Positioning The Black Church Politically

Ronald Nathan shares how the black church has evolved politically since the arrive of HMS Windrush in 1948, and their readiness for the General Election on July 4, 2024

On July 4, 2024, the United Kingdom goes to the polls.  This would be the 21st general elections to be held in the country since the landing of the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in 1948. With 2.5 million British citizens of Caribbean and African descent living in these isles how will we respond to the call to make a public declaration through a secret ballot? The act of voting is how we select our national political leaders and determine the policy directions of our country. 

The Black Christian presence in the United Kingdom is not found in one organisation it is as diverse as the Black British community and spread across all Christian denominations 

Even given the above, it is quite clear that what is called the Black Church or Black Majority Churches has been a phenomena in British Christianity for over seventy years.  The level of political readiness in denominations such as the Church of God in Christ, Kingsway International Christian Centre, and the Redeemed Christian Church of God has never been this high or this clear.  

Through the National Church Leaders’ Forum and the Ascension Trust, we have two published reports, The Black Church Political Mobilisation: A Manifesto for Action Second Edition (2023) and UK Vision 2030: A Call to Action (2023) a greater political visibility and clarity has evolved. These two seminal documents speak to a range of issues for Black Christians including education, employment, environment, economic development, media, sports, health and well-being, crime and policing, political mobilisation and international aid.

This type of political literacy in the Black Church was not always like this. In the early 1980’s Aaron Haynes, wrote a social political analysis of Black Britain in two volumes ‘the State of Black Britain’.  In those two volumes, there was not one direct mention of the Black Church.  Not that the Black Church was invisible: its multiple congregations had begun to emerge out of basements, front rooms and attics and had begun to purchase buildings and minibuses, rent community halls and participate in ecumenical institutions.  One of the reasons for that omission by British sociologists and political activists was they would have been hard pressed to find Black British Christians articulating an overtly political stance.    

Early indications of a more engaged Black Church were reflected by Black Church visionaries, such as the late Rev. Phillip Mohabir and late Rev. Dr Selwyn Ryan in their books ‘Pioneers or Settlers’ and ‘From Scepticism to Hope: One Black-led Church’s Response to Social Responsibility’.

There are still those, inside and outside of the Black Christian community whose vision of the Black Church’s role in society as solely that of the ‘saving of souls’ i.e.  to call the nation to repentance.  There are, however, a growing number of Black Christian leaders and Black Christians who accept the biblical mandate to preach the gospel and to commit to serve the ‘least of these’ by working for social justice and righteousness in public policy.  

Some would ask was the Black Church pushed or did they jump in their positions concerning a more overt political positioning?  The answer would be a combination of factors.

First, there has been a growing demand from Black communities for the Black Church to be more proactive in challenging the inequalities and inequities in society. Second, there has been a growing recognition that ‘personal faith can inform public policy’. Third, the rising involvement of Black Christians in public, private, and academic sectors have brought with it a better knowledge of British political, social, and economic systems and structures. 

Fourth, changes in the Christian demographics of the United Kingdom have resulted in a rise in the number of Black Christians. With this rise has come a greater confidence as to whom much is given much is required. The above factors have assisted Black Christians in accessing political education and engaging in social and political activism. 

Certainly, voter education, registration and political participation are still way below where they should be in the Black community. There are even greater calls for the Black Church denominations to use their prominence, wealth and numbers for a more prophetic challenge to the injustices of society.  What is clear, however, there is a trend in Black Church denominations, be they predominantly of African and/or Caribbean lineage to call their members to exercise their democratic, and civic duty by acquainting themselves with the issues, identifying their representatives, and putting their X on the ballot paper. What role the Black Church plays after the polls close is open for debate. 

Rev. Ronald A. Nathan is an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a Board Director of the National Church Leaders Forum UK, and the world politics editor of the Star of Zion newspaper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *