It is with some trepidation I write this post as I know there will be those in the church better placed to comment on the events of the last few weeks. I refer to the horrendous footage of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis in America. It is difficult to watch and I know many people have tried and failed to see the footage to the end, as Christians I believe we should watch to the end for so much of scripture tells us to stand along side those who are oppressed.
As we continue to experience the ramifications of George Floyd’s death across the world it is easy to dismiss this as not our problem – “it took place 4000 miles away”, “We are not racist like America”, “I work with coloured people and we get on fine”. This does not excuse the fact that racism is still happening in our country and society today and dare I say it even in our church. Don’t believe me? Then talk to a BAME teenager, talk to a minister with a Caribbean or African heritage.
Within the protests of recent weeks there have been a number of phrases used in the discussions which I have found challenging. Firstly there is the phrase ‘white privilege’. Initially I reacted against this, I may be white but I am not privileged. I did not receive a large inheritance from my father, I do not benefit from a trust fund, I was not sent to a prestigious private school, but that is viewing privilege from my white english background. So in true biblical fashion I will tell you a parable.
You may have the same job, earn the same salary, live on the same street, and drive the same model car as your black neighbour, so you may not see yourself as privileged, but when you go out into the street you are not called derogatory names, no one will make monkey noises in your face or throw bananas at you, or tell you to go back to where you came from. As white person the Prime Minister would not make fun of your appearance or compare the way you dress as to looking like a letterbox – that’s white privilege.
The second issue I have wrestled with is the ‘Black lives matter/All lives matter’ argument. We know that God cares for all his children irrespective of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality. What is being said is that at this moment ‘Black lives Matter’. Look at the teaching of Jesus in Luke 15:3-7:-
‘So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.’
The shepherd did not abandon the 99 but he knew they were safe and so focused on the one that was lost. At these times we need to focus on the black community who need our understanding and support, silence is not an option.
My third and final issue was watching the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. As some one who has been influenced by the non-violent campaigners in the world – Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar Romero – to see violence, even violence against property, makes me feel sick. Again I go to scripture to be reminded that in some circumstances people need to to take radical action.
‘Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those who were selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have turned it in a den of robbers”.’
With all this taking place against the background of the Coronavirus lockdown we find we are challenged, it would be easy to simply hide away in the hope that this will pass along with the current pandemic, but don’t ignore what is being said or asked of us by our sisters and brothers of the BAME community. Take time to speak and listen to what our sisters and brothers are really saying and when needed stand with them in their hour of need.
God bless and stay safe,