.
251 reviews
February 9, 2016
A call to action and a message of hope. If you are white, this book was written for you. If not, read it anyway.
Profile Image for Billy.
2 reviews2 followers
May 8, 2017
Terrible book. What could have been an opportunity to truly use biblical truths when dealing with racism turned into what felt like another CNN or NYT article on why white people are bad and everyone else is good. This was literally a struggle to read.
Profile Image for Bob.
1,810 reviews615 followers
December 8, 2016
Summary: Explores our nation's deeply ingrained history of racism and particularly the challenges facing white Christians in bridging these racial divides.

"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."

The author of this book contends that this sentence, in a 1987 issue of Sojourners, was the most controversial sentence he ever wrote. The controversy behind that statement supports the thesis of this book, that racism is America's "original sin," a part of our beginnings as a nation that we have wrestled with throughout our national existence, but never truly repented of.

Wallis begins with his own story of growing up in Detroit and working with Butch, a black man who opened his eyes to two very different Detroits and two different realities--for example "the talk" that all black parents have with their children when they learn to drive that white parents do not have with theirs. This concerns how to act if stopped by the police, where to put one's hands and so forth. He considers Ferguson, and Baltimore, two cities riven with turmoil after police-involved shootings of black men as parables revealing the racial fault lines in the American story. He then reviews our past history and current demographics and events to show that our attitudes around race are indeed our national "original sin" that only profound repentance can heal.

The next chapters explore the nature of true, rather than superficial, repentance, and that this means for the white community to which he writes a "dying" to our whiteness as we recognize the "white privilege" we have enjoyed. I suspect that for many this may be some of the most controversial material. I find this language uncomfortable. I grew up in a working class neighborhood and didn't feel terribly "privileged" compared to more affluent people in the suburbs ringing my city. It was not until later years that I understood blacks had been red-lined out of our area of the city and I had the benefit of attending one of the best city schools with over 95 percent of the students being white. I began to realize the privilege that I had enjoyed in a racialized society. It also separated me from blacks in my city, made them an "other" who were treated differently in retail establishments, by the police and more. Real repentance means, even though I didn't choose this "privilege," to acknowledge that I have benefited from a sinful division of people, to not hold onto or idolize "whiteness" and to begin to intentionally seek a very different future.

The place, Wallis contends, where we begin, is the church, still a highly segregated entity. It means listening to different ethnic voices, and submitting to leadership from ethnicity other than one's own. Another important place to begin is in the policing of our communities, where police move from being warriors to guardians and where police become integral part of the communities they protect and serve so that both they and their communities affirm both that black lives matter and that blue lives matter. It begins with advocating for restorative justice rather than a new form of Jim Crow justice with differential incarceration rates for the same crimes depending on one's race.

Dealing with the sin of race extends to our immigration policies. Until our recent election cycle, there was a growing conversation in the evangelical community supporting immigration reform. Reading this post-election seemed like reading from a different world. Even the chapter title, "Welcoming the Stranger" seems foreign. Wallis then concludes the book talking about "crossing the bridge to a new America." One of the most compelling passages for me was the interaction Wallis had with a group of fifth graders in a Washington, DC public school, who asked Wallis why Congress seemed afraid to change the immigration system. He writes:

"I paused to consider their honest question and looked around the room--the classroom of a public school fifth-grade class in Washington DC. I looked at their quizzical and concerned faces, a group of African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and European American children. Then it hit me.

'They are afraid of you,' I replied

'Why would they be afraid of us?' the shocked students asked, totally perplexed. I had to tell them.

'They are afraid you are the future of America. They're afraid their country will someday look like this class--that you represent what our nation is becoming.'"

Re-reading this passage, I think of a Sunday School song I grew up with, admittedly one that indulged in some stereotypes about skin color for which I apologize, and yet that represented the underlying gospel values of my white evangelical congregation:

"Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Wallis's quote challenged me with the reality of whether we will love all the children of the world that God is gathering in our country, or fear them. Will we see that fifth-grade classroom as the realization of our deep gospel values, and strive for churches that reflect this in our love and our life. Or will we remain racially separate, hiding behind walls of fear, saying that it is OK for Jesus to love these children as long as they are somewhere else in the world.

Wallis contends we stand at the approach to a bridge between the racist America of the past and a different America that values "all the children of the world" in our midst. His book is an invitation for white evangelical America to walk the way of repentance and cross that bridge rather than walk away from it. I'm reminded that God does not forbear forever. If we miss this chance, dare we presume there will be another?
Profile Image for Allison.
Author 1 book76 followers
June 19, 2016
Do white Christians play a role in perpetuating racism in America and, if so, what can be done about it? These are the questions Jim Wallis explores in his latest book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. In it, he explains why racism is incompatible with Christianity and that it’s time for white Christians to work to end racism in America. It’s clear in the first few pages that this is not a book about a post-racial society because we don’t live in a post-racial society, with Bryan Stevenson pointing out in the foreword that “Slavery didn’t end in 1965 – it just evolved.” And so begins a story of racism in America, how Christianity plays its part in perpetuating it, and why “it’s time for white Christians to be more Christian than white.”

America’s Original Sin is part narrative non-fiction, part social commentary. The book is organized around Wallis’ own thoughts but his use of Bible verses and statistics raises it above the level of pure opinion. Where Wallis really excels is in his ability to write about such a heavy topic in an approachable way. Although it was published by a Christian press and is about Christianity, it is not a book solely for the religious. In fact, it’s as much for non-churchgoers as it is for churchgoers, and many of the calls to action can be broadly applied.

It’s also not a criticism of Christianity, but rather a criticism of how the Bible is sometimes used to exclude and divide, whether explicitly or implicitly, when it should be used to include and unite. The book is organized around three central themes: racism’s incompatibility with the Bible, repentance, and change, which are discussed below. These are only a few of the issues raised in the book, so if you’re worried that reading the discussions will give away too much, don’t. America’s Original Sin offers a sweeping commentary on everything from Wallis’ own experiences to those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown to immigration issues. Religious readers will likely be more impacted by the Bible verses than the non-religious, but Wallis’ calls to action can resonate with anyone. 

For the full review, visit The Book Wheel.
Profile Image for Byron Fike.
Author 2 books4 followers
February 10, 2017
This book was a real eye-opener for me. Terms such as "white privilege" have always caused me to have a knee jerk, negative reaction. Wallis helped me to see what that term really means and how racial injustice is a continuing plague in our nation. The book is well researched and well written. I especially benefitted from his chapter, "A Segregated Church or a Beloved Community?". There is much about inequality that I feel powerless to change, however, in this area I believe I can make some meaningful contributions. The beginning place is to listen. That is where I begin. This book would be a great starting point for anyone seeking to do the same.
41 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2016
Good read. Ordinarily I would not have read this book due to its religious overtones; however a friend invited me to attend a book club that was discussing the book and the subject matter included an interest we had in common. We all know we are on the cusp of becoming a minority majority country and this book provides a good roadmap for people, especially White people come to grips with the situation and join the movement to make our society a more just society.
Profile Image for Julianna.
Author 5 books1,306 followers
September 8, 2016
Reviewed for THC Reviews
I’ve been following Jim Wallis for a number of years now, mostly through his work with the religious organization, Sojourners. He’s been an inspiring figure to me who has helped me to see my own faith in a different way. Years ago, I picked up his book God’s Politics, although I admittedly never finished it due to not having a lot of time to read back then. When I saw this new book had just been released, I was eager to read it. I’m intrigued by social issues and with the deaths of a number of African Americans at the hands of police topping news stories of late, I felt that it was a very timely subject to explore. As fate would have it, my church book club agreed, and so America's Original Sin became our latest group read.

Some of the other group members expressed that it wasn’t the easiest read and could be a little slow at times. They seemed to feel that a more personal narrative might have helped to give it more flavor, and while I agree on some level, I still very much liked the book and found it to be quite thought-provoking. The title and premise of the book is rooted in the following statement that Jim Wallis made in a Sojourners magazine article back in 1987: “The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.” He said it was the most controversial statement he’s ever made and I can understand to some extent why it was so provocative. At the same time, though, it’s a nearly impossible statement to refute for anyone who genuinely understands history. And of course, this is what Rev. Wallis posits is America's original sin.

I liked how he made racism a faith issue and one in which more churches and religious institutions need to become involved and help eradicate. After all, if we really mean it when we say that we’re all children of God, equal in His eyes, then we need to put that faith into action. One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quotes is: “I am [ashamed] and appalled that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” And that sadly is true. Granted Rev. Wallis discusses how some faith communities are becoming more multi-cultural and statistics show that across the country there has been improvements in church integration, but by and large, churches are still pretty segregated. I know this, because the churches of which I’ve been a part throughout my lifetime have been predominantly white with very few, if any, minorities involved. More than fifty years after the civil rights movement, I find that very sad indeed.

Some readers might be tempted to pass this book by, thinking, “I’m not racist, so I don’t need this.” And that’s where they would be wrong. Social science has proven that we all carry intrinsic biases. Some explicit biases we can see played out in the news with acts of violence, ugly words, and other overt forms of racial discrimination. Then there are implicit biases that all of us have. We may not take issue with those of another race, but how many of us avoid certain areas of town or cross the street to avoid someone we perceive as unsafe due to their skin being a different color. These biases may be subconsciously performed and not readily apparent to us as racism, but we need to be aware that they exist, if we’re to overcome our prejudices. As Rev. Wallis suggests, we are more likely to achieve that with intentional exposure to the people we perceive as “different” or “other.” And intentional means just that, not merely waiting or hoping to interact with those people through work, church or other public spaces, because that simply isn’t going to happen organically, at least not to the degree we need in order to achieve true integration.

The author presents what I felt was a common sense approach to overcoming all the discriminatory problems that lead to more intense racial conflicts. It involves some of that intentional integration of which I was talking in many areas of our lives: our churches, sports, and schools, as well as geographic integration that brings us together with our neighbors from other races. He also supports comprehensive immigration reform as well as comprehensive policing and criminal justice reforms. When persons of color are dying at the hands of police at a much higher rate than whites, we have a problem. When rates of drug use and trafficking are pretty equal across the racial divide, but the majority of those locked up for these offenses are persons of color, there is yet another problems that needs attention. We also need to listen to and believe the stories of those who are experiencing the worst of the prejudice and racial inequalities, because it is through putting a human face on this suffering that we will truly be able to empathize.

Rev. Wallis covered a lot of ground in this book and it’s overall message is one that I feel more people need to take to heart. But one of the strongest messages I took away from it is that for people of faith, racism is a sin of which we need to repent – even if we don’t consider ourselves racist – in order to move forward into a better tomorrow. The author cited many Biblical passages that show that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. Even if you aren’t a person of faith, our country’s Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal” as well. But until Caucasian Americans die to our notions of white privilege, we can’t truly be one with our brothers and sisters of color. I hope that many readers will pick up this book with an open mind and heart, ready to take a hard look at themselves and what they might be doing to perpetuate racial inequality, be inspired to make changes that will help others, and then cross that bridge to a new, better, and more integrated America.

Note: This book contains one instance of the use of the derogatory “n” word for African Americans in a direct quote from a racist individual, which may offend some readers.
Profile Image for Ann.
334 reviews
February 11, 2019
This is not an easy book to read but it is a vitally important text to process. I so appreciate the author’s voice and his effort to discuss racism and white privilege through a lens of faith, theology and social justice. All people of faith should read this book to truly find answers and direction in an effort to help us as a country face the original sin of racism if we ever want to really be the UNITED States of America. Jim Wallace is also a beautiful writer and I thank him for capturing the beauty and ugliness of our county and humanity so well.
Profile Image for Lene Jaqua.
42 reviews6 followers
June 22, 2016
This is a tough one to review. Seriously, it is so political that no matter what I say, someone is bound to be offended.

So let me say this, that the author's aim seems to be to get Evangelicals to wake up, realize that by 2045, whites will no longer be a majority in the US, to get used to that and to build bridges for race relations that usher in the second half of this century in a way that benefits all that live in America.

How he does it, and the philosophical foundation he justifies his methods by --- some of you will love it, others will abhor it.

I finished it for two reasons
1. I am plain stubborn and finish most things I start
2. I want to learn.I am desperately white and most of my friends are too. I have a few friends who are not white, but not many. I follow the news and occasionally see race riots around the US. I believe people do not riot for no reason, and I don't believe any one race to be inferior or more prone to crime and immorality than any other race. What other explanations are there? This author offers statistics for crime, arrests, sentencing, for different races and frankly it is difficult to read about and not wonder if the system is perhaps not totally working for some of these minority groups. The author discusses immigration(broken system) and other issues related to America's minority groups.I would challenge any Christian to finish this book and hear this man out to the end, even if you have to slug through parts you do not agree with. Why? Because most of us don't live with or have very much exposure to minorities.here is a man who has dedicated his life to living in inner cities (with wife and kids) to understand these human beings and perhaps help be part of a solution to America's continued 'segretation' --- some of which occurs on Sunday morning, one of the most segregated times of the week.

It's worth a read and a discussion with others after you finish the read.

Profile Image for Josh Peters.
8 reviews
April 17, 2021
A lot of the content we hear when it comes to issues of racial justice in America starts to sound similar. We hear a lot of the same tag lines, statistics, morals, etc. I assume that people reading this review can find commonly shared statements on racial justice on their own, and draw a few things out that, to be honest, I’ve not heard very often outside of this excellent work.

White individuals are not the problem.

We need to understand that white individuals are not the criminals we refer to. We refer to communities when we deal with racial justice, and although white people so often feel they are being incriminated, they need to understand we don’t refer to them individually.

White individuals don’t have to be criminals to be inspired to change the world.

So often write people give excuses for not being involved, a common one being that their family is very new in America and so they had no part in instituting the racist structures people address. But they need to acknowledge that they as whites people have an unfair and unjust advantage being in those structures, and that is reason enough to want to challenge them.

The church is increasing in its diversity.

I knew that demographically, America was diversifying. What I did not realize was that the church is too. I’m critical of the dying church in America, but perhaps though the white church is obviously shrinking, maybe the church isn’t shrinking, it’s just shifting into a more diverse makeup, which I think is really hopeful.

We solve things through mixed conversations.

And like, duh. But I think often of actions, not conversations, and they are really important.

An excellent work, and I highly recommend!
Profile Image for Lorraine Wronski.
19 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2016
I should start out with a disclaimer that I have mixed feelings about Jim Wallis...he's a bit too conservative for my taste...but he does some good work in this book. As someone who has wrestled with these issues for many years now. some of what he shares was a little bit basic for my taste; however, it would be a good introduction for people (especially white folks) who are new to the concept of the systemic and institutional nature of racism.

Wallis is annoyingly self-congratulatory at times, and it breaks my heart that the injustices in our prison system are more of a focus than the injustices in our school system...because the former is a direct result of the latter.

Chapter 8 is basically a rehashing of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, and readers would do well to simply read her book directly.

Overall, this book serves a purpose, but it is definitely more of a "Racism 101" read than a deep dive into the depth of these issues.
Profile Image for Emily.
325 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2016
The greatest strengths of this book were its hopeful tone and the amount of data it compiled into one place. The data is convicting, and Wallis makes healing and progress seem possible if we all get on board. But sometimes I felt like things were repeated a few too many times in order to make the book long enough to actually be a book. I certainly learned a lot and have a lot to ponder now.
Profile Image for Kerry.
260 reviews1 follower
December 1, 2016
Some really good stuff here, very in-line with the sentiments of others things that I have been reading...books and news articles. A few reminders and reinforcements for changes I would like to make personally. I would also like to discuss this with some of the folks at church and see how we can move into conversation and listening with others as a congregation.
Profile Image for Margaret D'Anieri.
291 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2017
It's a good primer, and a bit of a slog to read - but if you're only going to read one book on race in America this covers the ground for the most part. The chapter on "whiteness" is particularly good. Wallis tends to be too self-referential for me - but maybe you need that kind of ego to do the work he's done in his life.
Profile Image for Georgia Gietzen.
29 reviews2 followers
December 1, 2020
This was, for me an excellent read. Perhaps more relevant today than its original 2016 publication. I grew up in a house where my father, a devout Catholic, left the church in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement due to his disenchantment with the lack of church leaders involvement in racial unrest. To him there was a huge conflict between the churches teaching and their inability to call out racism and become part of the movement towards racial equity. How can you preach “love all”, then sit by while your congregation does not practice that biblical teaching. Jim Wallis expresses that on page 3 when he shares what a white church elder said to him as a young boy questioning this very thing - “Christianity has nothing to do with racism; that’s political, and our faith is personal.” That sentiment set Jim Wallis on a new course away from his white church, and also is what drove my dad away so many years ago. My dad just passed away in early October 2020 at age 88. He was an outspoken critic his whole life of racial and social inequity. Exactly what Jim Wallis articulates throughout this book is what drove my dad his entire business and personal life. This book gave me greater clarity at 63 of how my dad felt and thought. I felt him speaking to me through the words of Jim Wallis. I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the relationship between organized religion and racism, what we as a combined body of Christians (black, brown and white) can do to move forward the ongoing struggles between “humans”, and many actionable steps we can take towards “repentance and reconciliation”. Our churches across the country ... should be at the forefront, not the background of bringing their communities together. Just as my dad felt in the 1960’s.
September 15, 2020
Jim Wallis presents a phenomenal understanding of racism in American and how much of a problem it really is. I learned a lot about how differently African-Americans are raised and taught versus the way I was raised and taught as a white American. It was eye-opening to learn about the discrimination that African-Americans face on a daily basis. This book showed me how much prayer is needed for our nation, and I would recommend for those wishing to do some Christian research on the subject of racism.
Another thing this book addresses is the problem that immigrants face, and how messed up the immigration system really is in America. This is not just a book on racism(though that is the main content of most chapters), it also gives a nod to other minorities struggling to take their place at the table of America. A great tool for studying racism through a Christian worldview.
Profile Image for Sara.
182 reviews4 followers
February 1, 2021
Published in 2016, this book was clearly written in the few years before that. Yet, the message remains quite relevant, especially for Christians. Wallis’ overarching call to step forward into a new multiracial America is needed now as much as ever.
Profile Image for Adam Starks.
Author 5 books15 followers
November 9, 2016
Jim Wallis’ courageous work addresses America’s original sins and how the past still echoes through today in the form of mass incarceration and broken immigration policies among other issues. From the perspective of a devout Christian, Wallis convincingly pleads his case to walk across the bridge to a new, increasingly diverse America. His compelling viewpoint highlighting that "we are all children of God" exemplifies the need to unite as one to achieve a more prosperous and just nation for citizens from all walks of life.

My only heartache with the book is that the term “white privilege” doesn’t resonates with a large swath of the white community. As they continue to see themselves as disadvantaged to the changes taking place around them, the challenge becomes how to bring them to the table before mass violence erupts. Recently emboldened by extreme right-wing political rhetoric and amassing weapons at an alarming rate over the past decade only confirms that Christian leaders must reach out to these misguided souls sooner than later.

The sect of the Black Lives Matter movement who refuse to allow anyone beyond the black community into their discussions would greatly benefit from reading this book. Any reputable movement pertaining to civil rights understands the importance of welcoming prospective supporters into their circle(s). This book would also benefit evangelicals in search of a more compassionate faith walk. The examples he produced effectively displaying how to live out Christ’s philosophy is nothing short of remarkable. It would behoove the entire Christian community to join forces to address the challenges brought forth in Wallis’ book if they intend to remain relevant in the future.
Profile Image for Joanne.
2,526 reviews
December 13, 2018
Wallis provides an overview of white supremacy. The first three chapters are fairly redundant for anyone who's been paying attention (e.g., Ferguson, Trayvon Martin). The book gets stronger in chapters 4-5 as he calls out the Christian church to repent of our role in maintaining white supremacy. Chapter 7 has some useful steps towards restorative justice, and chapter 8 has even more concrete steps.

Otherwise, the book seems to be a lot of recap of "I had the privilege of being at X" -- a critique I've had of other Wallis books, where his ego seems to be a little large. There's also some outdated "inner-city" language. And although I agree with his advice to listen to people of color and their experiences, he also advises that white people ask their Black friends about their experiences, which seems a little like asking people of color to educate whites instead of asking whites to take responsibility and educate ourselves.

He tries to make a connection between the Pettis bridge and the bridge-building the church needs to do, but it's pretty abstract. So: a mixed bag here. Glad he's using the moral force of Sojourners to speak, but the content seems like old ground which is better trod by people he cites (e.g., Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Bryan Stevenson.)
Profile Image for AJourneyWithoutMap.
791 reviews73 followers
January 17, 2016
America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis, president of the Christian social justice group Sojourners, is not just about Christian living but a book that will raise the heckle of quite some as the social issues he raised in it are quite shocking, and may not go down well with many. Though a man not prone to making controversial remarks, the Reverend Jim Wallis stated that America as a nation was founded by the near genocide of one people and the kidnapping of another people to build this nation. That’s got to be one of the most controversial remarks one has heard in recent years.

Insightful, raw and honest, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America is a book addressed largely to a White audience, and discusses urgent actions that need to be adopted if America is to overcome racial and criminal injustice. These are subject close to the heart of author Jim Wallis, who through Sojourners relentlessly propagated ideals worthy of a true Christian. And in this well-written and thought-provoking book of ten chapters, he has made an attempt to write about America’s original sin of racism, and address issues concerning it.
45 reviews
June 15, 2016
"Can we find our way to a genuinely diverse society, racially and culturally, where diversity is seen as a strength rather than as a threat?" (page 189)

This question captures my hope for this book ...that it might play a role in helping to move our society forward in important ways. By the time my son is the age I've now reached, it is expected that America will be nation of minorities, with no single racial group representing a majority. God willing, between now and then, we'll be able to accomplish much needed reconciliation between communities of people that have normally lived separately from one another. Those who desire to be a part of this work of transformation would be well served to take time with Jim Wallis' important contribution to the conversation.

While I started reading this book some time ago, I've read most of it during the last two weeks. The recent slaughter of 49 members of the LGBTQ community at a dance club in Orlando demonstrates that we have a long ways to go in building a diverse society such as the author envisions. Jim Wallis offers us an analysis of our current reality and practical steps for the journey forward. My thanks to him!
Profile Image for V Massaglia.
312 reviews3 followers
July 29, 2017
I think this book is well-written, passionate, and provides arguments that we are better together and must address this issue now, with a sense of urgency. He takes a sincere faith-based approach to his thesis and offers many proposed solutions to tackle this very systemic and terrible issue. Sadly, I agree with one of the comments written below that people who need to read this book won't.

I also found this study guide that's filled with video, articles, and more: http://americasoriginalsin.com/wp-con...

For those who found this book interesting may want to check out "The White Racial Frame" by Joe Feagin.

We are indeed better together. Let's fix this now.

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