Trouble I’ve Seen, Changing the Way the Church Views Racism
By Drew G.I. Hart
2016, 205 pages
Theologian and blogger Drew G.I. Hart’s analysis of North American racism is a call to justice aimed at both church culture and the wider society—with the greater challenge aimed at church people.
In Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Hart writes from the perspective of an educated Christian with experience encountering several denominations—Evangelical, Lutheran, Anabaptist. However, he also weaves in his practical, on-the-ground perspective as a young black man growing up in America.
The book opens with two stories—Hart’s pleasant driving trip across America with some white college friends and, at the same time, his brother’s arrest for simply “fitting the description” of a crime suspect and subsequent four-month incarceration.
He lists such tragedies as the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray cases, which had fatal consequences for the black people involved.
However, Hart’s book goes a step further from the mainstream, as he calls both white and black churches to examine their complicity in white-dominated culture and consider “the subversive life of Jesus as the Way out of our racialized and hierarchical society.”
Despite their well-meaning intentions, he contends, “churches have often been the least helpful place to discuss racism,” since an attempt to have an honest conversation often reveals deep-seated differences in perspective. Whites tend to see their view as normal, central and rational, essentially denying the honesty and truth of the black experience, Hart writes.
Courageously, he states that although some black churches have been at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, many should perform some self-examination. “Few black Christians today have acknowledged how they regularly give their full allegiance to the racialized status quo…too many…in imitation of dominant culture, have pursued the American dream in a decisively Western and selfish manner,” he notes.
His contention that “we Christians must follow Jesus and courageously break allegiances with white supremacist, classed and patriarchal hierarchies” is particularly telling for the Anglican churches in the developed world that still have an ingrained white male hierarchy.
Hart offers “eight Jesus-shaped practices for the anti-racist church,” including a willingness to be led by those who have experienced social injustice, “sharing life together” and engaging in self-examination rather than self-righteousness.
Although Hart calls for followers of Jesus to maintain true solidarity with the marginalized, he gives short shrift to LGBTQ people oppressed in many places where the church bears an African face.
However, since Hart’s basic thesis is an examination of racism and the unacknowledged effects of white supremacy on white viewpoints, Trouble I’ve Seen should be read by all people of faith and most especially by white churchgoers. It might lead to some painfully honest and necessary conversations.
Solange De Santis is based in New York and editor of Episcopal Journal, an independent monthly publication that covers The Episcopal Church.