Crossing the Divide by Owen Hylton
Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009
Reviewer: Rev. Wale Hudson Roberts
Crossing the Divide is an excellent resource for pastors and churches. The book encourages its readers to take cultural diversity seriously and to reflect on the complexity of racism. Because Owen believes that racism is present in many institutions he seeks to provide churches with tools to address the issue. For example, the helpful inclusion of a set of practical questions at the end of each chapter may prove helpful in facilitating conversations around the effects of racism, perhaps even persuading some churches to begin to build culturally inclusive communities. This set of questions adds substance to the book.
I have read many books on racism, but Owen‘s is among the most insightful. This is not simply due to the personal stories that Owen uses to reinforce his position, but the refreshing honesty with which he writes. Owen does not pull his punches. He challenges racist behaviour and is not afraid to call it sin.
This is also a theologically stimulating read. The chapters on the theology of forgiveness and reconciliation make for uncomfortable reading. Those who have experienced racism may find these themes difficult to come to terms with. Owen develops theological reasons, however, and explains why victims of racism are called to forgive. The author maintains that forgiveness and reconciliation lead to healing for those communities and individuals shattered by racism. Yet there is no ground breaking theological discourse in these chapters, no new emphasis, as it were, but there is a challenge to go deeper into the God who calls even the most wounded to forgive and be finally reconciled with their oppressor.
Another theme that Owen reflects upon is the use of the term ‘colour blind.’ Subscribers to this idea are persuaded by the supposed merits of this thought, which involves the ‘ability’ to look beyond a persons colour and ethnicity into the person’s heart. Owen argues that cultural diversity is strengthened when a person’s colour is recognised and affirmed. Owen reinforces his position with personal stories that confirm his conviction. There are many Christians who pride themselves in not ‘seeing’ a person’s colour but Owen regards this as a weakness, not strength to celebrate. According to James Cone, to be unaware of a person’s colour is to begin the process of shaping and creating the person in one’s own image. On the other hand, to see and appreciate an individual’s colour is to applaud the creator God who made all people in His image.
There are weaknesses alongside the strengths in Owen’s book. For example, there are times when Owen is too ambitious and blinds his audience with too much information. In addition, the title needs to include the word ‘race’ so that potential book buyers are fully aware that this is a book about the racial divide and no other divide.
Issues of race are not easy to write about. However, Owen successfully integrates problematic concepts to create a book that is challenging in places, thoroughly Biblical, accessible throughout and not least rooted in the local church.
As a pastor I would encourage as many people as possible to read Crossing the Cultural Divide.