Putting on Our Jeans for Justice
A Review of
Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love and Deliverance
Drew G.I. Hart
Paperback: Herald Press, 2020.
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Reviewed by L.J. Hall
In the introduction to his new book Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love and Deliverance, Drew G.I. Hart tells the story of Dr. King in 1963 Birmingham, emerging from a hotel on Good Friday, not in his Sunday best, but in blue jeans and a work shirt. He was sending a message that it was time to get to work – that the work that needed to be done for civil rights was not work that could be done by dressing in your Sunday best and only praying about it in church – it was real work, for real people, in a very real world.
Hart goes on to lay out a clearly organized thesis meant to “ignite and mobilize the church into faithful and revolutionary Jesus-shaped work for justice.” Reviewing his table of contents, it seems that his scope would be too wide to make any real, specific claim, but his systematic approach to a faithful reading of Scripture, the context of church history, the cause and effect of American history on race and justice, and the implications of all of this on our individual congregations perfectly funnels his thesis through to the heart of our interactions every day.
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To fully discuss how incisively Hart cuts to the heart of our Christian responsibility to be involved in justice, you need the full, immersive experience of the his logic and prose, but Chapter 2, where Hart spends time unpacking how to faithfully read Scripture, particularly focusing on the person and character of Barabbas. For anyone unsure if it is the place of the church to involve themselves with justice and liberation, this is the chapter to start your journey of discovery. Hart even says in the first few paragraphs that many people raised in the American church the idea of a “liberative Jesus” feels not only “strange” but also “misguided.” I so appreciate these openings to chapters, where, much like Jesus, Hart meets readers right where they are. He goes on to explain that the way we traditionally view Barabbas in the Christian church is probably not the real story or the whole story. He goes out to paint a picture of a man who was fighting for the justice of his people – who represented liberation, and discusses how very intentional the juxtaposition of Jesus with Barabbas is in the New Testament. Hart reminds us that while perhaps history will show Barabbas may have gone to “extreme” lengths to work against the empire, “the things that make for peace will never be found on the sidelines, and they won’t be found through condemning how others deal with oppression.”
If we, as a nation, and more particularly, as a church, are going to be effective at contributing to justice and “a non-violent revolutionary faith that bears witness to Jesus,” we are going to have to be willing to consider a different path than the one we’re on now. We need to be willing to reconsider our liturgies and our politics, our worship and our economics. Thankfully, this is exactly what Drew Hart’s book does for us. He lovingly lays out a straightforward, unapologetic defense for non-violent activism, and a plan to help us work for change in ourselves, our churches and our country.
Who Will Be a Witness? ends with a chapter called “The Politics of Love,” and, in this chapter, Hart ties it all together in a way that, even the most conservative-minded person will have to admit, that there is no real love without action. The moving practicality of his writing can be seen just by looking at the headings within this chapter: “Loving God and Neighbor,” “Agape is Not About Sentimentality,” and “When Love and Righteous Indignation Kiss” just to name a few. Here he pulls together the writings of Howard Thurman and Dr. King, tells stories illustrating the politics of love from modern-day Pennsylvania to Augustine’s Rome, and confronts injustice head-on in the likes of Jim Crow Laws to the response to the Black Lives Matter movement. But he doesn’t leave us to pull all this together on our own. He ends the book with a re-telling of the story of Jonah. He points out that Jonah is asked to go to his political and social enemies and bring them the love of God, and after multiple refusals, he faces the fact that though God’s radical love is absolutely extended to all, even the Ninevites, but not without God’s love also reaching out and healing those victimized by their brutality. Or as Hart so clearly states in one of the final paragraphs of the book, “The politics of love should always prioritize the healing and restoration of victims, but if we desire to participate in God’s love, then we also extend an opportunity for violators to repent as well.”
If you’re looking to read someone who believes in the fullness of God’s love and our active role in liberation, Who Will Be a Witness? is for you. If you’re looking to learn more about the Scriptural reading that leads to a liberation theology and justice-centered liturgy, this book is for you. If you’re looking for more information about how your friends neighbors are experiencing God’s love and justice lived out in the world, or how they should be, this book is for you.
L.J. Hall is a high school English and biology teacher from Detroit, where she, along with her husband and two children, enjoy playing sports and taking road trips.