Like most Americans, Presbyterians in the United States know woefully little about the history of slavery and the rise of anti-Black racism in our country. Most think of slavery as a tragedy that “just happened,” without considering how it happened and who was involved. In What Kind of Christianity, William Yoo paints an accurate picture of the complicity of the majority of Presbyterians in promoting, supporting, or willfully ignoring the enslavement of other human beings. Most Presbyterians knew of the widespread physical and sexual violence that enslavers inflicted on the enslaved, and either approved of it or did nothing to prevent it. Most Presbyterians in the nineteenth century—whether in the South or the North–held racist attitudes toward African Americans and acted on those attitudes on a daily basis. In short, during that period when the Presbyterian Church was establishing itself as a central part of American life, most of its members were promoting slavery and anti-Black racism. In this important book, William Yoo demonstrates that to understand how Presbyterian Christians can promote racial justice today, they must first understand and acknowledge how deeply racial injustice is embedded in their history and identity as a denomination.
“Ours is a tradition that takes its history seriously. Yoo’s important work does just that, while
reframing our very misunderstandings of that history.” —Presbyterian Outlook
“What Kind of Christianity is an unflinching indictment of mainstream Presbyterianism in America for its historical support of slavery and its persistent failure to confront its complicity head-on. Through his meticulous research of the past, Yoo highlights a way forward for all Christians committed to addressing systemic racism with eyes wide open.”
—Kirk Nolan, Professor of Religion, Presbyterian College
“Yoo’s book is a powerful, well-written, and carefully researched narrative of a tragic chapter in the history of American Christianity. Beyond that, it shows that the events of that time were so deeply connected with the capitulation of the church to American interests and values that contradict the very core of Christianity, making it not enough just to feel shame and remorse for what happened in the past. In the end, Yoo’s book is nothing less than a call for the reformation of all American Christianity.”
—Justo L. González, author of The Story of Christianity and A History of Early Christian Literature
“This is a compelling read. William Yoo deftly and powerfully reveals the active participation and complicity in Black enslavement and anti-Black racism of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Although some Presbyterians were brave, Yoo also shows how a minority of Black and white Presbyterians proved incapable of achieving abolition and dislodging anti-Blackness; and ultimately, the PCUSA succumbed to sectionalism on the eve of the Civil War. By debunking persisting myths, What Kind of Christianity offers the necessary balm for institutional reconciliation and repair in the present.”
—Hilary N. Green, Professor of Africana Studies, Davidson College
“In What Kind of Christianity, William Yoo narrates a devastating history of self-interested and self-justifying white Presbyterians using their wealth, intellect, and even Scripture itself to defend slavery and define Black persons as racially inferior. Yoo’s focus is on the long run up to emancipation, and for every brave abolitionist in his story, there are tens of slavery apologists and enthusiasts. Still, this retelling of history is liberating in its clear-eyed view of the truth of the past, with outstanding attention to its subjects’ words, motivations, and institutional contexts placed within a fluid grasp of the best of contemporary scholarship on race and slavery.”
–—James Hudnut-Beumler, Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt Divinity School, and Professor of History, College of Arts and Science, Vanderbilt University
"Dr. Yoo provides us with a compelling, harrowing, and comprehensive history not only of the Presbyterian Church in 19th century America, but also a powerful deconstruction of the comforting and deceitful illusions we have harbored for centuries as white Presbyterians. What Kind of Christianity is a necessary call to repentance for each of us, compassionately reminding us that we are yet more than conquerors according to the Reformed faith. This sometimes excruciating text invites us to come to terms with our complicity towards the oppressive system(s) of white supremacy embedded in our own beloved Church, contributing to our perversion of the imago dei both in our neighbor and ourselves."
–Rev. Catherine Knott, Ph.D. Ball Family Chaplain, Hanover College
“In the global reckoning of Black Lives Matter, this timely book, which teases out the multiple strands of the relationship between the Presbyterian Church and slavery, is indispensable for understanding America’s painful past, addressing anti-Blackness in the present, and imagining a different, possible future. I have learned a great deal from the book and highly recommend it.”
–Kwok Pui-lan, Dean’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Candler School of Theology, Emory University