“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?
In recent days, the stain of racism and prejudice has once again revealed itself in ugly ways. Instinctively we know this is not how people should be treated, but who or what can we appeal to as our basis for justice and equality?
On the morning of Tuesday 23rd January 2018, the Financial Times published an explosive lead story. It revealed unsavoury details of the relentless sexual harassment suffered by hostesses at The Presidents Club charity dinner held at London’s Dorchester Hotel. The event was an all-male get together of some of the most influential names from the worlds of business, sport, politics, and entertainment. Some of the hostesses, who were students earning extra cash, were “groped, sexually harassed, and propositioned” by some of the guests. The fallout from the investigation was huge: there was outrage from business and political leaders, including then prime minister Theresa May, and the following day The Presidents Club shut down after a 30-year existence.
Amidst the media frenzy, one reflection really struck me. Nick Spencer, Senior Fellow at Theos (a religious affairs think tank) wrote,
“Drunk, rich men ogling, prodding, groping, humiliating women is not made right because they donate large sums of money to charity. And it is not made right because some women say they like them doing that. It is simply wrong because human beings have a dignity that should preclude such behaviour.”
A belief in the inherent dignity of women stands at the heart of the fight for greater equality between the sexes. In recent days, I’ve thought a lot about the ‘Me Too’ movement in light of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There are some interesting parallels between that movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. First, in both cases, there has been a very public and very forceful rejection of long-standing, systemic discrimination. Then there’s the global nature of the response. Hearing victims’ stories from one place has encouraged others to come forward with their stories. A few rueful mea culpas have sparked conversations about who we are and how we move forward together in the fight against injustice.
From conversations I’ve had with friends, I’ve been struck by one huge, and not insignificant assumption: human beings have an inherent and permanent worth that can never be taken away by anyone. This fuels the drive for justice and equality. However, a question we rarely ask is “why?” Why do women’s lives matter? Why do black lives matter?
Spencer continues “We bear the image of God (however fractured), an image of such love and self-giving that to treat it (and us) as anything less is an act of sacrilege.” One of the cornerstones of Biblical Christianity is the belief that God made us in his image out of love. This means every human has worth and value that comes to them from the outside. It can never be taken away from them and it can never be derived from anything else. We have God’s imprint on us, like a painting that carries its artist’s signature. And that is why I can confidently say that racism is wrong.
It was wrong when another pupil in my first week at a new school called out, “What’s up ma nigga?!” It was wrong when a white friend commented on a Facebook post of me at a gig saying, “You’re so white.” It was wrong when, while in the loo at a fellow church member’s house, I overheard someone say that I might steal something. “You know the stereotype,” they laughed. These sentiments—that question your humanity, your motives, your trustworthiness, based on nothing more than your skin colour, repeatedly, in different guises, in different situations, as banter, as wilful ignorance—are wrong. And it is wrong that COVID-19 deaths have been experienced, disproportionately, by black and other minority ethnic people. But into this context, God reminds me that I was imagined, and then created, by him, out of love. And that is good news.
Here’s why else all this matters. This conviction is what actually gives us the foundation, and the tools, for fighting injustice. It serves both the oppressed and the oppressor, giving them hope where none existed before. For black people, the person of Jesus provides comfort, and joy and life grounded in his death and resurrection and the promise of a new world where “there will be no more tears.” For those white people, looking for a place to take their guilt, for their complicity in white supremacy, actively or through ignorance, God seeks repentance and promises his forgiveness. The Cross of Jesus is the strongest basis for any work of racial justice and reconciliation.