As one Christian to another, I urge you to branch out in your reading. Amos talked about the kind of people God wanted to destroy over and over again. It’s not the run-of-the-mill sinners, either. It’s the ones who ignore social justice and take advantage of the poor (Amos 3:10). If we want to fulfill Christ’s mandate to love, we need to get to know the poor, the helpless, and the oppressed. Maybe they live next door. Maybe they look a lot like someone you know.
Not Your Grandfather’s Book List
No. This isn’t a holier-than-thou post claiming that your spiritual life will improve if you read ten treatises by famous theologians. Not at all. In fact, I would venture a guess that as Christians we spend far too much time reading theological treatises and not enough time following the advice in the Bible. Advice that comes straight from the mouth of Jesus, who said things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
No, we Christians do a great job of studying, journaling about, reading, retelling, and analyzing the Bible and what it might mean. But we often fall short on the practical application. It has taken me years to figure this out. Heart action doesn’t necessarily follow in head knowledge’s footsteps.
I just finished reading the book of Amos, and time and time again God calls out his people for their treatment of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. Growing up in a vanilla cocoon, I didn’t have any real contact with people from other races until my senior year in high school.
My fortieth high-school reunion looms closer than my thirtieth, and in the intervening years, I’ve broadened my horizons past my comfortable cocoon. These books have helped me see that claiming the name of Christ doesn’t give me an excuse to stop learning and expanding.
What Does God Require of Christians?
Jesus doesn’t ask us to settle in and institutionalize our beliefs. He asks us to step out in faith and take his LOVE to a hurting world. But if I don’t take the time to get to know that world, how can I share his love with it?
That’s why this list won’t look anything like you may have expected. These books have broadened my horizons, changed my perspectives, and made me really think about what it means to love my neighbor as myself. Hint, it has a lot to do with social justice.
First of all, we need to love ourselves because God loves us. Once we have healthy self-love, we can start loving the rest of the world. For me, healthy self-love means I get my identity from Christ. I don’t have to compare myself to the rest of the world, nor do I have to conform to the world.If I don't take the time to get to know the world, how can I share God's love with it in authentic ways? #Christian #prejudice #racism #amreading Click To Tweet
Massacre at Sand Creek: How Methodists Were Involved in an American Tragedy
Gary L. Roberts. Abingdon Press. 2016. 320 pages.
Not only does this book have a powerful introduction that helps readers understand the fallacies behind colonialism, but it also helps the reader understand how godly people do ungodly things when they cling to their erroneous beliefs.
The Methodist Church in the United States commissioned the study and book as part of its apology to the Native Americans and the ancestors of those massacred at Sand Creek.
Imagine what would happen if all Christians adopted this spirit of humility and sought to make restitution for our wrongs. A true example that seeking social justice can happen years, decades, or centuries after an event. It’s never too late to right a wrong.
Black Like Me
John Howard Griffin. Berkley, 2010 (reprint). 208 pages
A white journalist darkens his skin and travels through the segregated South during the 1950s. What he experiences shocks and humbles him.
I used to read this book out loud to my high school students (mostly white, privileged kids from middle-class homes). The story made them uncomfortable, but it made them think about the fact that not everyone has the same easy life that they have.
We talk about walking in someone else’s shoes, but very few actually do it. What would happen if we set aside our preconceptions and did a bit more walking around in other people’s shoes? Would we seek social justice for others more often?
The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History
Gary L. Roberts. Abingdon Press. 2016. 320 pages.
Did you know that a mere hundred years ago the U.S. Government offered bounties to whites who brought the scalps of dead Native Americans to the local government office? You could make money by killing Apaches. It wasn’t the first time in our nation’s history that this happened, either.
And did you know that yelling, “Geronimo!” as you jump down from a height to surprise someone probably insults the memory of a good man who only wanted to defend his people?
This book will make you rethink everything you know about the West. It balances the viewpoints of everyone involved (as far as possible from historical records). You’ll have a new appreciation for the few people who sought social justice for Native Americans during this time period. You’ll also understand the importance of taking time to really get to know a group of people before you set out to help them.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Gilbert King, Harper Collins, 2012, 453 pages.
I listened to this book while driving (my favorite way to ‘read’ history books). What I heard sobered and shocked me. I’ve known about discrimination in the South, I even lived in the South for four years as a child. But I had no idea of the depravity of some people.
The author skillfully weaves the stories of black men accused of rape with the career of Thurgood Marshall, who became a Supreme Court Justice after the events in this book.
While the past has passed, my theory that the more we know about what happened in the past the more we will understand the present holds true. Generational trauma is alive and well and affecting entire populations of oppressed (past or present) peoples. As you read, think about what YOU can do to bring about social justice to marginalized people today.
Bonehoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas. Thomas Nelson. 2011, 601 pages.
Don’t let the length frighten you. It reads like a novel, yet you’ll want to savor every page. I read this on my Kindle, and had no idea it was so long!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands out as one of the few Christians in Germany who spoke out against Hitler and the Nazi party. You’ll learn a lot about the church in Germany (and why most Christians did nothing to stop Hitler).
Bonhoeffer’s dedication to social justice inspires readers to think about what injustices they can work towards changing in today’s world. Who will you stand for, and what price would you willingly pay?
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
Heather Ann Thompson. Random House, 2016. 752 pages.
In talking to his disciples about who will be saved, Jesus lists the characteristics of those who enter the kingdom of Heaven, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36).
Frankly, I’ve never visited anyone in prison, nor have I ever felt this mandate included me. I’d rather feed the hungry. But Jesus doesn’t say we can do one or the other—he wants us to step outside our comfort zone and help everyone, everywhere.
Before reading this book, I had a vague knowledge of the Attica Prison Uprising. The book opened my eyes to some of the grave (and ongoing) problems with our criminal justice system. I couldn’t help but ask myself how I needed to change my attitudes and rethink my rhetoric concerning imprisoned people.
Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann. Vintage. 2017. 347 pages
While this story takes place almost a hundred years ago in just one of the states in the United States, it represents a microcosm of attitudes and beliefs that a wider population shared (and shares) about Native Americans and their worth as human beings.
This true-crime story will chill you to your bones and make you weep at man’s inhumanity to man.
My class and I read this book together last spring. We spent a lot of time talking about social justice and generational trauma. Each of my students (Native Americans) suffers to some extent from the atrocities perpetuated against them. As you read this book, imagine the family members and descendants of main characters. Imagine how the events would affect you if they happened to YOUR family.
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life
Susan David, PhD. Avery, 2016. 281 pages.
You may wonder how a psychology book got mixed up in the list of 11 books every Christian should read.
David has advice that all of us need for dealing with people who are not just like us. She calls us to examine our narratives and to reject the stories that no longer hold true in our lives. When we do this, we learn emotional agility. And we no longer fall apart every time we come up against someone who thinks differently from us.
While the author never states her religious credentials, her overall message reads like the Gospels: Love. Approach others with curiosity and kindness. Quit judging.
This quick read will give you practical tips for changing the way you look at yourself and other people.
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Beacon Press. 2014. 314 pages.
All too often we digest what our history books tell us without really thinking about WHO tells the story and WHY they tell it the way they tell it.
As a history major, even I fell hook, line, and sinker for the narrative that textbooks fed me. Unfortunately, my professors did, too.
I read and reviewed a book on the exploration of the Columbia River for a history class. The professor gave me a bad grade on my paper because the narrative of the book disagreed with the standard textbook narrative. Not everything in your history textbook is wrong, but many times vital information gets left out.
This book, written from the Native American (or indigenous) perspective, uncovers valuable information that textbooks leave out. What if everything you thought you knew about the colonization and settlement of the United States is wrong? The author also has a young reader’s edition.
Lies My Teacher Told Me—Young Reader’s Edition: Everything American History Textbooks Get Wrong
James W. Loewen. The New Press. 2019. 256 pages
A beautiful companion to An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, this book busts American myths and takes a new look at what really happened. In addition, it presents the reasons behind why textbook authors choose the narrative they choose to include in textbooks.
While some people may cry ‘revisionist history,’ we have a responsibility to investigate things for ourselves and not just blindly believe what textbooks tell us. That’s called informed consumerism. We need to ask who gets left out and why does it matter that they didn’t make it into the textbooks.
Imagine if one of the Gospels were written by someone who hated Christ? The story would look completely different from the ones we find in the Bible. Textbook compilers have agendas, too.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Mildred D. Taylor. Puffin Books. 1991, 2004. 276 pages.
One of the first books I read that made me rethink everything I thought I knew. Fiction acts as a powerful teacher, especially if well-written and gripping.
A young Black girl living in the South in the 30s struggles with the injustices she faces on a daily basis. She longs to stand up for people in her community, but the consequences could prove deadly.
Fourth-graders on up will enjoy the story, and parents and teachers will find a wealth of discussion topics about race, prejudice, religion, and human kindness within its pages.
What’s Your Favorite Book About Social Justice?
I’d love to hear what books have changed your perspective on an issue of social justice, past or present.