The Time For Political Action By The Black Church is Now

Following the launch of the Black Church Political Manifesto for Action, Rev Ronald Nathan writes how the Christian community can make the Manifesto for Action a reality

In the 75th year after the landing of the Empire Windrush on British shores, the second edition of the Black Church Political Mobilisation: A Manifesto for Action has been published by the National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF). This is a further sign of the growing maturity of the African and Caribbean churches in the United Kingdom. Much has been said since the May 20 launch about the possible prophetic challenge that the Manifesto brings to the political establishment in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. What is sometimes missed, with both the first edition published in 2015 and the current edition, is the theological and programmatic challenges that the Manifesto addresses within the Black Church.

It is quite interesting that in many of our congregations, we are familiar with the biblical text where we read and champion the lives of Moses, Daniel, Joshua, Esther and Deborah, to name a few, yet totally ignore the fact that these anointed personalities were politicians. In other words, what we do is to make the Old and New Testaments of the Bible conform to the thought and idea that true spirituality is devoid of political engagement. To hold such an ideological position may be a contemporary religious emphasis, but it is neither biblical nor is it Christian. That emphasis was birthed in the bosom of colonialism, and was utilised in European colonies to make the growing Black Christian population passive. It was part of colonial mission theological education designed to keep slaves in their place and to undermine any possible revolt or uprising by the colonised.

So, the publication of the Black Church Political Manifesto 2023 is an instrument to bring a rebalancing of the biblical concepts of ‘faith’ and ‘works’. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” must include the political world and the politicians. The Gospel, as defined by Jesus in Luke 4:18-20, clearly speaks to a release of Pentecostal power — “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” — in the fields of poverty reduction, health and prison reform and the removal of oppressive forces. The liberating agency, the Church, with its message of salvation from sin, has to locate the good news in the spiritual, physical, social, psychological and political realities that dehumanise and diminish the image and likeness of God in persons of colour.

Jesus’ teaching, the Gospel, is littered with symbolic and intentional challenge to the status quo of the first century that corrupted the body, mind and spirit of the human community. The Black Church Political Manifesto is therefore a clear indication of a theological shift taking place in the minds of the leaders of African and Caribbean churches in the United Kingdom. This shift in theology anticipates a shift in mission, ie., mobilisation of the faithful in the pews. The Manifesto illustrates by its eleven policy areas that there is work to be done and that this call to action is part of our civic duty and Christian discipleship.

The NCLF, by its very existence, represents a call for unity between the diverse expressions of Black Christian faith in the United Kingdom. Its inherited task is to garner the substantial human, social, intellectual, economic and political resources into a focused, workable programme for the local church. This would result in significant impact on the community beyond the church walls. The work of the NCLF going forward is to further assist the bishop, pastor, elder, deacon, youth leader, choir leader, Sunday and Sabbath school teacher in this theological and ecclesiological process.

Alongside the church and trustee boards must come the social justice committee that will flag up the inequalities in treatment at the education and penal institutions. Items for prayer must be identified for the prayer warriors, but they cannot stop there. Collections and fundraising events will also be organised for the financing of legal and advocacy work.

The NCLF have already established eleven forums on their website, www.nclf.org.uk, covering the eleven policy areas of the manifesto. African and Caribbean Christian communities will be able to engage in these online discussion groups. Further to this, the NCLF will roll out a national programme to help the African and Caribbean churches to network and enter into collective action around the Manifesto’s policy areas.

In the foreword of the Manifesto for Action, several church leaders point out that, ‘considering this post-Brexit era, the Black Lives Movement, and the creation of a United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, more is required of the NCLF and of this Manifesto.’  Rev Ronald Nathan is a director of NCLF and International Advisor of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

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