The Church and Racism: Some Fresh Thinking
“Once more the car drove by, but this time the police officers stopped and got out. They immediately arrested my brother for ‘fitting the description’ of someone who had recently committed a crime.”
The responses to racialized arrests, beatings, and trials we’ve seen in the United States are so “predictable, as many people fall into their default defensive positions,” Drew Hart points out.
Drew G. I. Hart was on a road trip with a carload of white college friends when his mother called and told him about his brother’s erroneous arrest. It was a critical wake-up call for Drew, who grew up in both majorly white and predominately black neighborhoods and schools. Drew is currently a PhD candidate in theology and ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary and an adjunct professor at another seminary. He has 10 years’ experience in pastoral ministry, and has a book coming out January 19 from Herald Press, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. (Full disclosure: I work for Herald Press, but did not work on this book. Drew and I both belong to a group of bloggers called MennoNerds; his blog, Taking Jesus Seriously, is featured at Christian Century blog network.)
More confession: I have not yet read this book in its entirety, but am thinking hard about what I’ve read so far. On one level, it’s a very readable book, full of personal stories. Hart drives toward a conclusion that looks at how Jesus’s life, teachings, and ministry offer the church hope for cutting through the “deep disagreements about race” that, as he reminds us, have been “boiling right below the surface in the United States for over four hundred years.” So what he writes is also hard to read for all of us who think we’ve done the multicultural thing, the antiracism thing, the get-to-know people of other races thing—which are all good things, according to Drew. But not the whole thing, when it comes to race.
Why? The responses to racialized arrests, beatings, and trials we’ve seen in the United States are so “predictable, as many people fall into their default defensive positions,” Drew points out. “People’s perceptions of what happened are as shaped by their socialization as by the event itself,” he writes. I’ve certainly observed that to be true.
Drew’s book is encouraging despite the bleak picture he paints because he believes firmly that the church has to become a place where we can talk about and deal with race.
About the title, Drew says, “In the spirit of the original black spiritual, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,’ this book is rooted in what I’ve seen, in what black people have seen, and what all who have experienced the underside of white supremacy have seen.”
Drew cautions that it’s not a colorblind society that we should seek. It is very common to hear well-meaning people say, “I don’t even see color!”
Drew writes, “Colorblind ideology is the twenty-first-century continuation of white Christian silence to racism.” He goes on, “I can only assume that it is not color that they are not seeing; rather, it is racism that is being missed.”
He quickly agrees that “books that rehearse arguments for racial reconciliation have been written several times over.” His book instead “guides us through the challenges of racism for the church by confronting Christian frameworks for how racism operates and how it affects our lives.”
I will not attempt to rewrite these strong words from Drew, who addresses the issues from a vantage point I’ve never had:
The church must confront its popular definition of racism, which has historically never implicated the white majority by its framing of the problem. Many think that racism is only about KKK-like behavior, or about doing or saying things that were common for white people in the mid-twentieth century. Few have wrestled with what white supremacy—a superiority complex and the practice of racial dominance fueled by racial ideology—looks like in the twenty-first century. . . .
The book . . . seeks to place our feet on the solid ground and firm footing of the way of Jesus, our Rock. No longer rooted in a world constructed by white supremacist hierarchies and antiblack dehumanizing lenses, we can be formed to withstand the storms and thundering waves of our age.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, p. 29)
If you are a person of faith who cares about Jesus and the church, I urge you to read, share, and discuss this book, just as I plan to finish reading it in the new year. I’ll likely do a more complete review on my personal blog at www.findingharmonyblog.com.
Comments? To find out more about the book, go to http://store.mennomedia.org/Trouble-Ive-Seen. Or write to me, and I can send the information by regular or email. Send to MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.