Alongside the Covid pandemic, the last year has seen the call for action on racial justice gathering momentum, both inside and outside the church.
Churches are committed to working together on the journey of seeking racial justice – both within our churches and in wider society – and a number of ecumenical initiatives have gathered pace in recent months, including the establishment of CTE’s Racial Justice Working Group. This brings together racial justice representatives from across CTE’s 50 Member Churches, along with CTE trustees, a representative from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), and others with specialist skills and knowledge.
Explaining the purpose and vision of the Working Group, Shermara Fletcher, CTE’s Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic and Multi-cultural Relations, explains:
“CTE’s newly established Racial Justice Working Group gathers to provide support, share best practice, discuss theological and ecclesiological issues and provide the opportunity to implement solutions to ensure our Member Churches are beacons of racial justice best practice within their own structures. The vision is to foster deep relationships, ecumenically breakdown negative perceptions of the other and to ensure that global majority diasporas living in the UK find safe, equal and equitable spaces to flourish in British society. The church is committed to be being at the forefront of this change.”
“The wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as the momentous guilty verdict delivered to his murderer on 20 April 2021, serves as a reminder to the church and the world that justice is not a secular liberal movement. Rather, justice is at the heart of Christian mission and Jesus’s ministry, which we strive as the church to uphold, living out Jesus’ command to do even greater things than he.
National church service for racial justice
CTBI and the Baptist Union (one of CTE’s Member Churches) have also recently pioneered a new ecumenical Racial Justice Advocacy Forum, providing legal, pastoral, psychological support to those in our churches and society impacted by institutional racism, resourcing the churches on racial justice.
The Forum has organised a national church service marking the first anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, which will be aired on 25 May 2021. Entitled Doing Justice: A National Service of Reflection on the Anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the service will host senior church leaders and local Christians at the New Testament Church of God in Brixton, south London. Those gathered will remember the tragic death of Mr Floyd, as well as challenging churches and communities in Britain and Ireland to stand up for justice and against racism, ignorance and hatred.
Due to the existing Covid restrictions, this socially-distanced service will be recorded on 18 May 2021, but broadcast at 7pm on 25 May 2021 via YouTube and other social media platforms. BBC Radio 4 will subsequently broadcast the service at 8.10am on Sunday 30 May for its Sunday Worship programme. Read more about this ecumenical event.
Speaking to a range of church leaders, there is a sense that God is doing something in this season of racial justice awakening….
Bishop Tedroy Powell the National Presiding Bishop of Church of God of Prophecy UK, Wales and Netherlands, told CTE:
“On behalf of the Church of God of Prophecy Trust in the United Kingdom, its board of trustees and eldership, we again express our profound condolences with prayers for comfort to the family of Mr George Floyd, extended families and wider communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who are no doubt still grieving, even though the hand of justice has just incriminated and rested upon Derek Chauvin, following the guilty verdict which has been pronounced upon him.
“This is indeed a rare and near unique occurrence, within the USA, for a police officer, law enforcer, to be tried and proven guilty for similar overt and clear abuse of power. Is this an opening of the door of justice within the legal, administrative and executive infrastructure, for which so many have prayed and for so long? God is always at work and always responds to the cry of His people. A global cry for justice went up before God last summer, in the wake of Mr Floyd’s death. I believe He has promised His people that if we call, He will answer.
‘When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers’ ( Proverbs 21:15 ).
“This may be a moment, a significant moment, in the USA and elsewhere, where justice is being raised up to be embraced. Let us not forget that injustice is still alive and may seek to undermine. Until justice is fully raised and embraced, we must endeavour to be conversational, prayerful and active. Is it time for God’s people to dance upon injustice?”
The London College of Bishops – Sarah Londin (pictured), Graham Kensington, Joanne Stepney, Jonathan Fulham, Robert Edmonton, Ric Islington, Pete Willesden – also released a statement denouncing the recent Sewell report, another major cultural marker in this past year of racial justice awakening. They expressed:
“Over the past few weeks, the narrative around the report published by the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has rightly given rise to concern and anger. The Report claims that institutional racism is not a significant issue affecting the life opportunities of many in our country, and that the United Kingdom is a beacon of good practice for the world”.
They went on to comment: “The Report has created confusion and anger in many of our households, churches and communities. It has also added to a sense of despair that the lived experience of so many within our country is being ignored and dismissed. And whilst they did not demur from most of these proposals. What the Report signally fails to do is to address the underlying problems which have afflicted our society over decades.”
The Bishops also expressed a note of self-reflection, sharing: “One of the priorities of the Diocese of London for the next decade is to strive for racial justice within its own structures. This followed the admission by the Archbishop of Canterbury at General Synod in 2020 that the Church of England is ‘deeply institutionally racist.’ We recognise that our own record leaves much to be desired and that we need to change”.
The London College of Bishops finished their statement affirming the words of the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, that as a Church and a country we still have a long way to go in this work, and we commit ourselves to work for change.
Read the Bishops’ full statement.
CTE spoke with British Theologian, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College, Dr Selina Stone, about her perception on the racial justice awakening that is taking place across the world and UK.Dr Selina told CTE and encouraged our audience:
“If we pay attention to the works of God as articulated in the Gospels particularly, then it should not be difficult for us to see this period as consistent with what others have testified to as God’s hand at work. Mary catches a prophetic vision of this when she speaks of God who scatters ‘those who are proud in their inmost thoughts’ and ‘brings down the rulers from their thrones’ to then ‘lift up the humble’ – and I would say the _humbled_. Reordering the disorder of pride, oppression and domination is the basic business of the good news of Jesus. The question for all of us is: will we stand in the way or participate?”
Revd Israel Oluwole Olofinjana, the newly appointed Director of One People Commission at the Evangelical Alliance, also reflected on the racial justice awakening happening across the globe and the ecumenical space. Israel told CTE:
“The UK Church is now in a Cornelius moment. Just as Peter was convicted by God in Acts 10 to realise that the new body of believers cannot only be made up of Jewish Christians, but that Greek Christians are an essential part of that body; western Christianity can no longer operate on the false dichotomy of mission and racial justice. We need a vision of a just society during the pandemic and post-pandemic that can address racial inequalities and empower people of colour to attain human flourishing.”
Dr Garrick from Imperial College, and an executive member of CTE Member Church the New Testament Church of God’s educational board, has been a key voice in equipping and educating many of CTE’s national Member Churches about the Covid 19 vaccine throughout the pandemic . He has spoken on a range of webinars with national and international public health officials including Professor Kevin Fenton. As an influential millennial in the UK, Dr Garrick told CTE:
“The dis-ease of racism is a public health crisis. Some are sick with it, some are sick from it and some are sick of it.
“I believe God is reminding us why we are Christians. We can’t see so much racial injustice in a time when the church was on lockdown and be content to go back to things as they were before. He’s asking us to remember why we are Christians – and when we do, we will have a heart for justice… which will do something about the sick with racism (enablers), those sick from it (victims) and those sick of it (liberators).
“As Christians we must dig deep within to ascertain whether we are sick as enablers, victims or liberators. May this dig remind us why we should be sick of it, sick enough to disrupt those sick with it (enablers), and to seek justice for those sick from it (victims).”
CTE also spoke with Dr Lisa Adjei, the co-founder of the Safoko Collective and an influential Christian millennial in the UK. She told CTE:
“We see that we have good work still yet to be done as believers in the UK Church. For some local churches, it means acknowledging that we have been racially discipled by society, for others it’s taking that next step from acknowledgment to humbly engaging in lament and repentance. And for those that have been bravely standing in solidarity with the marginalised, it’s actively changing systems, policies, procedures and spaces to truly reflect the value that our faith places on all.”
Sankofa Collective is a community of Christians who are passionate about learning collective history, engaging in lament and repentance, and seek ways to walk towards racial justice.
Seeing change at a county level
County Ecumenical Officers (CEOs) and those with a brief for racial justice within Intermediate Bodies (churches working together at a county level) have committed themselves to learning more about racial injustice and to putting into place strategies for combating it.
At CTE’s recent national Enabling Group meeting in March 2021, Claire Crowley, County Ecumenical Officer in South London, shared some practical ideas for being intentional about increasing diversity at a county level. She explained that in Churches Together in South London, when a vacancy arises for their Enabling Group, they intentionally look for those who are underrepresented – for example a woman or a person of colour, or someone with disabilities or neurodiversity – even if this means that the position remains vacant for several years. “We need to bring on board something other than what we’ve already got, or we won’t be designing programmes and activities that are relevant for the diverse communities in South London,” Claire explained.
Mission and Racial Justice: a webinar
Another interesting development is this past year’s racial justice awakening is the ecumenical intersection between racial justice and mission. The British and Irish Association for Practical Theology (Mission Studies Special Interest Group), in association with CTE’s Mission Research Network, will be hosting the Mission, race and colonialism webinar on Wednesday 26 May, 11.00am-12.30pm.
- The Revd Shemil Mathew – Shemil was born and brought up in Kerala, in a Christian family in the tradition of St Thomas. Shemil has wide experience of working with Anglican communion churches in Asia and Africa and has worked as a teacher in Sri Lanka.
- Eleasah Phoenix Louis – Eleasah is a sessional lecturer and PhD Candidate at Christ Church Canterbury University, UK.
- Revd Canon Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy – Lusa is the BAME mission and ministry enabler for Leicester Diocese. He is an ordained Anglican minister with a passion for social justice and a desire to see global voices amplified in theological discourse.
Post expires on June 28th, 2021