Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video, and thank you for your feedback -positive and negative on last weeks.
Communities develop their own corporate personalities.I think that’s what the first few chapters of Revelation are driving at when John talks about the angels of the church.Often these personalities develop because of events in history long since forgotten. The culture is passed on from generation to generation. Clement of Alexandria for example was writing the same things to the church in Corinth as Paul was at least 50 years previously. I’ve been struck as I’ve zoomed my way around the clergy over the last few months how very different churches with a similar demographics can be.One will be thriving and spiritually alive, another (on the surface at least) spiritually at a low ebb. There is no obvious rime or reason for it. Its not entirely inaccurate to say some villages don’t get on because they were on opposite sides in the civil war!
To understand a community, you need to understand something of its history. In 2016, I revisited Pakistan and was invited to a meeting seeking to bring reconciliation between the local Christian and Muslim community. As I stood to speak I became very conscious of the symbolism and began my address by saying how humbled I was to be invited to speak when my ancestors had played such a role in empire for creating their current conditions. Its still the case in many parts of the world that Christian faith is associated with former colonial powers.It underlies a lot of the persecution.I wasn’t prepared for the deep appreciation such an apology and admission elicited from both communities. Of course, they were responsible for their actions in the present, but events out of living memory had helped to form their culture.
In our conversation about racism we need an awareness of our own history and its effects both on us and the communities that slavery so cruelly abused.We can try to evade this as Christians by trumpeting the achievements of Wilberforce and Newton, but can’t forget that nearly all of his attempts to end the slave trade were voted against by Bishops in the house of Lords. The records show Bishops were amongst those who were compensated when slaves were set free.
I’m sure we would all agree that racism is evil, our problem is often lack of empathy. Those of us on the victorious side of history find it very difficult to enter the lived experience of non-white people in the present. The fact that some have expressed their righteous indignation in acts of violence and vandalism can provide us with an excuse for displacement activity.We focus on the bad of the violence and fail to address the legitimate grievance.But, can you imagine someone putting up a statue of Herman Goering in the East End in 1940, or a statue to Hitler in the middle of Tel Aviv.That might give you some idea of the feelings monuments to the slave trade and colonialism evoke in our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic friends and neighbours.
The question is what are we going to do about that quite legitimate offence. Its seems to me there are two strands of an approach in the Bible to painful histories.God makes it quite clear for example that the Israelites are to utterly destroy the religious symbols of the Canaanite tribes before them.This was not because of cultural imperialism but because the religion they symbolised involved cultic prostitution, child abuse and human sacrifice.It could have no place in their cultural iconography.
Conversely, the scriptures can also describe as heroes of faith people like Samson, who as far as I can see have few redeeming features at all.He was a misogynistic, violent, angry, xenophobic,genocidal murderer. The Bible is very realistic about its heroes, the good and the very bad are inextricably woven together.As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “the line between good and evil passes not between peoples, but through every human heart.” And when you start looking at memorials at the time of slavery, everyone will be implicated to some degree.They may not have participated directly, but will have enjoyed many of the economic benefits. Lest we be too quick to judge, bear in mind that much modern slavery is sustained by the economic advantage it provides to consumers.There is a reason that T-shirt or cruise is so cheap. However, a blanket removal of every suspect monument runs the risk of erasing the very history we need to learn from. The Spanish- American philosopher George Santayana is most likely to have coined the aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Similarly, the Christian poet Steve Turner said, “History repeats itself, it has to no-one listens!”
Inevitably, this evokes powerful feelings - for some, they are long overdue attempts to
do justice to those who have suffered in the past; for others, they are illegitimate attempts to
rewrite history.But perhaps the re-surfacing of this issue might provide us with a genuine opportunity for understanding. To walk in the skin of someone else and truly understand how the events of the past continue to powerfully influence the present. As inheritors of white power and privilege, it is for us to change to foster a more equitable society.
As the Archdeacon of Hereford said, “History is written in wood and stone, but the future is up to us.”