“I can’t breathe”
We are departing from the usual subject area for our Blog this week in order to reflect on the issue of racism and racial injustice.
The videoed murder of George Floyd two weeks ago at the knee of police brutality shocked the world. The subsequent outpouring of protest has caused many of us to take an inside look at the shadow side of our humanity and bring it to the cross of Christ in repentance.
The Church and the Christian cannot remain silent and walk on by. The gospel speaks to the dignity of all made in the image of God and to the mandate not just to love the Lord our God but to love our neighbour.
We always need to listen to each other, but especially now to those many voices among our multicultural Church family at Lansdowne whose lived experience may be one of painful rejection and prejudice based upon their colour and ethnicity.
One of those voices is Chipo Muwowo. He is a journalist whose recently published article we reproduce. Here’s a helpful start to a conversation we must have about how we understand the issues and respond to them.
Peter Baker | Senior Minister
But why do black lives matter? (Part 2)
Recent events and the following discussions have made many feel uncomfortable—either because we feel judged or excluded by the colour of our skin, or because we have realised that in some way we may have been complicit. Racism reveals a deeper problem in humanity, but we are not without hope.
One of the unwritten but important rules of living as an ethnic minority person in Britain is that you quickly have to learn how to navigate white spaces. These are physical spaces where few or no other non-white people regularly appear in significant numbers—think village pubs, certain workplaces, historic rural properties. The result is that you become an unofficial ambassador in these spaces, a representative whose actions can help or hinder your community’s cause. In typically white spaces, it can become a subconscious preoccupation to seek to quickly allay any fears that the white majority might have resulting from your presence there.
One such space for me is a local 11th century parish church, particularly when it plays host to one of my favourite annual classical concerts. Since 2016, my wife and I have been to hear Messiah by 18th century composer George Frideric Handel.
From start to finish, the composition paints a stunning, big picture of the Biblical story using only words taken directly from the Scriptural text. Its focus is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. I still attend the performance each year because I never want to be ruled by fear or other’s possible opinions of me. I also just love the oratorio!
In the first two parts, the text drops big hints that not all is well with humanity:
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
“Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
The central Christian message is that God comes to us to fix a problem within us that we cannot fix ourselves. The problem with our world, according to the Bible, isn’t just that we occasionally do wrong and hurtful things, but that we’re in decisive combat against the God who made us and loves us. We’re all wilful rebels; we’re all deserving of punishment. Like an affair that ruins a wonderful marriage, we all have loved other things instead of God and the relationship is broken.
If we’re honest, we’re incapable of living up to our highest ideals—just take a cursory look at the cognitive dissonance that exists between our declarations to hate racism and our gross inconsistencies on the issue. But we’re in good company because even the man who wrote most of the New Testament shares this frustration,
“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
The Gospel (or “Good News”) is that God, in the person of Jesus, comes into our world to willingly die so that the just and fair punishment for our sin is subsumed by him. If this is how great the cost of forgiveness, then consider how valuable the people he died to save are? Not just a life given to redeem a life, but the very life of God given to redeem his creation. This is how much lives matter and how much black lives matter. Justice is served but hope for humanity is secured, and the commitment to justice for the oppressed is not lost but empowered.
We’ve made huge progress in making our society fairer for all. We’re proud of our apparent tolerance and common decency. But the recent conversations about racism, and my experience of finding a trip to a local church an exercise in debunking racial stereotypes, is just a small glimpse into how far we have to go. From a Christian standpoint, it’s not surprising that in 2020, racism is still a thing. The human heart is the problem and while we have incredible abilities for love, kindness and creativity, we’re still tainted. We’re glorious ruins, a bit like the Colosseum. As you read the New Testament, it becomes clear that you can’t accuse Christianity of a lack of candour when it comes to diagnosing the human condition.
Christianity has been misused by some as a means of subjugating black nations around the world—think of slavery, colonialism and apartheid—but the answer to this is not to reject Jesus but to recover a truly biblical Christianity in which there’s no room for this kind of evil and corruption.
So, black lives matter because they are made in God’s image—that was my main point in Part 1 of this series. They also matter because Jesus died to save them. And if he places such value on them, then we should too. We must allow him to change our hearts as we seek to change the world.