Last week, I wrote in our newsletter about Black History Month, and you can read that instalment here. This week, I wanted to address a more difficult topic raised by Black History Month: racism in the church. We may see this as a problem elsewhere, but two books recently that have raised the issue for Christians in this country of explicit and subtle forms of racism in church are Ben Lindsay’s “We need to talk about Race” and Rev Azariah France-William’s “Ghost Ship,” the latter a stinging rebuke to us in the Church of England by a serving priest. The issue made national headlines in June this year when Rev Augustine Tanner-Ihm, an African-American ministering here in the UK, was rejected without interview for a role in a white, working class area as he was said to not be a good “match.” What makes this so incredibly sad, is at the heart of our faith is a radical vision of rich diversity across ethnicities united in God’s love for us in Jesus. As Christians, we have every reason to lead the way on these issues. I am grateful for our diversity at St John’s with St Mary’s, but I invite conversation on how we can do better.
I have also learned that some of the so-called “heroes” in the faith were themselves guilty of (at best) a blindness towards people of colour and at worst a complicity in perpetuating injustice. The great theologian Jonathan Edwards (not the triple jumper!) was a slave owner, as was the renowned preacher George Whitfield. They persisted in their views, despite Christians around them protesting. I note sadly that I only found out about this shadowy aspect of these men’s lives much later, not at college, and only from my readings in Black History. Perhaps this reminds us to be careful of our own blindness to injustice: what are people saying to us that we are wilfully ignoring today? It also makes me hope in a day when we won’t need Black History Month at all – when everyone’s achievements and failings, regardless of skin colour, are accurately reflected in how we think about all our history all of the time.