Graham Hunter is the Vicar of St John's Hoxton; his wife Sara is a a Licensed Lay Minister at St John's Hoxton, and leads the church's work in Community Organising. They made this statement on Pentecost Sunday - 31st May 2020. (The full text is below the video with recommended links at the end.)
We want to say something about racial justice, and the events of the past week in America.
I’m disappointed that in the mainstream news in our country this week we’ve been pre-occupied with coronavirus restrictions and the movements of government advisors, and although these are important issues, a matter of my greater consequence has been largely overlooked - and that is the continuing and resurgent evil that is racism.
Earlier this week, a 46 year old man named George Floyd was killed by the Minnesota police force. He had committed no crime, and was not resisting arrest. An officer knelt on his neck to detain him and suffocated him to death - despite the interventions and pleas of bystanders.
I’m not going to comment in detail on this case, you can read reports. But I want to acknowledge that this follows on from the killings of other young men and women, including Ahmaud Arbery, while he was out for a run three months ago. They are victims of this evil racism - which has proved more resilient and murderous than any strain of virus. There are many, many more victims. George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are just two recent victims.
What did these men who were killed have in common? They were African-American - they were black civilians. The men who killed them were white, and were serving or former police officers.
This distinction in skin colour is at the root of this murderous violence. White supremacism, racism and nationalism were part of the founding narratives of the first European settlers in the Americas, and have combined to create a powerful evil that has had a long-standing grasp over American society. In Germany and Italy almost a 100 years ago we called it fascism - and we fought it both ideologically and militarily.
Christians oppose fascism - along with racism, nationalism and white supremacism because it is a denial of the truth revealed in Scripture - that God has created all people in his image. Let me be clear, to deny the intrinsic dignity and value of any man, woman or child on the basis of their skin colour is a sin - a sin against God and a sin against our fellow humans.
The incarnation of God in history as a 1st century Palestinian, dark-skinned Jew should tell us that God is not to be identified principally with white Caucasian men. From his covenant with Abraham, God has revealed his desire to bless all peoples of all nations. The story of the bible ends with a vision of God’s glorious kingdom - a new heaven and a new earth in which people of ‘every tribe, nation and language are gathered before the throne of God’.
Today is Pentecost, and the Spirit of God falls powerfully upon people of all nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. As the prophet Joel foresaw, the gift of the Holy Spirit is for women and men, young and old, and of every different tribe, nation and language.
One of my favourite verses in the bible is Galatians 3:28 in which St Paul says, ‘tThere is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
All the old distinctions of class, culture, gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, social status or standing are transcended and transformed by the unity we have in Jesus. But it’s unity not uniformity - our differences are not obliterated, but they are no longer divisive. To behave as though they were - to collude with racism - is to turn back to sin and evil.
One friend of ours in the church said this:
‘No one chose their skin colour or race. As children of God, made in his image, we are all one. God in His words says everything he created is good.’
We have a tendency to look to America for its technological and cultural influence - leader of the free world. But I want to encourage us to resist this temptation. For a powerful evil is at work in large parts of America - the evil that believes in racial supremacy, and which leads white men in particular to assume the right to violent, dominant force over African-American men and women. Official slavery is abolished in the US, but the ideology that permitted and perpetuated slavery persists today. That is not a cultural influence we can allow in our country or our lives.
I want to be clear, and Sara will say something more about this in a moment, but the truth is, the origins of the racism we’re witnessing in the US lie much closer to home. As a country, the United Kingdom was at the forefront of the historic slave-trade, and we too have inherited a society with structural and systemic racism at its centre. We too easily forget this point when we’re shocked and appalled by events overseas. This evil is visible in the US, but still exists in the UK. We’re not pointing our finger at the US: we’re prompted by events across the Atlantic to re-examine ourselves.
As Christians, we have a duty to stand for the truth, and expose this contemporary fascism for the evil that it is. We must call people everywhere to repentance and transformation. We must seek justice for our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, nationality and culture - and at this time, this especially means standing with our black brothers and sisters against white supremacism and racism when it occurs in specific instances, as well as when it exists structurally and systemically in our society.
I think it’s important for us in the UK to not think of this as being an American problem. There is racism in this country too. Every day racism, institutional racism and systemic racism. Sometimes we don’t see it because we live in such a diverse area of London and (us white people) we think it’s not a thing – my daughter is the only white girl in her class at school so how could I be racist, I’ve got black friends so I’m not racist, it’s easy to even congratulate ourselves as a church and pat ourselves on the back for being so diverse, even using it as a status symbol. We may be diverse but are we truly inclusive?
Are we willing to really examine our hearts and be open to listening to the experiences of our black friends and church family without judgement, without being defensive and offended if it hurts our feelings to be told that we’ve not always got it right? It’s awful what’s happening in America, it’s wrong and we need to do better because Black Lives Matter. And it’s not enough for us white people to just say “well I’m not racist” we live in a racist system where white people like me are the beneficiaries and I don’t want to sit in silence any more. So let’s educate ourselves, let’s listen, let’s read, let’s get angry, let’s speak up…
We’re going to publish this statement on our church website today, and we’re going to include some links to other articles, books and podcasts for you to access. It’s not our voice that matters, it’s the voice of people who have suffered marginalisation, oppression and violence through racism.
I want to conclude with another word asking forgiveness. We have talked too much and listened too little. I felt compelled to speak today as your Vicar, as a church leader and local public figure, as your friend. But I’m not speaking as a form of ‘virtue-signalling’, and I’m not speaking as if I thought I fully understood racism or could simply preach us into a new way. I’m doing my best to avoid ‘white-splaining’ - as if I could properly comprehend the experience of ethnic minorities.
I’ve listened to members of our church family to try to understand this issue of racial justice more clearly, and we’ve had help from them in putting this statement together. I want this not to be a one-off statement, but part of a conversation in which we’re able to listen, learn, repent, reconcile and grow more deeply in the bonds of Christian love that unite us as brothers and sisters - and for justice to be the hallmark of our relationships. This moment is a launching pad, not a landing pad.
But evil persists in the darkness, and must be brought into the light. To do that, we must name it and shame it, and declare the ultimate victory of Christ crucified over all the powers of evil. What is happening in America is one example of the malignant racism that lurks in the hearts of men and women in every culture and every country of the world.
And the victory of the cross begins with my own repentance - and so I want to humbly beg the forgiveness of God, and the forgiveness of my brothers and sisters for the ways in which I have colluded with the forces of evil and enjoyed the rewards of an unjust society which gives me opportunity and status because I am white, while denying it to my brothers and sisters. I have never consciously intended to behave in racist ways - but I have sometimes adopted lazy language, easy stereotypes, and had subconscious attitudes rooted in prejudice. I’m sorry. Please forgive me, and may the Spirit of peace heal us, reconcile us and establish the kingdom of God in our hearts and our homes.
I don’t have the answers, and I don’t have the power to transform myself, but I do know a God who can, and who will. A God who overcomes evil with the goodness of his saving love, and who can establish peace between people of all nations, ethnicities and cultures. To him be glory in the church.
- We Need To Talk About Race - Ben Lindsay - https://spckpublishing.co.uk/we-need-to-talk-about-race
- Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge - https://www.waterstones.com/book/why-im-no-longer-talking-to-white-people-about-race/reni-eddo-lodge/9781408870587
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness - Austin Channing Brown - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Im-Still-Here-Dignity-whiteness/dp/1524760854
Podcasts & Videos:
- Grace, Justice, & Mercy: An Evening with Bryan Stevenson and Rev. Tim Keller - https://vimeo.com/168964644
- Implicit Racial Bias - David Bailey - https://qpodcast.libsyn.com/episode-122-implicit-racial-bias-david-bailey
- A conversation between Glennon Doyle, Jen Hatmaker & Nadia Bolz-Weber https://www.facebook.com/sarcasticlutheran/videos/1724552804318643/?t=15