Black lives indeed matter

Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.
Genesis 1:26.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Revelation 7:9

Everyday as I wake up, I behold the glory of the Lord.  Each time I step out of my room, I carry it with me.  It does not fill my college with dazzling lights; neither does it leave a trail of glory on Oxford’s streets.  It is contained in a vessel of flesh, often seen as insufficient, incapable. Society has not always been fair to it, yet it is God’s masterpiece.  Every day as I wake up, I look in the mirror, and I see a black man—a man made in God’s image.

Ain’t nothing wrong with this colour!
‘Black’ is a label that I wear as a dark-skinned, non-Caucasian individual. It is not just a word to differentiate me from a light-skinned person; it is like a branding of sorts used to define all there is about me.  This label carries the burdens of years of historical oppression and, in contemporary times, the weight of prejudice, of indirect repression. 

However, the Bible presents a different perspective about me, about all of humanity, regardless of ethnicity or skin tone.  We are all made in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. Genesis 1:26.

We are His masterpiece, His representatives on the earth.  I can safely say that my ‘blackness’ (devoid of the stigma that society attaches to it) stems from God, as do the physical features of my white friends.  We are all from the same source.  We know that God is Spirit. He is not subject to the physical characteristics that defines humans as race, ethnicities, gender etc.  From Him stems our different skin hues and ethnicities. It follows then, that any individual or system that discriminates against anyone because of their ethnicity or race is sinning against God.  Racism is first a sin issue before it becomes a socio-cultural issue.

The sovereign God ordered it that I should come to this world through the agency of Oladipo and Victoria, two black Nigerian people with no known non-black ancestry.  I could not have turned out in any other colour.  I am a result of divine prerogative, a brown-skinned, woolly haired, brown-eyed male with a flat nose and an African accent.  God made me this way, and He is glorified when I live life to the fullest as a black man.

We have seen from Genesis 1 that God made one human race. Race is a human construct, not a divine institution.  However, the sad reality remains that coloured people bear the brunt of suffering and injustices in our world.  A fact brought about by years of exploitation from those ‘who hold the guns, who hold the power, hold the wealth, who hold the Bible.’ [1] 

The law, George Floyd and the Church
One could argue that attitudes are gradually changing.  In the UK, for example, the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone at work because of specific characteristics, including race. The racially or religiously aggravated offences under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, make racism a crime punishable under the law.  Nevertheless, there continue to be instances of open and passive racist incidents in UK society, and sadly, even in the Church of England.

After the horrendous killing of George Floyd, by white Police Officer Derek Chauvin and the subsequent protests, many in the Church were quick to jump on the black lives matter bandwagon (in support of the demonstrations and the clamour against racism, rather than the official BLM movement, which remains contentious.).  It was, for a moment, a relief to see white leaders taking the knee in an open show of solidarity with black people.

In my Oxford bubble, it was as if white friends suddenly awoke from a deep slumber: ‘I never knew you felt that way,’ ‘I am so sorry that you experienced that.’  I had face to face conversations about racism with about 20 white seminarians and church interns on Zoom, in person, and in a group.  It was tiring, but I, alongside other black people with some voice, knew that it was a Kairos moment not to miss.  The world was listening; the Church was listening; we had to endure our raw pain and speak out.

The Archbishop of Canterbury reiterated that there is systematic racism in the Church of England.  The House of Bishops voted to back the creation of the Archbishops’ Racism Action Commission to commence operation in 2021.  A welcome development for many, yet to others, another series of noise-making in a space filled with just that, mainly noise. Reports have been produced by bodies such as CEMEAC (Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns), AMEN (Anglican Minority Ethnic Network) and other bodies that speak up for BAME people in the Church of England, but little progress has been made.  In the long chain of changes that the Church needs to enact, race issues seem to take the backstage.

If black lives indeed matter, if black people are made in God’s image, the Church should put her money where her mouth is, put structures in place to stop all forms of racism in her midst, and do so as a matter of urgency!  This is a gospel, as well as a life and death issue!

What is the way forward?
‘What should we do?’  was a question that many in an Evangelical group I belong to on Facebook asked after I wrote about what I perceived as the silence of white Evangelicals in the days following the killing of George Floyd.  In London earlier this month, a white Evangelical leader posed the same question to me in a slightly different way , ‘Oyin, if you could tell me one thing about what Evangelicals can do about race and racism, what would it be?’ I see the genuineness of white evangelicals to stop this sin in the Church.  What solutions would I propose?  It is a big question, but I will recommend the following solutions.

On a personal level:
1. Recognise racism in all its forms as what it is, a sin. 
2. Look deeply into ourselves to identify where this sin is at work in our lives.  This sin manifests itself in the form of assumptions about people of colour, innate prejudice, subconscious bias, and other kinds of direct racist behaviours.
3. Go out of your way to make friends with someone from another culture outside the Church.  People of colour are longing to be seen, to be known, to be heard!  Be gentle with us if we are shy.  Years of enduring prejudice has taught us to read the smile of a white person with suspicion.  But deep within that hard exterior is a soul that wants to be known.  Reach out with the love of Christ.
4/ White people should reach out to people of colour in churches and listen actively to them to know their stories.  Black people usually feel invisible in white spaces.  Do not interrupt me to tell me that you spent a summer in Uganda, listen to my story.

Corporately as a Church
1. Be proactive in identifying black people with leadership abilities and nurture them.
2. Acknowledge and welcome the unique perspective that ethnic minority leaders will bring to the table.  Do not expect them to be white in their approach and do not try to whitewash them.
3. Black people do not want to be the token BAME leader.  We want to be recognised and given opportunities on merit.
4. Keep the vision of Revelation 7:9 in view and be guided by it.  The Church of Christ is his body, multi-ethnic and multicultural.  Let us open our hearts to welcome everyone regardless of their race.

A final plea!
The pain of racial injustice is real.  Black people experience active and passive racism every day.  We experience it from extreme right-wingers who will see us annihilated to the unassuming bloke who harbours certain stereotypes.  We experience it in the systems and structures of society (and the Church!) that consider whiteness the norm and are institutionally biased against people who do not fit into the white classification.

The voices of the oppressed continue to call out to God!  His ears are not inattentive to the cry of the blood of Stephen Lawrence, Christopher Alaneme and many other victims of the racial killings across our nation.  God is concerned about the West Indian family in Manchester’s Moor Side, who are afraid that the racial profiling that their teenage son continues to suffer in the hands of the police might drive him over the edge.  God sees the fears of the Somali Muslim girl who daily gets called names because of her ethnicity and religion.  God hears the cry of the many black people whose mental health is among the worst of all ethnicities in the UK. God hears the cries of all the minorities in this nation.

The words of Jesus still ring true:
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40.

What will your response be?

Other posts in this series:
Racism: why we might miss the opportunity, Niv Lobo

For more articles on this subject, please see the Autumn 2020 edition of Crossway. Details are here and copies can be purchased here.

1. From the poem ‘I cannot Breathe’ by Oyinlade Oladipo


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