The theme of this year’s Racial Justice Sunday is ‘Inclusive Church and not an Exclusive Club’. As I reflect on this theme and listen to stories of ethnic minorities in our Churches I am convinced that racism still very much exists in the Church. A good friend of mine Rev. David Shosanya, a Regional Minister in the London Baptist Association, wrote a recent article in Keep the Faith magazine titled ‘It’s time to kick racism out of the Church’. In this article Rev. Shosanya argues that it is time British Historic Churches confront the issues of racism within their structures and institutions. His observation is particuarly valid because he is speaking from experience as someone within a Historic Church structure.
So what are the reasons for my conviction that racism still exists within the Church? My first reason concerns the voices of ethnic minorities within our Churches. As a Church minister and researcher, I have the privilege of meeting many people from ethnic minorities. Through research and interviews people who feel marginalised in our Churches have expressed how their humanity has been denied or reduced to nothing through people expecting them to speak English with an English accent, or thinking ‘foreigner’ equates to lack of intelligence. A black woman expressed to me that when people are dealing with her in the Church it is like they do not expect to have an intelligent conversation with her, therefore when she say things that challenge their reason they look or behave surprised. Such attitudes reflect how far our Churches still have to go when it comes to the issue of race and ethnicity. It seems to me that the pseudo-scientific race categories of the 17th and 18th century still inform the way people deal with ethnic minorities, coupled with the current media portrayal of immigrants. Programmes such as UK Border Force, and their American and Australian equivalents, depict foreigners as unwanted items. In a similar vein, charity organisations, philanthropist organisations and aid relief agencies show pictures of victimised starving and dying children in Africa or Asia in order to get financial donations and material help. Whilst it is true that there are real economic issues in these continents that need to be addressed, the imagery shown gives the public a perception that this is the case in all of Africa or Asia.
A second reason that informs me that racism is still a demon that needs to be expunged from our Churches is the fact that Ethnic Minorities within our Churches are not well represented or included in our governmental structures. This is very important as being represented within the leadership and key roles in the Church gives other ethnic minority members a sense of belonging and the encouragement to step forward for roles themselves. In addition, in the cases where few ethnic minorities are involved they are often doomed to failure as they are expected to operate based on an alien standard constructed for them. In Para-Church organisations or Church denominations where there is the presence of ethnic minorities it is expedient that they are well represented in the leadership so that they can participate and shape policies that affect their people. I am aware that efforts are have been made and are being made to make this a reality in some Church institutions and organisations, but we need this to happen on a larger scale than we currently see.
Suggesting one way forward as we reflect on this Racial Justice Sunday, we need to affirm and act on the understanding that God the creator created all of us as equals irrespective of our race or ethnicities. Some in fact argue that God created only one human race, with racial differences being a human construct used to justify the oppression of certain races. Whichever view of race we subscribe to, what is important is to affirm that as human beings we are all equal and deserve representation.