By Ethan Horst
400 years ago this year, the first Africans brought to North America’s Jamestown to be used as slave labor. This was how Dr. Drew Hart, author of “The Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism” and professor theology and religion at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, began his talk, title “400 Years of Black History: An Evening with Drew Hart” on Monday, Feb. 4, at Westminster Hall.
“There is a temptation to feel as though we don’t have to have a conversation about racism,” Hart said, because it seems to have happened so long ago. “One of the least controversial statements that you can make today is that the white people were wrong to enslave Africans,” Hart said. Yet, a mere 400 years ago, they set up a social system to benefit from their exploitation, defended by false theology and pseudoscience. Their social intuition ran contrary to the Gospel. Despite the Declaration of Independence stating that all men are created equal, the Supreme Court ruled that black Americans were not included in “all men.” 300 years after that first landing in Jamestown, the Supreme Court ruled seven to one that segregation was legal. Their social intuition was that this was fine, but that decision is now widely considered to be one of the worst Supreme Court rulings.
Hart made “one more stop” in the mid-20th century, a time when church bombings, KKK terrorism, fire hoses and police dog attacks, racialized legislative and housing practices, and more than 5,000 lynchings occurred. In a 1946 poll, though, seven out of ten white Americans believed African-Americans “were being treated fairly.” Amid this time of social and legislative racial oppression, it was also the most Christianized period in American history. The history of America shows that people must consider whether any majority group can see clearly whether they are prejudiced or oppressive, Hart said.
According to Hart, a similar trend is ongoing today. Many voices dismiss race as a factor in today’s society, but we cannot assume that a system that was broken for 350 years suddenly gained a perfect perspective. The root problem is the flawed socialization of the majority group, who interact predominantly with those identical to them. This includes the church, which has been too complicit in racism and oppression for too long.
The solution, according to Hart, is to focus on the Biblical narrative. Hart quoted 1 Corinthians 1:27, which states “but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” This guiding principle gives us a new social intuition: counter-intuitive solidarity, which leads Christians to seek out and embrace the marginalized and oppressed, which Hart calls “the vantage point of the crucified Christ.”
“Christian discipleship, when it takes seriously Jesus’s own social orientation and dispositions in the midst of power dynamics and oppressions of his day can also provide deliverance to those bound by white supremacy’s intuitions to find repentance for their faulty social intuitions,” Hart said.
Image above: Drew Hart speaks to a packed crowd in Westminster Hall on Monday, Feb. 4th.