Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

Trouble I've Seen Trouble I've Seen Herald Press

Drew G.I. Hart

Herald Press, 2016

In this his first book, Hart, a Mennonite pastor and theology professor at Messiah College, has written on a subject that has cast a shadow over this land for 500 years: our racialized society and how the American church colludes in it. In particular, he examines how vertical structures of power create false distinctions and oppress, and he calls Christians instead to hold onto “the way, the truth, and the life” of the biblical Jesus.

Each chapter of Trouble I've Seen begins with Hart sharing passages of his life as an American black man as framework for his explication of the racialized society and church. We read about Hart’s experiences as a young boy, a college student, and later as pastor and graduate student. Through the years his self-understanding and his theology develop and with them his self-esteem and the subversive nature of Jesus’ ministry become the standard by which he measures his world and its inequities of race, sex, class, religion, and nationality.

Looking at the tragedy of so many blacks suffering from a misguided sense of inferiority in a culture that in values white skin over theirs and a church that created a Jesus to match, Hart suggests that may surely be the cause of African American churches and individuals who are silent in the face of injustice or who condone the values of the dominant culture to the detriment and even dismissal of their own people.

Hart also takes to task those white Christians who console themselves by quickly condemning the more blatant racism of others who use derogatory epithets and murder unarmed blacks. His encounter with a white woman who is an interloper at an intense discussion of race among mostly black and brown people movingly recalls Jesus and the rich young man. It is a vivid story for whites who, even while claiming their alliance with people of color, might look deeply within and ask themselves whether they would ever be willing give up the self-designated privilege of whiteness for the sake of true kinship with their sisters and brothers.

Hart completed his book in the heat of last summer’s events when, one by one, murders of unarmed black men and women by police and white citizens who were either never charged nor indicted, raised the public consciousness and drove tens of thousands into the streets in protests. The old debate resumed once again of whether an acknowledgement of the existence of racism is determined by the dominant perspective or by others’ direct experience of being at the bottom rung in a racialized world. Trouble I’ve Seen further draws back the veil that many say has been lifted from the false narrative of those assuming their dominance and hierarchical control that continue to shape our nation and it exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of American Christianity.

Yet Hart is patient, Hart is kind in his mission to soften hard hearts and open blind eyes and deaf ears to our miserable national racism and the tarnished Christianity which has been a shameful accomplice in carrying out that sin. We have to be told again and again because so many white Americans refuse to listen. We have to be shown over and over because so many of them refuse to see. Trouble I’ve Seen is written with eloquence and love, its argument made with orderly elegance. One is tempted to suggest that if any American Christian after reading this book doesn't understand how racism scars our history and stains our culture and see how the church must take Jesus off the cross of privilege and power and bring him down to where he lives and breathes amidst the least, the forgotten, the scorned, they never will.  If, on the other, one wants to follow the footsteps of Jesus and learn from him and know genuine transformation for themselves, the church, and their country, then reading this book should be the first step. 

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