Why Centrism Is Off the Path!

Whether it’s politics, theology, or one’s official stance on Justin Bieber, it seems the growing sentiment is that being a centrist is always the right way to go. Given that option, or the other which is being labeled a radical or extremist, it seems like a pretty obvious answer, right?

Wrong!

Since when did being in the middle of the pack all of a sudden mean you were closest to being right.  A boring, vanilla, mainstream, dominant, popular, status quo perspective has never, and further more, will never mean you got it right on a particular subject. For example, when my ancestors were being brought from Africa as slaves, and the majority of Western Europe baptized it as morally fine, did that centrist view make it right?  In fact, it seems that during many of the most horrific events of history, the most centrist thing to do has been to apathetically turn a blind eye to the inhumane treatment and silently go about one’s personal business with minimal resistance against the wrongdoers.  No I am sorry, the centrist middle path hardly gets you anywhere.

You know what the Apostle Paul, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Deitrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and Cornel West have in common? None of them were centrists, in fact each one of them would be best understood as radicals or extremists for their times. I know what your thinking “now wait a minute, I wouldn’t use extremist or radical to describe them, I save that category for nutjubs, terrorists, and bigots”. Immoral and crazy people very well might be radicals or extremists, I am not arguing that. The question that matters is not if they are radical, but rather to what are they radical? Are you radical about love, justice, mercy, equality, and human dignity? Those things ought not have a limit which caps them by the norm expressions of the larger society. Radicalism and extremism are not only acceptable but are made perfect when they have found their appropriate home.

As a Christian I ultimately look to Jesus as the model for life.  He surely was no centrist. His way was so different from every contemporary tradition that existed (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) that the only honest way to describe him would be as an extremist or radical. Calling others to laydown and sacrifice their life for others is radical. Telling people to take up their cross to die as they follow him is radical. Expecting people to be willing to leave home and family for his sake is radical.  Shoot, loving your neighbor as yourself and turning the other cheek when someone hits you just seems plain crazy because Jesus was a radical.

Being centrist, mainstream, and working out your morality by popular consensus will always take you down the wide path of comfort, if that is what you are looking for. But I reject centrism in search of that narrow, unbeaten path where great radicals are shaped and formed

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

 

 

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

6 thoughts on “Why Centrism Is Off the Path!

  1. I’m with you on our call as Christians to be willing to take the narrow road. In calling out “centrism,” however, I think there should be a distinction between attempting to think/do what is most popular, and committing oneself to examine nuance and to look at other’s opinions as objectively as possible. While the former is cowardice, the latter is a noble pursuit, imo, and is necessary in our world rife with extremist viewpoints. Further, committing to nuance means, in the end, more thoughtful and humble conviction as we attempt to traverse that “narrow path” of Jesus.

    1. Jlundewhitler,
      Thanks for responding. I definitely agree that having the ability to demonstrate nuance, critical thinking, and as much as humanly possible for finite people, objectivity as well. I guess my critique is not necessarily meant to push people away from listening and trying to understand and empathize with people ideologically opposed to them. My concern is that many seem to think that best place to be is always in the middle of two opposing popular positions. My problems with that approach is that both positions could be problematic.

      For example, I think that both the republican and democratic party in my eyes are problematic. Neither seem to address the real needs and concerns of black urban residents (despite the democratic party’s popularity in the black communnity). The answer to this problem is not finding some type of happy medium the two parties, I think some radical measures are needed. This does not mean that I should stop trying to understand where conservative republicans or progressive democrats are coming from, but it does mean that I am willing to stand alone if necessary, because my concerns are not being addressed by the dominant cultures options.

      I could say the same thing about conservative and liberal theology… but I think you probably get where I am coming from now. I love nuance, and chasing after objectivity (even if it can’t ever fully be attained).

  2. I figured we were on the same page here re: nuance. 🙂 If I may, I think we’d also both agree that oftentimes the best solution is not picking between two sides (oftentimes the lesser of two evils) but in transcending the dichotomous conversations by going an entirely different direction. In the context of your post, we could say that taking the “middle path” (i.e., “centrism”) is often inferior to taking a “third path” that transcends the dichotomy. It’s by following Jesus, further, that we so take a perceived dichotomy into a third dimension. Fair?

    I only made the distinction originally because of the tendency of some to assume that a willingness to hear and to listen to others signifies a “wishy-washiness” of conviction. The other part of my concern is how those attempting to follow Christ can manage to make connection and conversation with those fighting the battles of Western culture, and how we can both affirm and stand against aspects of viewpoints and actions (e.g., when government passes just or unjust laws, respectively), all while still refusing to play by the same-old rules…. (I have some ideas on how to do this, but I certainly haven’t discovered a “solution,” if there is one.)

  3. This weblog appears to get a great deal of visitors. How do you get traffic to it? It gives a nice individual twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to talk about is the most important thing.

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