Fortress Press

Our Trespasses: White Churches and the Taking of American Neighborhoods

Our Trespasses

White Churches and the Taking of American Neighborhoods

Greg Jarrell (Author), Chanequa Walker-Barnes (Foreword by)


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Our Trespasses uncovers how race, geography, policy, and religion have created haunted landscapes in Charlotte, North Carolina, and throughout the United States. How do we value our lands, livelihoods, and communities? How does our theology inform our capacity--or lack thereof--for memory? What responsibilities do we bear toward those who have been harmed, not just by individuals but by our structures and collective ways of being in the world?

Abram and Annie North, both born enslaved, purchased a home in the historically Black neighborhood of Brooklyn in the years following the Civil War. Today, the site of that home stands tucked beneath a corner of the First Baptist Church property on a site purchased under the favorable terms of Urban Renewal campaigns in the mid-1960s. How did FBC wind up in what used to be Brooklyn--a neighborhood that no longer exists? What happened to the Norths? How might we heal these hauntings? This is an American story with implications far beyond Brooklyn, Charlotte, or even the South. By carefully tracing the intertwined fortunes of First Baptist Church and the formerly enslaved North family, Jarrell opens our eyes to uncomfortable truths with which we all must reckon.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506494920
  • eBook ISBN 9781506494937
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 267
  • Publication Date February 20, 2024


Our Trespasses is a powerful and provocative witness that compels white congregations and denominational communities to think deeply and confessionally about our past while also summoning us to commit to a much different kind of future. How have our theological language and ministry practices allowed us to participate in and even benefit from urban renewal projects that have decimated Black neighborhoods and congregations? How have we been blind to our neighbors and the systems and structures that hold them in bondage? How can we now use our words, our witness, and our properties to repair the devastations of many generations while also seeking a future that is just? Just as Our Trespasses confronts us with haunted urban landscapes around us, it also offers the kind of challenge to be expected as the Holy Spirit convicts, reproves, and summons us to a life worthy of the gospel.

Paul Baxley, executive coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Because Greg Jarrell stands somewhere (in the physical place of Charlotte, North Carolina), practices deep neighboring (tending to joys and sorrows through screen doors and on back porches), and navigates his life by a theological compass (mapping to biblical narratives that provide a robust understanding of our place in history), he reads his city's urban social architecture spiritually--demanding both transformative justice and unstrained mercy.

While many have lauded and critiqued urban renewal movements in the US, few have looked deeply into its impact on Southern cities. Fewer still have unpacked the role white Protestant Christianity has played as a driver in city planning, with inevitable race-based schisms. As James Baldwin said in 1963, "Urban renewal means Negro removal."

Jarrell's engaging storytelling, fresh historical research, and commitment to preserving the dignity of all the characters (living and dead) draw readers deep into questions about where we live, who lives around us, and what ghosts of "communities past" are just beyond our sightline.

Jarrell reveals where the religious perspectives of the characters expand or contract in this recovery of the religious history of urban renewal, with a particular focus on white churches in Charlotte. Additionally, he offers fresh scriptural interpretation on Jesus' landowner parables and into the healing encounters that engage spirits that silence and bind. This is a necessary read for city planners, church leaders, real estate developers, social historians, community organizers, and those who believe the Bible speaks urgently to our present condition.

Rose Marie Berger, senior editor, Sojourners magazine

Our Trespasses uses a fascinating story about one family, one piece of land, and one church to get us to think about housing inequalities in the US. What if we could point to the people and institutions who are responsible? Would we be brave enough to hold them accountable? Would they be courageous enough to hold themselves accountable? The book is sociological in its conception, historical in its details, and theological in its profoundness. And most impressively, it is deeply personally reflective. To use the words of Charles Mills, Greg Jarrell is a white renegade and a race traitor who has thought a great deal about resisting and refusing the racial contract. Our Trespasses is a one-of-a-kind book, an enlightening read.

Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Vann Associate Professor of Racial Justice, Department of Sociology, Davidson College

Urban Renewal--the massive 1960s program of displacement and demolition in US cities--provokes the agonized question "What were they thinking?" By focusing on the actions of churches and their members, this thoughtful book documents the workings of power, both economic and cultural. Greg Jarrell has crafted a "people story" that illuminates the humanity behind public policy decisions.

Thomas W. Hanchett, historian and author of Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975

In 1963 Dr. King wrote that it was "necessary to X-ray our history and reveal the full extent of the disease" of racism. Greg Jarrell's brilliant study does just that, demonstrating the revelatory power of rereading the past and present of one's place through lenses of haunted land, race and class genealogies, and traditions of resilience. Having been apprenticed for two decades to one Charlotte neighborhood, Jarrell exhumes stories of struggle against structural racism and poverty entombed beneath parking lots and sanctuaries. He follows white and Black families (and churches) "like ghosts" through epochs of betrayal: from Reconstruction to "Urban Renewal" to contemporary gentrification. The narrative particularities of this book are deeply engaging, laced with (literally) penetrating and achingly honest vignettes of place, people, and spirits. Yet the strategies of development, displacement, and disparity it traces were reproduced in every major American city over the last century, including where I grew up a continent away. I cannot commend more highly the challenging sociological and biblical reflections herein, which take urban theology deeper and offer a personal and political map for how white churches might yet turn to a vocation of penance and restorative justice.

Ched Myers, coauthor of Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization

By doggedly pursuing the history of Charlotte, North Carolina, and particularly the complicity of white churches in its urban renewal, Greg Jarrell makes a striking case for churches in other places to likewise explore the local histories of the people and institutions that have been bulldozed by the racially and economically oppressive forces of such renewal. Our Trespasses poignantly reminds us that the histories of our places matter in the formation of who we are and what we hope to become as churches. By wrestling with these painful histories of his place, Jarrell offers a fresh vision for cultivating Christian communities that are attentive to the gospel of healing and liberation that Jesus embodied.

Christopher Smith, senior editor, The Englewood Review of Books, and author of multiple books including How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church


"James Baldwin once said that urban renewal means Negro removal. Baptist minister Jarrell's passionate look at the negative impact of the 1960s urban renewal on one city, Charlotte, NC, is proof positive of Baldwin's observation. . . . a searing cautionary story that demands attention."