Arts & Culture & Economics 101

A Christian Perspective on African-American History

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At IFWE, we talk extensively about how freedom is an essential prerequisite for individual fulfillment and societal flourishing. Art Lindsley has put it this way: “Every person has the God-given right to discover their greatest potential, experience the fruits of labor, and find fulfillment in hard work.”

In a new book, Black Liberation Through the Marketplace: Hope, Heartbreak, and the Promise of America, authors Dr. Rachel Ferguson and Dr. Marcus Witcher examine how those rights—specifically property rights, freedom of contract, and the protection of the rule of law—have been violated for Black Americans throughout history. The authors also give readers “a better understanding of Black history and creative ideas for how to make this nation truly one with liberty and justice for all.”

I recently interviewed Dr. Rachel Ferguson about the book, how it came about, and what she learned through the process that would benefit all Christian readers. Here is Part One of our conversation.

How does the Christian worldview and your Christian faith play into writing the book, and how apparent is it through the book? 

Dr. Ferguson: I am the major author on the book. My co-author is not a Christian. He’s an agnostic historian; we’re both classical liberals. So the main focus of the book is to gather classical liberal insights on race and discrimination. But I am a Christian and actually have some familiarity with the Black church, so it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was pretty ridiculous to write any book that is a survey of Black American history without having an entire chapter dedicated to the Black church. So that’s what I did. Chapter 5 is entirely about the Black church. The Black church really served so many purposes, but one is that it’s really the cultural womb of Black America, and so much of Black accomplishment in the United States comes out of the church as a kind of nexus of Black efforts. 

What is Neighborhood Stabilization?

Dr. Ferguson: My faith really comes through also in one of the solutions that we discuss, which is neighborhood stabilization. That’s just my term for the insights of people like Brian Fikkert (When Helping Hurts), Bob Lupton (Toxic Charity), of course John Perkins, and the great Bob Woodson

What you’ll have to notice—whether you’re Christian or not—is that people who are thinking about doing philanthropy right, especially when that involves deep personal presence and establishing a relationship of trust in an otherwise low-trust part of society, they’re Christians. Because it takes a lot of love and a lot of patience and a lot of moral imagination in order to do that work—but it is work that absolutely must be done. It’s indispensable.

You need someone moving into the neighborhood in order to find those people in the neighborhood who are social entrepreneurs or persons of peace, and then empower those people, find out what their vision is, and help them. Walk through life with them in order to create that vision block by block. There’s no policy that’s going to do that specific kind of work.

How Did You Address Criminal Justice Reform?

Dr. Ferguson: When I talk about criminal justice reform, one of the things that I want to emphasize is that there are unusual partnerships happening. One thrust of the book is that it’s anti-tribal, it’s anti-polarization, so we’re always looking for ways in which things don’t line up with a party line. 

And there is a really amazing story in the book Prison Break by Teles, where he goes through the way that conservatives turned against mass incarceration, and a lot of that has to do with Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson’s organization. That’s really shockingly central to that story, which caused, in the end, huge efforts at criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, Georgia, Kansas, and Texas—all deep red states.

How did the interest in this particular topic come about for you? 

Dr. Ferguson: That’s a great question. I think that I was disappointed in the way that the conversation was going around race because it seemed like in order to care about racial justice you had to be a Leftist or a big government kind of person, and if you were on the Right you weren’t allowed to care about racial justice—which is ridiculous!

So what I was trying to point out from a classical liberal perspective is that there is a small government,

pro-free market, pro-Black tradition in the United States, which means that you can care about these issues. Whether it’s trying to be honest about the history or whether it’s trying to be honest about solutions today, you can care about these things without it being a stalking horse for socialism. That’s one of the sources of our tribalism that we’re experiencing today, and people are in reaction mode. 

I’m trying to offer a third way that will allow people to get out of reaction mode so that they can think about topics one at a time and just ask, “What’s true?” Forget Right and Left. Forget buzzwords that alienate people. What is true? What really happened in our history? What is the real situation of Black Americans today? What will really work and what won’t? What is true? Stay anchored down to what is true. 

We’re so caught up right now in our debates that we are literally taking positions based on opposing someone else, as opposed to taking a position based on what is true. And what is real! Because part of what we’re debating is what is real. What is the true story of Blacks in American history? What is the real situation of Blacks today in comparison with other groups? What caused it and what can solve it? 

Very fundamental questions are at stake, and we simply cannot afford to be taking positions on them based on any kind of status game in our own communities or something like that. We cannot do that.

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