Gift of Truth
by Robert Fleming
Robert Fleming is one passionate writer. He understands the history of African-Americans and the history of the Black church and his knowledge abounds in this novel about a minister who tackles racial religious compromise in the South.
We've met this minister before in Fleming's first novel Gift of Faith. In that novel, we were more involved with the main character's/narrator's life as he recovered from his wife's suicide and her murder of his children.
In this novel, he is more of a spectator. He is healed of the wound caused by his wife's betrayal and suicide but now he has to encounter betrayal on an even larger scale. Trouble is, discernment and truth is needed.
His friend Reverend Peck, another minister, has called him down to Alabama; a self-styled prophet has arrived on the scene and has sheep-napped the minister's flock. The prophet, Wilks, comes from a long line of shysters and con men and he performs flamboyant healings in front of frenzied audiences.
I'm trying to review this book without giving away spoilers because there are twists galore!
Complicating the problem of flock-nabbing are the racial and socio-economic tensions between the poor Black farmers, the rich white agribusinessmen, the KKK, and white lawmen. For the religious Black men, there are great obstacles and temptations. Social compromises to protect one's reputation or one's life, sexual temptations, monetary temptations, and the compromising of truth.
This is a very good novel. The challenge of being a prophet --especially one who is called to battle social ills-- echoes both the lives of prophets in the Bible and the lives of African-American activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others. Of course the prophets in the Bible are totally holy, but the prophetic activists and great ministers of Black history have been flawed.
I had a few nits of course. The main one is that the author is so knowledgeable about African-American culture and history that sometimes there feels like way too much teaching going on for a novel. It's not bad, of course, and one does get the feeling the book is written to honor great Black heroes and musicians. But Mr. Fleming is a cultural historian and that kind of writing is to be expected.
A few writers might feel the author is picking on certain types of Christians i.e. pentecostal types. But I don't think that Mr Fleming was doing that. But I do think he is saying that Christians can sometimes be like sheep if they don't discern the truth and stand up for it. Some Christians might be offended by events in the story but I encourage them to read through the book and finish it. As I said, there are some good twists.