I read and listen to a lot of people who talk about race, racism, and oppression within the church and the academy. Some are academics who I, a seminary-trained theologian-activist struggle to understand. Others are pastors and lay leaders who are excellent storytellers but have less of the critical race theory and historical context to round out their dialog.
Dr. Drew Hart is an academic and a pastor who knows how to translate concepts like “white supremacy” and “racialized” into ideas we can all understand. Perhaps more importantly, he is interested in translating and sharing these concepts in a way that changes the way the church sees and deals with racism.
In Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Dr. Hart uses personal story, historical context, scripture, and American cultural exploration to make room for this conversation within the body of Christ. As a Black man, Drew learned early on that race always conferred some meaning in society. There was something there to navigate, to understand and to contend with in school, and in ministry environments. Like many of us coming from the margins of some sort, his desire to understand the dynamics of our racialized society was not only an academic or theological pursuit—it was deeply personal.
I think that’s why so many people have found his book relatable though filled with challenging information and new-for-some race related concepts. Drew invites us into his story, and the broader story of Black—and other marginalized Americans—and fills them out with numbers and facts that provide the broader scaffolding of systems that give structure to these stories.
This isn’t a book written by a Black man for white people. It is however, a book that can help anyone who is not aware of the historical and socio-political factors that have led us to the racial climate of this moment.
From our American history classes in high school, most of us are aware of some general story of slavery, the civil war, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the happily-ever-after-all-equal now. What we don’t have is a nuanced understanding of past movements. And our understanding of racism within Christianity is even less understood—hidden in fact— behind verses about being one in Christ. Race itself is such an unpleasant subject that we avoid it from the pulpit, during Bible study, in staffing discussions or congregational life hoping that we can move forward and celebrate the occasional racial reconciliation moment or visiting pastor of another race.
History, theory, and scripture are important for the believer wanting to faithfully and deeply engage issues of race on personal and community levels. But what about complex current issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, mass incarceration, and income inequality? How does one understand them in the context of race when people of color and white people often seem to have such different understandings of the complicating factors and possible solutions? Drew addresses these current issues by peeling back layers of the parallel, but often separate histories of Black and white churches, the roles of history and science in white supremacy, and the subversive nature of the cross of Christ. Yes, the cross casts a shadow on current events. Through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, we can gain understanding of the racial strife and oppression we find ourselves facing in American society.
Racism by itself is a deep well of interlocking dynamics to unpack and yet, in less than 200 pages, Drew dives into intersectionality, the idea that race, class, gender, and sexuality—all social markers we use to classify ourselves and each other interact with each other and bestow privilege or oppression within the system of white supremacy.
Again he uses personal stories and shares his own growth in understanding his own complicity with sexism. He concludes that “Jesus shaped communities should be the visible communities where lording over others is renounced in all its forms” taking readers beyond racism and to a vision of a free and liberated community for all.
Overall, we are taken on a deeply personal and yet overarching societal journey about race and racism within the church and larger culture by the stories and ideas presented in this book. While it’s not a light summertime beach read, it’s a book that you won’t want to put down, even on vacation. Drew compels you to read more, open your heart and challenge ingrained thinking. You will see the trouble he sees and be invited into a loving action.
Reviewed by Micky ScottBey Jones. Micky is a “contemplivist” leader and organizer who hosts & facilitates conferences, trainings and online conversations, writes & speaks on a variety of topics including burnout, race & justice, theology from the margins, and curates contemplative spaces/activities. Recently named one of the Black Christian leaders changing the world in Huffington Post, Micky trains & encourages missional practitioners and faith-rooted activists with TransFORM Network and is an Associate Fellow for Racial Justice at Evangelicals for Social Action.