Bishop Claion Grandison explores the role the Church can play in healing the racial divide exposed by the Black Lives Matter protests
Dr Martin Luther King famously said: “12pm on a Sunday is the most segregated hour in America” – three hours if you’re Pentecostal. Fifty-two years later, this is still the case in many, if not most, mainstream churches.
The Black Lives Matter protests, in response to the killing of George Floyd, is a symptom of something endemic; a fault line that has opened up and revealed not just a rift, but a great divide that has existed between Black and White churches for decades.
As Black and Brown people, we see this so often, but fail or even fear calling it out because “we’re all getting along so nicely”. We’ve become so British we apologise for you standing on our foot, but now it’s our necks being knelt on, and we’re finding it hard to breathe.
There is a need for healing, but this isn’t a simple graze; this is an internal, chronic wound that is culturally ingrained in the ecclesiastical structure of many White churches. For instance, in the nearly 500-year existence of the Church of England, there have only ever been four Black bishops, and the Baptist Union in the UK has only ordained one Asian woman. It is impossible to be advocates of equality and agents of change with a leadership that is predominantly White and male. Established churches need to represent its community.
So how does the Church begin to stem this oozing? Unfortunately, eating humble pie or engaging in awkward gestures of White remorse is nothing more than a Band-Aid over what is a putrefying sore. ‘Your head is injured, and your heart is sick’ (Isaiah 1:5b NLT).
We are faced with a psychological and spiritual problem. For the established churches in the 50s and 60s to have justified turning away immigrant worshippers, they would have had to convince themselves that the blood of Jesus is somehow compartmentalised, offering differing levels of salvific acceptability. We would need to ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting and inner convictions, screaming: “This just isn’t right!” until our conscience was no longer pricked. 1 Timothy 4:2 suggests that such consciences have been seared with hot irons or deadened.
In order to heal the ever-widening divide, without alienating our brothers and sisters in this racial standoff, we must first find the courage to have honest conversations about the elephant in the prayer room, and be willing to confront our own actions. James Baldwin famously quoted: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
That journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step of admitting that we were wrong. Secondly, we must take responsibility for our actions, and finally make reparations on behalf of the ones wronged. Zaccheus, in Luke 19:8, demonstrated this kind of restorative justice when he offered to share half of what he had earned because of his wily privilege, and to repay four times what he had pilfered from the underprivileged to make himself rich.
On a structural level, I would suggest the leadership in White congregations consider ongoing diversity training of some sort, and subsequently create a type of ministry affirmative action programme dedicated to developing and promoting young Black and Brown people into senior leadership.
On a pastoral level, church leaders should not avoid the subject of racism, but seek to preach, redemptively, the power of the Cross to destroy the subtle demon of unconscious bias and the manipulative spirit of ‘White fragility’.
As for the ‘Black Church’, we must ask ourselves: “What should forgiveness look like? Is there a place for anger or indignation?” Ephesians 4:26 reminds us not to let the sun go down on our wrath, but unfortunately does not mention the sun setting on our pain over and over again. For us to deny the decades of hurt and humiliation we’ve experienced as Black people – particularly in the UK – would be simplistic and disingenuous. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the disgraceful treatment of our people in the Windrush and similar scandals; we must be at the forefront of vociferously calling out racism.
Galatians 6 reminds us that we must restore those overtaken in their sin in a spirit of humility, lest we become guilty of a similar sin. We must forgive from a place strength and not weakness, from deep spiritual resolve and not relief. When there is a meeting of remorse and respectability, then healing BEGINS.