Black History Month began as an idea of African American historians in the USA almost a hundred years ago and is seen as an occasion to mark and celebrate the (often overlooked) contribution of people of colour in making history. Black History Month 2020 comes after a tumultuous few months of racial tensions in the USA and around the world following the murder of George Floyd in May. That tragic death challenges us to reflect again on the issue of racial discrimination, an issue that is not just a problem “over there” but impacts our city too. Here are 2 things that have emerged for me reading Black History which I hope get us thinking at church. Next week’s newsletter will have some further thoughts.
Firstly, as Christians, Black History rightly reminds us to celebrate the many people of colour who have inspired faith, shown courage and fought for justice. In recent times we could look at, for example, the lives and teachings of Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr, John Sentamu or Maya Angelou as examples of how the cause of peace and justice for all were advanced from the basis of the teachings of Jesus.
Secondly, I am learning from reading Black History how the contributions of people of colour have often been overlooked and in some cases purposely written out of the historical record. We need to remember that the vast majority of Christians across history were not white people and the political and cultural centre of the Christian church today is not the Anglo-Saxon, Western church. To pick just one example as it might relate to us – can it be right that many of our religious paintings, stained glass windows and children’s books regularly depict Jesus, Bible characters and many saints as having pale complexions when often their ethnic heritage was not white? There is a challenge here, at the very least, to think carefully about how we accurately pass on the faith to our children and how we organise our worship spaces.