Dowagiac pastor co-authors book exploring history of faith, race in America

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — Christopher Momany has been inspired to put pen to paper once again, this time as part of a collaborative effort that offers insight and hope for people engaged in the work of racial justice.

The pastor of First United Methodist Church, 326 N. Lowe St., Dowagiac, has been published in numerous scholarly venues and publications over the years. Most recently, that passion has taken the form of the book “Awakening to Justice: Faithful Voices from the Abolitionist Past.”

Published by InterVarsity Press in March and authored by members of the Dialogue on Race and Faith Project – a multiracial team of fourteen scholars of which Momany is a member of – Awakening to Justice details Momany’s discovery of a forgotten abolitionist manuscript dated from 1839, only to find that he and his fellow researchers uncovered a text that sheds light on the history of faith and race in America as well as the reality of racism today. 

Awakening to Justice is available ​​on Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble and more. It also includes a free study guide.

“It’s very satisfying but then again, it’s also heavy,” Momany said. “We need to look at it as not just a project that’s cool because it’s old and discovering a journal, but it’s one of those things that lays a claim on you. You need to do something with it that is for the good of other people.”

The book was a project almost ten years in the making. In 2015, Momany and Adrian College Director of Library Services Noelle Keller discovered a manuscript that had been forgotten in a storage closet at the school. He identified it as the journal of a nineteenth-century Christian abolitionist and missionary, David Ingraham. According to Momany, an excerpt of Ingraham’s journal detailed a slave ship, Ulysses, which in 1839 was impounded by the British government in Jamaica after Britain outlawed slavery in 1833. The British let the captives go free on Jamaica and according to Christopher, the fate of Ulysses remains a mystery.

“I read the description and the dimensions and it just broke my heart,” Momany said.

The Dialogue on Race and Faith Project brought together a multicultural team of Christian scholars to discuss how issues of faith and race among abolitionists may provide a usable history for addressing the struggle for racial justice today. Project members and contributors include: Momany Jemar Tisby, Sègbégnon Mathieu Gnonhossou, David D. Daniels III, R. Matthew Sigler, Douglas M. Strong, Diane Leclerc, Esther Chung-Kim, Albert G. Miller, and Estrelda Y. Alexander.

Last year, Momany, his wife Liz, and his team of researchers and scholars traced the story back to Benin and presented their findings to The University of Abomey-Calavi.

“We didn’t want the book to just be a history book,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that historians get excited about when you’re trained and when you find something. It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but this is more important than that. It’s not just a history project, it’s about people and how people were treated and how they shouldn’t be treated and how we can learn from that. We wanted to write the book in a way that spoke to today.”

Momany said he enjoyed seeing the way the book inspired colleagues to use their creativity to help further the conversations sparked by the book. One of Momany’s colleagues, Dr. Stephen Newby, D.M.A., Lev H. Prichard III Endowed Chair in the Study of Black Worship and Professor of Music at Baylor University, wrote a formal piece of music inspired by passages from the journal. The book also inspired a 35-minute film directed by Sean Dimond and John Harrison that challenges viewers to consider the history that has led to the racial divide we’re experiencing, and it inspires us with a pathway for healing

“It was cool to see a lot of really brilliant people do creative and good things,” he said.

He hopes the book will lead to new conversations for readers to address the reality of racism today. 

“It’s such a violent, intense time right now over the last several years around racial justice,” Momany said. “We needed to make sure we got facts out because there are people that share terrible misinformation and disinformation today about the history of slavery trying to downplay it, trying to suggest it wasn’t as bad as it as people say and that’s just not true. It was terrible and so we wanted to deal in facts.

“There’s so much that is lied about today in public conversation and on cable television channels that we wanted to get facts out. You can’t deny it, this is real.”