Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart

July 15, 2016 by
Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart

Racism is a flashpoint today. If you want to have an ugly conversation, post something on social media about race. It gets even more difficult for the church, which has an iffy track record at best. Sunday morning has long been decried the most segregated hour of the week.

But if the church is going to be the church, we need to be willing to confront racism or risk losing any authority to speak on moral issues.

Trouble I’ve Seen is a challenging starting point for churches in the conversation on race.

This may seem like a conversation best left to pastors and elder boards, but it has serious consequences when it comes to communication. If we assume race is not an issue, we’re likely to step on toes without knowing it. If we don’t approach the issue with grace and wide open eyes, we’re likely to make some painful mistakes. Even when we are aware, we still make mistakes.

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart brings a challenging perspective to how the church handles race. The book presents a view rooted in a theology of the oppressed. Again and again, Hart argues, we see Jesus aligning himself with the oppressed and downtrodden, eschewing power.

Racial issues are often mixed up with issues of class and power, so Hart sees this as a foundational understanding:

“Most people in the church comprehend the problem as though it were a horizontal divide between two people on equal standing… [but] racism isn’t first and foremost about a horizontal divide; it is a vertically structured hierarchy.” (26)

This also becomes foundational for communication work, because avoiding mistakes requires understanding the broader issues at play. Race isn’t simply a black and white issue.

What it comes down to is that a lack of understanding about racial issues can lead us into communication mistakes. Furthermore, our goal should be more than just avoiding mistakes. The goal isn’t political correctness, the goal is advancing the gospel. Let’s not allow racism to be a stumbling block to the gospel.

Trouble I’ve Seen is a challenging starting point for churches. It’s frankly honest and timely, raising questions and addressing common critiques about how we understand racism today.

No matter what you think of these incidents, churches need to be aware of the dynamics at play.

So What Are We Talking About?

That all sounds nicely theoretical. What does this mean as our churches communicate?

The Invasion

One example from Trouble I’ve Seen is a youth group doing a service project in Harrisburg, Penn. Primarily white students handing out grocery bags of food in a predominately black neighborhood. There were a number of issues that made this problematic, from the random distribution to the lack of partnership with existing efforts. But what most made this a church FAIL? The T-shirts every student wore, emblazoned with the slogan “Harrisburg Invasion Day.”

Tokenism

Another example is when church leadership or platform personalities are entirely of one culture (or even gender). That can be problematic as churches are trying to reach a more diverse community, but the solution is not solved by sticking a solitary person of color on the platform. Churches (and organizations like our own) need to work to include a diverse crowd in planning, leadership and volunteer roles.

You haven’t achieved diversity with one or two token examples in positions with little or no influence or power. Homogenous church leadership or visible personalities communicates just as strongly as social media or bulletin inserts.

Love the Police

Last year a church in Minnesota drew protests for its planned “Love the Police” event. After multiple high-profile incidents where people were killed by police, this planned event ignored the simmering tensions between the community and the police. No matter what you think of these incidents, churches need to be aware of the dynamics at play.

Thankfully in this case the protests led to productive dialogue, and the church renamed the event “Love the Community” with a wider focus on first responders.

And it continues. After police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana prompted protest and then five police officers were killed at a protest in Dallas, it only gets harder. Transformation Church in Charlotte brought local police chief Kerr Putney to the stage for a conversation with Pastor Derwin Gray about racism, violence and the police:

“We’ve got to confront some difficult things. We’ve got to stop trying to sugarcoat everything.”

Multi-Ethnic Churches

While it’s encouraging to see more diverse churches, Hart doesn’t give them a free pass:

“The presence of a multi-cultural church, merely as an institution or service, can oversell the amount of transformation that’s happening.”

Toward Transformation

Trouble I’ve Seen pushes us to see racism as a deeper problem than a few “bad racists.” The first step is to recognize the issue, but let’s be clear that simply being aware of a problem doesn’t automatically fix it. The church has a lot of work to do in overcoming centuries of inherent racism, from slavery to segregation, and the effects we continue to see today.

So as we work through this issue, and especially as we communicate, let’s look closely at the ministry of Jesus and how he confronted societal norms and power structures. As Paul exhorts in Romans 12:2, may we no longer be conformed to this world, but may we be transformed by God.

When communities are hurting, the church must mourn and weep and hope and love and pray:

More:

As I’ve explored this issue, it’s helpful to know where you’re at personally. Are you ready for a deep conversation about race or are you just starting out? If you’re feeling defensive, angry or dismissive, you might be diving in too deep, too quickly. It’s OK to be uncomfortable—these are hard conversations—but if it’s going to be productive you need to be at the right level. Drew Hart addresses this in Trouble I’ve Seen (113-114) and that might be helpful background as your church approaches this conversation.

A good first step is the work of Tasha Morrison and Be the Bridge.

Other Resources:

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Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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