The Coming Race Wars – William Pannell

The Coming Race Wars: A Cry for Justice, from Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter by William Pannell
Published by IVP on June 1, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Racial Reconciliation
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In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Fuller Seminary theologian William Pannell decried the then-popular sentiment among white evangelicals that racism was no longer an urgent matter. In The Coming Race Wars? he meticulously unpacked reasons why our nation--and the church--needed to come to terms with our complicity in America's racial transgressions before we face a more dire reckoning. With his blunt assessment of our social condition, Pannell's 1993 book sparked controversy. Critics dismissed him as alarmist. Back then, Pannell was among a scant number of Black evangelical leaders who called the evangelical church to account on issues of racial justice. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words are as timely as ever. Some would even argue that the "race war" has arrived. In The Coming Race Wars: A Cry for Justice, from Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter, Pannell revisits his provocative message with an expanded edition that connects its message to current events. With a new introduction by bestselling historian Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise) and a new afterword by Pannell, this compelling, heartfelt plea to the church will help today's readers take a deeper look at the complexities of institutional racism and the unjust systems that continue to confound us. Both pastoral and prophetic, Pannell doesn't hold back in truth-telling nor in his expression of deep love for the church. This new edition of The Coming Race Wars will inspire you to open your eyes wider, discover a more holistic view of Christ's gospel, and become an active participant in addressing America's racial injustices.

The Coming Race Wars was first published in 1993. It is an indictment on the United States of America that it can be republished nearly thirty years later with minimal adaptation. In many ways, we’ve come a long way. But in many others, we remain with the same injustices we always have. The 1993 edition was written by William Pannell in the wake of the Los Angeles riots that followed the brutal beating of Rodney King by the police. The 2021 edition comes after a year of global protest following the murder of George Floyd—again by the police. And the names that I could place in between those two would fill the page. The first edition of The Coming Race Wars ended its title with a question mark. Pannell was asking “Will this lead to war?” Twenty-eight years later, the new edition removes the question mark. Enough said.

Since Pannell’s book is mostly unedited from its original form, there is a sense of history when reading the book. Pannell writes from the culture of the early 1990s—a much different time in many ways from the 2020s. That fact stands as the starkest of contrasts and comparisons throughout the book. At times, you fully understand that you’re reading a period piece whether that’s from simple culture references or the authors he cites and political figures he mentions. There’s immense value in hearing this history and its interpretation from an “eyewitness” perspective, rather than from a “historical” perspective.

Pannell expertly takes his readers through the politics of race and class, he details America’s history of racism and violence against minorities, Black people especially. He criticizes the Republican Party and its leaders: “Republicans haven’t spoken to Black people since Abe Lincoln. They do, however, speak about Black people.” He accurately identifies why the GOP—family values aside—continue to attract racist elements in their ranks. And then, political parties aside, notes why multiculturalism is seen as a threat to those in power: “the fundamental issues in all this talk about multiculturalism is power, specifically white male power.”

The Coming Race Wars is prescient in some of its thinking. In the chapter on multiculturalism, Pannell envisions that women—particularly Black women—will play a large part in future political endeavors. He writes that white people will begin to feel their whiteness and be afraid of the growing numbers of those of minority cultures. He fears that modern evangelicalism will flee urban areas and take up residence in the suburbs. And in almost every account, he is right.

The book closes with a new afterword from Pannell, now retired and professor emeritus at Fuller University, where he taught for over forty years. It’s an eloquent essay that shows that thirty years have perhaps only sharpened Pannell’s mind and his views. Again and again, he asks “Where do we go from here?” Before I share Pannell’s answer, let me answer myself with a clue from the book’s subtitle.

The first edition of this book was subtitled “a cry for reconciliation.” This second edition changes that to “a cry from justice.” The conversation has shifted. We have moved on, in many ways, as a society. Pannell’s cry has grown louder and bolder. To reconcile—an interesting term considering there was hardly ever conciliation to begin with—means to restore a friendly relationship. Justice is different. Justice doesn’t just ask for relationships to restored, it asks for all wrongs to be made right. You can restore a relationship and maintain inequality. That’s what we’ve seen in American history. Slaves were freed, but Jim Crow laws and segregation ensured inequality. Civil rights were gained, but institutional inequalities and prejudices ensure that inequality remained. For generations, America has attempted reconciliation without justice and while it has led to improvements, there is so much more that should be done. We need reconciliation with justice, and that’s what Pannell advocates here. Where do we go from here? We move toward justice.

Pannell concludes that Christians must begin to understand themselves as a new community. We must understand that the race wars might still come—that they have come—and that our fight is against principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness. And that progress can come slowly, but progress must come.