America's Original Sin

Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

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America's problem with race has deep roots, with the country's foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another. Racism is truly our nation's original sin.

"It's time we right this unacceptable wrong," says bestselling author and leading Christian activist Jim Wallis. Fifty years ago, Wallis was driven away from his faith by a white church that considered dealing with racism to be taboo. His participation in the civil rights movement brought him back when he discovered a faith that commands racial justice. Yet as recent tragedies confirm, we continue to suffer from the legacy of racism. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation. The church has been slow to respond, and Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.

In America's Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians--particularly white Christians--urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing.

Whenever divided cultures and gridlocked power structures fail to end systemic sin, faith communities can help lead the way to grassroots change. Probing yet positive, biblically rooted yet highly practical, this book shows people of faith how they can work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a multiracial church and a new America.

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Foreword by Bryan Stevenson
Preface: June 17
Introduction: You Will Know the Truth, and the Truth Will Set You Free
1. Race Is a Story
2. The Parables of Ferguson and Baltimore
3. The Original Sin and Its Legacy
4. Repentance Means More Than Just Saying You're Sorry
5. Dying to Whiteness
6. A Segregated Church or a Beloved Community?
7. From Warriors to Guardians
8. The New Jim Crow and Restorative Justice
9. Welcoming the Stranger
10. Crossing the Bridge to a New America


"Jim Wallis marches among our hardiest and most steadfast pioneers on the path to a more perfect union and a more vibrant faith. America's Original Sin is a powerful act of Spirit-led truth telling and a loving disruption of the status quo. Wallis calls us to transcend racial categories and to see in one another the image of God. He points out the structural realities of sinful racism and makes clear that to be redeemed, we must do more than deny it. Like Joshua reporting from the land of Canaan, Wallis finds unseen hopes and rich fruit if we will walk as well as talk and cross the bridge to a new America. America's Original Sin is required reading for all who believe in the promises of God, who hope for the American democracy, and who long to see the power of a justice ethos grounded in love."

Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP; author of The Third Reconstruction

"I have been waiting a long time for this book. I have been waiting for a white, male, evangelical Christian to say what Jim Wallis has the courage to say. We don't like to talk about sin these days. But Jim, in his own inimitable way, invites us into a conversation about America's original sin that is long overdue. America, the church, the criminal justice system, and indeed all of us need to engage in the level of truth telling that he is calling for in this book. As a nation, we need to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations that will set us free to live up to the claims that were made in the Declaration of Independence: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"

Cynthia L. Hale, senior pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, Georgia

"Jim Wallis, the nation's preeminent evangelical prophetic teacher and preacher, has devoted his life to the eradication of socially constructed walls such as racism and racialized policy formation. Once again he sends a tough love letter to America, demanding and daring the church not only to repent of the 'original sin' of racism but also to join the fight against all forms of racial injustice. This book will disturb and motivate evangelicals and progressives alike to reevaluate the meaning of the gospel in an era of racial unrest. I encourage everyone who is concerned about our democracy and who desires to see the church live out its true mission of love and justice to read this prophetic epistle."

Otis Moss III, senior pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois

"In the face of the implicit and often unconscious structures of racism--unconscious for whites but disastrously obvious to people of color--'it's time for white Christians to be more Christian than white,' says Jim Wallis. 'Rejecting the idols of white supremacy and privilege, and casting away the false identity of 'whiteness,' is a prerequisite for white Americans to get our own souls back.' If you don't understand these two quotes--or if you do--read America's Original Sin. Wallis, with tough language but pastoral sensitivity, unpacks for white Americans how we lost our souls in the first place, and he maps out the road of repentance to systemic and personal racial healing."

Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

"For decades, Jim Wallis has steadfastly spoken, written, and lived as one committed to racial justice and reconciliation. This book is a consummate distillation of those themes that leans back to remember 'America's original sin,' principally to rivet our attention and commitment to a different future. This is a sobering and motivating act of hope."

Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Jim Wallis has grasped with amazing clarity and insight the persistent pain and sin of racism in America. In America's Original Sin we have not only a recounting of the pain of racism and xenophobia but also a hope-filled cartography for a new, reconciled reality. As a Latino evangelical, I have found in Jim Wallis a key ally and fellow visionary for a racially reconciled America."

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, president, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; pastor, Lamb's Church

"Jim Wallis is a clarion voice our nation desperately needs right now, especially the parents and grandparents raising our next generation of children. Only the truth will set us free."

Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children's Defense Fund

"Jim Wallis is a visionary veteran in the struggle against white supremacy. In this powerful book, he calls for a new conversation and action on the ground--in our homes, churches, sports arenas, and schools--in order to be true to the best of who we are!"

Cornel West, professor of philosophy and Christian practice, Union Theological Seminary; author of Race Matters

"Every so often a leader addresses the pressing crisis of his or her day with the clarity, passion, and conviction that offers not only critique but hope that can only be forged in the trenches of faithful struggle and engagement. Jim Wallis has done just that by confronting the injustice of racism in our nation in America's Original Sin."

Noel Castellanos, CEO and president, Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)

"We will not get better as a country until we face the sin we've inherited, the sin that continues to wound our brothers and sisters. This book can help us build a better nation by facing the terrible truth of our self-centeredness and the wonderful truth of God's ongoing, redeeming love."

Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor, Northland--A Church Distributed

"I am so grateful for Jim Wallis's new book. Racism is a sickness that is as old as America itself. America's Original Sin helps us see how this sickness creates patterns and systems that perpetuate national tragedies such as the one at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Jim gently and passionately invites us to look inside ourselves and acknowledge the ways that pride, privilege, and resentment affect our actions and words, and then he courageously extends a hand for us to walk together into a new future. As an African American man and a fellow brother in Christ, I trust Jim's offer in this powerful book, and extend my hand in return."

Joshua DuBois, author of The President's Devotional; former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Barack Obama

"Can we calculate the heartbreak, the destroyed families, the broken lives, the jobs denied, the inferior educations, the anger and hatred, the division, the laws meant to segregate or incarcerate, the lengths people go to avoid one another, or the number of deaths due to racism? The pain created by racism is huge, it's massive, and it needs to end--now. In this powerful book, Jim Wallis outlines the path forward, a path of true repentance and one that moves us in a new direction, as a new people. In the land of opportunity and hope, it can be done. With clarity and wisdom, this book shows us how."

Michael O. Emerson, provost, North Park University; coauthor of Transcending Racial Barriers

"In America's Original Sin Jim Wallis takes on the defining challenge not only of our current cultural moment but also of our entire American history. By laying out a bold, prophetic message of hope, Jim calls for the change we need in a society suffering from the deep and open wounds of white supremacy."

Serene Jones, president and Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy, Union Theological Seminary

"America's Original Sin confirms Jim Wallis's standing as one of America's foremost prophets and greatest truth tellers. This brilliantly argued, eloquently written, and passionately delivered analysis of the most stubborn feature of our national existence--the yawning chasm of race and the bitter divide of racism--forces us to confront both systemic inequities and individual habits that mock our claim to be the greatest democracy in the world. This book echoes the Old Testament prophet Amos and the American prophet Martin Luther King Jr. in calling for justice and righteousness to cleanse our country from the sin of racism that to this day stains our collective soul."

Michael Eric Dyson, author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America

"Jim Wallis is calling America to sincerely address the potholes of injustice that have damaged the undercarriage of justice in America. Civil and human rights are once again caught up in a traffic jam with racial profiling, police brutality, 'stand your ground' laws, poor public education, the lack of a living wage, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Wallis helps us see that this is more than a discussion of polity and praxis; this is a critical issue for people of faith in the sanctuary, the synagogue, and the temple."

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, 10th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)

"Jim Wallis loves Jesus and hates racial injustice. This gifted gospel preacher has written America's Original Sin with prophetic courage and pastoral care. In the tradition of Harriet Beecher Stowe, he uses his remarkable literary skills and searing analysis to force our not-yet-United States to look into the mirror of reality and confront the ugly wound of racism and white supremacy. This book may be the match that lights the fire of a redemptive revolution that makes America truly 'one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.'"

Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor, Friendship-West Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas; board chairman, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

"America's Original Sin is both unsparing and sympathetic in its brilliant analysis of how racism and white privilege have shaped and disabled American society throughout history--and how they do so today. But Jim Wallis goes much further than tracing how the scourge of racism harms citizens and immigrants of color. This book is a call to action packed with practical and powerful lessons and solutions that individuals, churches, and community organizations can follow to create a new and just social contract for the country we love."

Eliseo V. Medina, labor activist and immigration reform advocate

"Jim Wallis has a fire in his bones and cannot be silenced. In this landmark book, he takes on one of the most important issues of our age, America's original sin--racism. But this isn't a rant. It is a thoughtful, heartfelt, compassionate plea for us to heal the wounds of racial injustice and build a new America, and a new world, together."

Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and founder of The Simple Way and Red Letter Christians,

"We stand at a critical juncture in our nation's history. In this text, Jim Wallis identifies the bridge we must cross as the United States transitions to a nation with no clear ethnic majority. This future could be characterized by great unity or by great discord. Wallis engages in an exercise of truth telling that is necessary to move toward a more hopeful future. Revealing the depth of sin endemic in our racialized history, Wallis names not only the symptoms but also the disease. This book will be difficult to read at times. But truth does not come easily. Please embrace the truths that are found in this text so that our conversations on race may begin to move us forward."

Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary; author of Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times

"Jim Wallis makes a convincing argument that honestly confronting the sins of our past does not paralyze us but rather compels us to act with moral urgency. His book is simultaneously a sermon of hope and repentance and a practical guide for making real and positive change, based in the gospel lessons of empathy and social responsibility. America's Original Sin is a work of both splendid critical analysis and profound faith."

Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation

"Jim Wallis has been a fighter for economic and racial justice for decades. Now this activist par excellence has written a brilliant, passionate exploration of racism and the surprisingly pervasive reality of white supremacist sensibilities in America and how they keep our nation divided. Wallis's purpose is not to indict but to chart a path to true community. This is a book that all Americans should read and ponder deeply, both those who acknowledge the reality of white privilege and those who do not."

Obery M. Hendricks Jr., visiting scholar and faculty research fellow, The Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), Columbia University

"In 1903, in The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois engaged the questions of race, racial domination, and racial exploitation with the well-known proposition that 'the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.' In America's Original Sin, Jim Wallis affirms that racism remains a primary problem in the twenty-first century. As a white, male Christian, Wallis lovingly but persuasively appeals to fellow white Americans of all faiths to reflect on this painful truth, repent of white privilege, and help build a bridge to a new America. It is a must-read for all who seek the healing of the soul of America."

Barbara Williams-Skinner, president, Skinner Leadership Institute; cochair, National African American Clergy Network

"Jim Wallis's latest book is a masterpiece that pulls readers into a conversation that the church and society have needed for decades. Jim has committed his life to correcting and eradicating ignorance, stereotypes, and biases, and he speaks with prophetic power and authority. He has witnessed countless examples of the double standards that exist in America and the world. He has questioned the church's silence on the evil acts of the racial divide. This book calls us to acknowledge, identify, and put away our prejudices, and challenges us to have honest discussions to end the biases and crimes against people of color."

Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, president emeritus, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC)

"Jim Wallis continues to write, build, lead, and serve for common ground that leads to higher ground. Everyone who reads this book will grow wiser and stronger."

Rev. Otis Moss Jr., theologian, pastor, and civic leader

"Part theological treatise, part policy paper, America's Original Sin critically assesses and proposes solutions to some of our country's most pressing issues while offering tools for racial healing to every citizen of faith and good conscience. Jim Wallis calls our nation to a time of truth telling, storytelling, and action as faithful responses to a dark past and challenging present. While the book will be controversial to some, by treating racism as sin--not merely a social or political problem--Wallis opens the door of hope and redemption that is unlocked by true repentance, renunciation (of Whiteness), and restorative practices."

Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, cochair, The Ferguson Commission; pastor, Saint John's Church; president and CEO, Deaconess Foundation

"In classic Jim Wallis style, he speaks a powerful prophetic word about one of the most critical issues at this moment in time. Jim not only provides biblical insights but also calls for an action plan that requires transformative leadership. This book should be read and used as a road map for change. Its insightful biblical principles are applicable both in the USA and around the world."

Geoff Tunnicliffe, chairman, Christian Media Corporation; former secretary general, World Evangelical Alliance

"Jim Wallis's life and message have resonated with me for years because of his undying desire to overturn racial injustice in America. Read this book not because you must. Read it because together we are compelled to set right the path toward our country's promise of greatness as a diverse people who must treat one another in a gracist manner, not a racist one. I commend to you Wallis's message of hard truth with practical help toward a better future."

David Anderson, talk show host and author of Gracism: The Art of Inclusion

"With prophetic vision, incisive analysis, and moral grounding in a paradigm of sin and repentance, Jim Wallis's deconstruction of racism and white privilege is a clarion call to twenty-first-century America. This book is a special charge to people of faith who have the power to change the course of the nation and cross the bridge of redemption and transformation."

Iva E. Carruthers, social justice advocate and general secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

"America's Original Sin is a brilliant, thorough, and extraordinarily timely book. Its persuasive evidence, personal storytelling, and lack of sanctimony make it hard to resist. Jim Wallis goes beyond guilt and blame to strike a mighty blow for honesty, sanity, decency, and love--not the first words that come to mind in America's persistent wrestling with race."

Timothy B. Tyson, Duke University; author of Blood Done Sign My Name

"The word 'conversion' jumped out at me as I read Jim Wallis's important new book. If Christians--especially white Christians--read this book, they will experience a real conversion, and the fruit of that conversion could bring healing to deep wounds in the soul of our nation. Such a conversion could also save lives . . . lives that truly matter."

Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker (

"This is a critically important time, when leaders of faith need to address issues of race more thoughtfully, prayerfully, and courageously. . . . Jim Wallis has been speaking truth to power for decades. This new work is timely, urgent, and necessary."

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director, Equal Justice Initiative; author of Just Mercy (from the foreword)

The Author

  1. Jim Wallis

    Jim Wallis

    Jim Wallis is an author, activist, preacher, teacher, and pastor. He is a bestselling writer, convener of faith-inspired movements for justice and peace both outside and inside politics, public theologian in a secular culture, renowned speaker in the United...

    Continue reading about Jim Wallis


"Wallis offers us a prophetic call to remember more truthfully. Tracing how race has been an integral part of America's history, its 'original sin,' he names the ways white supremacy was present in America's birth and continues to be present in the realities of police brutality, the criminal justice system, and educational inequality. This truthful telling is essential to our calling as Christians. . . . Wallis's book offers a beautiful starting point for white people who are beginning the journey, who do not yet understand the historical realities of race in America and their relationship to contemporary injustices. . . . [It is a call] to conversion, to actions that begin with the individual, move into the world, and stand in the face of systems that oppress."

Brian Bantum,

Christian Century

"Wallis's book comes at a critical time in America's history. Tensions between whites and minorities continue to escalate, at least in part because so many whites deny the systemic injustice that has shaped our land since its inception. Wallis, an author, activist, preacher, and teacher, compellingly and convincingly makes the case for why white American Christians need to not only understand and acknowledge the existence of racial injustice but also work to eradicate it."

Dorothy Greco,

Christianity Today

"Wallis is the New York Times bestselling author, theologian, and social justice activist who founded and edits Sojourners magazine. He also happens to be white. And what he writes in the opening pages of his book deeply resonated with me. 'I wrote this book because I believe truth-telling about America's original sin of racism must not be left to people of color alone,' Wallis explains. 'If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less fear for their children.' Using the literal black-and-white reactions to the rash of police-involved killings of African American young men and boys, Wallis strikes at the heart of the task ahead."

Jonathan Capehart,

Washington Post

"A thought-provoking plea to white evangelicals and white Christians in general."

James Wetherbee,

Library Journal

"America's Original Sin addresses topics that have been central to [Wallis's] life and work for the past forty years. These same issues of race and racism are also central to our contemporary national story; that combination makes this one of Wallis's best efforts. . . . This book is a concise and focused primer for all Christians, but especially for white evangelicals who are reading the signs of the times and struggling to discern how to respond. . . . We need efforts like this and the conversations that will emerge from them. . . . Jim Wallis should be commended for trying to keep white conservative evangelicals in conversation with concerns outside their parochial worldview. In this book, he presents a strong, uncompromising view of race and racism. He connects central biblical concepts with incisive contemporary anti-racist analysis and then offers some of the best available mainstream progressive recommendations."

Ric Hudgens,

Englewood Review of Books

"Noted activist Jim Wallis explains the problems of racism in our land, and yet he pulls no punches. He calls us to envision a new America, breaking down the barriers that keep us from diversity."


"Perhaps the most defining feature of America's Original Sin is the author's spiritual frame of reference that permeates virtually every page of this compelling treatise. . . . While [Wallis] has assumed many roles during his relatively long career--social activist, political pundit, cultural critic and academic scholar--he is first and foremost a theologian. His background and training serve him well in his latest effort. . . . Adding to the book's credibility is the author's intimate involvement in many events that form the scaffolding on which his central thesis is constructed. . . . What distinguishes this particular volume from the plethora of other attempts to address the unfortunate consequences of racism in this country is the way Wallis uses his subjective experience as a canvas on which to paint this incredibly perceptive and moving indictment of how some segments of our population have treated, and continue to treat, other segments. . . . Wallis uses the insights he has gleaned in an amazingly effective manner. . . . I believe Wallis has something profound to contribute to the discussion; if you care about the future of our country, this is one you'll want to add to your reading list."

Aaron W. Hughey,

Bowling Green Daily News

"[Wallis] sounds the alarm about the presence of America's 'original sin' of racism and responds with constructive criticism and serious suggestions about where we might go from here. . . . Though a cautious and alarming presentation, Wallis's book is not without hope. . . . It is thoroughly up to date. . . . The book brings us back to where it started, namely, listening to and learning from the stories of others, which can, Wallis says, help us cross that bridge to a new America."

Frederick J. Gaiser,

Word & World

"Wallis states unequivocally that the problems most people of color experience are a direct result of white privilege and racism that continue to impact our nation. . . . We can glean and promote a great deal from his book. . . . If we can look at the basic model Wallis sets forth, we have a path forward to promote racial reconciliation and justice. Wallis suggests that we need to listen, really listen, and believe the stories that must be told. We need to develop relationships that model respect and interest across the races. We need to become aware of our own bias and how that impacts our lives daily. And we need to work together to create new systems that promote the value of all human beings. Chaplains, when we are at our best, do such work each day."

Jeff Uhler,

Association of Professional Chaplains Forum

"A welcome addition to book store shelves and the national conversation on race. . . . The value of this work is felt most acutely in its explanation and anecdotal evidence of certain hot button issues. . . . There is definitely plenty to disagree with and/or question, but these topics should be those that Christians, particularly white Christians, are overwhelmingly willing to engage and, more importantly, be engaged by. . . . What is undebatable is the necessity and quality of Wallis's work. America's Original Sin deserves a wide reading because we live in a society that desperately needs to hear and heed what the Wallis is sharing."

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