The racist murder of George Floyd last week was shockingly evil. Sadly though, this is just one of a long litany of such horrific acts over the years. There shouldn’t even be the slightest hint of hesitation in calling it out, especially among church leaders. Silence is not an option.
Yet when a white church leader condemns such an atrocity on social media, there is the danger of thinking that an expression of outrage alone is sufficient. It is not. In the UK, white middle class Christianity can be very good at expressing verbal solidarity from a distance toward those it perceives to be oppressed. But while such expressions are well intended, the challenge is that they can be mere tokenism, even patronising to our black brothers and sisters – and quickly forgotten as life cruelly moves on.
The time has come for real change, not mere words. If white church leaders are serious about doing something meaningful and demonstrating a better way, then there needs to be a total willingness to move out of the comfort zone. It’s time for leaders to get on with the quiet work of raising up a generation which reflects the brilliance and diversity of modern Britain. This means far more than including a few photographs of people of colour on a church website. Instead, some serious questions need to be addressed. For example, why are so many church leadership teams 100% white? Why? Do people of colour even feel welcomed, valued and included in church? How many church leaders are actively spending time with and investing in the potential of people from a range of cultural backgrounds who are part of the congregation, not just those who are white?
All the finest words in the world pale in comparison to the gritty work of championing a generation who will make a difference. It takes time. It involves listening to the experiences of others. It means understanding that not everyone is like you. It means recognising the gift of God in people’s lives, taking risks, creating opportunity, cheering others on and equipping people with confidence to change their world. This is the kind of leadership that affects REAL change. White middle class Christianity needs a cultural revolution, and this starts with leaders.
Just before the lockdown, I spent an evening with a group of young men from a range of cultural backgrounds. I asked them to share some of their experiences in life. The stories they told were a revelation – at times deeply disturbing. Yet the dignity and grace with which these young men carry themselves shines through in their demeanour. Each of them is gifted by God, and all of them has a part to play in the life of the church I lead. Just spending time and listening was like a tonic to my soul, far more than any encouragement I offered them. They make me a better person. I am amazed at this rising generation. If you’d spent some time with them too, you’d realise they are a major reason to have hope for the future.
After the events of last week, I’m committing myself to working even harder to champion this generation and see the UK Church reflect what God is doing today in modern Britain. This means being totally intentional about encouraging the God given giftedness in people of colour. It would be a travesty not to.
White middle class Christianity needs to do more than just call out the evil of racism. This alone is not enough. The Church needs to BE at the forefront of embracing cultural diversity in our nation. Afterall, this is what happens in God’s kingdom! But for this to happen, some serious and genuine soul searching needs to happen, and the comfort zone of white middle class Christianity needs to be left behind.
Below is a recent Sunday talk I gave to the Junction Church.