It could be seen as a bit strange to be focusing in on a white person during black history month, right? After all, the whole purpose of black history month is to finally learn about the experiences, culture, and heritage of black people in a culture that only values white history, culture, and literature.
Nonetheless, today on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday, we briefly stop and remember this man who literally gave his life because of his Christian convictions. However, I will not spend most of your time on what he did to resist Nazi Germany (which you probably already know), but rather to remember his time in Harlem, NY.
In 1930, Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and also attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Very few white Christians in America have been willing to place themselves under black spiritual leadership (the opposite is much more frequent), yet Bonhoeffer did just that and was shaped significantly by those experiences. He not only loved the Negro Spirituals and culture there (which he admitted he did), but he also had his faith impacted dramatically has he began to see life “from below”. It was here that he fully grasped the Church’s call to pursue justice and its unfortunate participation and perpetuation of racism and segregation.
So why Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Because he offers a model for what can be. People in the dominant culture can indeed emerge themselves into black culture and community, and more than that… they can actually learn and grow from that opportunity. So, I invite you to take the Bonhoeffer challenge, and immerse yourself in black culture, community, and history this month and see how it might impact you. Let me know if you are up for the challenge.
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.
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5 thoughts on “Black History: Focusing in on Bonhoeffer???”
hi, awesome post, and an amazing understand! at least one for my favorites.
I have a friend who is finishing up his disseration on the Black Church’s impact on Bonhoeffer. It is interesting stuff. Not only because he was willing to place himself under Black leadership, but that because of the impact from those churches, he went back to influence his community and ultimately came out with a fuller version of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer was, perhaps, as impactful as he was because his work embodies a degree of “multicultural” understanding of faith. Thanks for this post.
hey Im doing some work in bonhoeffer and the black church. You think your friend can send me some resources to be looked at? Im a grad student in theology also.. thanks.
That’s really interesting. I have always liked Bonhoeffer and have had similar thoughts and interests around Bonhoeffer’s being influenced by the black community. I am looking at possibly getting into a PhD program in a year, and while I don’t plan to focus on him purely, i have thought that I would like to incorporate him in some way. Anyway, sounds like some interesting stuff your friend is working on, something I definitely would enjoy reading.