Sheri Faye Rosendahl
WJK Press, 202 pages
Reviewed by Rose Wayland
Growing up in the Anabaptist tradition, and recalling my college days when people like Jim Wallis were challenging the establishment, this book seemed familiar. Then I recalled that in the Great Thanksgiving we proclaim that even when we wandered, God sent prophets to call us back into covenant with God. In this book we hear that prophetic voice. In the manner of the Reformers throughout the church’s history, Sheri Rosendahl invites us to step out of our institutional thinking about church and become followers of the radical, refugee Jew. In a bold way, she takes on the church that has become so closely entwined with the American cultural and nationalistic identity that Christianity in this country has become warped and does not resemble what the Jesus of the Gospels taught and lived.
Rosendahl speaks from the experience of one who grew up in the evangelical church. She holds the church that has portrayed Jesus as a “white guy” responsible for its role in supporting the racism, hatred and anti-other attitudes in the country. Part of the problem as she sees it has been the emphasis on saving souls instead of loving in the radical way that Jesus taught. But lest churches not part of the evangelical tradition think this is only a critique of that branch of the body, it is not. There is enough here for all Christians to look in the mirror she holds up if we are willing to honestly examine ourselves in the light of the words of Jesus.
We could all learn from Rosendahl’s courage. She does not slowly build up to taking on difficult topics, but begins with the Israeli-Palestinian “issue.” In doing so, she signals the radicalness of the teaching of Jesus. This is not a time for passiveness or taking our foot off the gas as we proclaim the message of Jesus.
In the first part of the book, Rosendahl focuses mainly on the “red letters,” words that are attributed directly to Jesus. She points toward the love that Jesus taught and lived — humble and willing to be servant of all. She challenges us to be willing to see the hurt and pain around us and in this way let compassion flow. Love is not passive but speaks boldly as we advocate for those in need.
The second part of the book takes on tough issues of racism, nationalism, refugees, violence, consumerism, misogyny and the marginalized. Rosendahl looks at these issues in the light of her stance that “white-Jesus” Christianity has taken positions on each of these issues that contradict the teachings of Jesus. We need to re-examine our stance on them based on the red letters if we are going to take the gospel seriously.
Rosendahl’s occasional sarcasm and wit makes you feel like you are in conversation with a friend. She is honest about her experience and invites the reader to do the same. The book is directed to “church people,” inviting all to rethink our faith and how we live it. It is also a book that is easily accessible to those not as familiar with faith, those who may be turned off by the Christianity seen around them and readers who are open to a different understanding of Christianity. The book can also be used as a Bible study with a discussion guide and questions to explore included.
Rose Wayland is a pastoral counselor who also currently serves as interim pastor at Sixth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.