Drew Hart’s journey has pulled him into uncharted territory. His theological work is an encounter at the borderlines between black liberation theology and Anabaptism.
Rarely linked in academic circles, Hart argues that the shared pursuit of justice equips these two traditions to be complimentary conversation partners. Although, Hart emphatically adds, “Anabaptism needs black theology more than black theology needs Anabaptism.”
The origins of black theology can be traced back to the publication of James Cone’s Black Theology & Black Power in 1969. Black theology is a multidimensional approach to theological reflection. Born out of the ongoing experience of oppression endured by the African-American community in the United States, black theology draws from Christianity, the Civil Rights movement, and Black Power. Like feminist, womanist, or Latin American liberation theology, black theology communicates that God is partial to the struggle of those who are the most invisible and least powerful in our culture and society.
The tone of black theology is overwhelmingly constructive. The hope of black theology is not only the radical liberation of the African-American community from racial prejudice, but the emergence of a renewed society, one that provides equal power to all.
Hart’s own engagement with black theology began during his undergraduate studies in Biblical Studies at Messiah College. His discovery of Anabaptism came at the tail-end of his Masters of Divinity work at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pa. Now, as a doctoral candidate at Lutheran Theology Seminary in Philadelphia, Hart is focused on creating scholarship that furthers the conversation between the two traditions that have shaped his faith story.
Hart’s desire to draw resonances between black theology and Anabaptism is as promising as it is timely. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, many Christians concerned about racial justice sought to lament the ruling. Hart has used his vibrant theology blog as a medium to analyze the verdict’s social and political implications in light of Christ’s resurrection and subsequent defeat of the powers of violence. On his blog, Hart writes, “God invites us to be part of his Resurrection world that overcomes the violence and oppression of this current world and to participate in the world to come, where the vulnerability of young men like Trayvon (and our loved ones) will no longer happen.”
As an associate pastor at Lansdale’s Montco Bible Fellowship and a developing teacher, Hart is passionate about helping Christians of all colors follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Indeed, the sub-title of Hart’s blog, “Taking Jesus Seriously,” always means paying attention to – and having the eyes to see – how social power is unjustly determined by race and class dynamics in our present context.
This challenge is especially hard for white Christians, who often take for granted being in positions of social dominance.
“Dominance is a blinder,” says Hart, and the possibility of overcoming racial injustice involves allowing those in positions of social prestige to be haunted by an uncomfortable challenge: “Can we, despite all of our instincts, truly and fully trust the experience of the other?” This question is, for Hart, a question that Anabaptists are uniquely suited to ask as underdogs in the history of the church. Intentionally working to process our social locations through stories and experiences told by the “least of these,” according to Hart, is something Anabaptists have always attempted to do, albeit imperfectly.
As a leader in both the church and academy, Hart is driven by a vision of justice. It is a vision, though, that is energized by a prayerful patience that God’s solidarity with the oppressed and the biblical promise of a reconciled world will overcome injustice. For Hart, the church is “called out” to be an agent of God’s healing so that the watching world might “catch a glimpse of Jesus’ life.” The church’s public witness is most powerful when it engages in, Hart says, “concrete acts of wrestling with a society in relationship to what it might become” rather than accepting what it may be in the present.
In order for the church to bear witness to God’s dream of a just world, the continual work of overcoming internal divisions and tensions is critical. The church worships each and every Sunday under the gaze of a watching world, a world that is increasingly longing for an encounter with the reconciled people of God. With a pastoral spirit and a vibrant theological vision, Drew Hart is a leader who will continue to help us discern how to embody justice in our communities.