I knew I shouldn’t have done it. But I could not resist the temptation. The editor of Premier Christianity asked if I would write an alternative view on the Black Lives Matter movement. There was no difficulty in getting Christian leaders to speak out against racism and be in support of the BLM movement; bishops were queuing up to be photographed to take the knee; but getting a Christian leader to have a different perspective was difficult. (when I say a different perspective – I don’t mean speaking in favour of racism – which I detest – but rather a different take on the BLM movement). So I accepted the poisoned chalice and wrote this…10 Christian Responses to Racism – Premier Christianity
I shouldn’t have agreed. Why? Because I knew what the responses would be…indeed I could have written them myself. To be honest I could have done without the grieve – the shrill cries of ‘racist’ , ‘alt-right’– the self-righteous ‘don’t you care as much as I do’ posts. It felt as though I had committed the heresy of questioning BLM. And then Premier, who had dedicated a whole magazine to the issue – entitled Black Lives Matter –, published this response piece by Rev Kumar Rajagopalan (minister of Totteridge Road Baptist Church, Enfield. He was formerly Regional Minister for Racial Justice with the London Baptist Association.) https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Don-t-be-defensive.-Christians-need-to-lament-and-repent-of-racism
I would have had no problem with an article which disagreed with what I said – as long as it engaged with what I said. But this was a somewhat disappointing article; implicitly and explicitly, accusing me of being defensive, denying my own personal sin, woefully ignorant of history, making well-intentioned but ill-informed statements, offering no compelling alternative to BLM, and damaging church unity by not practicing and living the Gospel of reconciliation. I would have liked the right to reply, but I can understand why the editor did not want ‘a back and forth’.
An article which answered my points would have been fine – but Kumar’s piece does not answer the point and instead indulges in a repetition of critical race theory mixed with historical errors, emotive irrationalities, biblical misquotes and theological misrepresentations. I was profoundly saddened when I read it. Of course, to respond to it is extremely difficult because of the element of emotional blackmail and judgementalism within it. How do you respond to a piece which accuses you of being defensive without proving you are being defensive? There was no point. As they say in Twitterland ‘haters are gonna hate’. In a world of emotion – what your ‘heart’ tells you will always be The Truth. Those who ‘feel’ that I was right will still feel it…those who ‘feel’ that Kumar’s caricature was correct will still feel that. So what’s the point? I was going to leave it…
And then the thought struck me. This can be a learning experience. So I wrote the following analysis of the article – not as a defence of my own article (Kumar does not really engage with that and I am quite happy for you to read both and make up your own minds) – but rather because Kumar’s article is a great example of what is wrong with so much of the UK church today and helps explain why we are not growing. So let me go through it…I will not comment on the parts I agree with (there are several) but rather on those I think that are distorted and just wrong. And the advantage of this not being published on Premier is that it can be, and is, a good bit longer! At the end of each section I suggest a principle that we need to follow if we are to be effective salt and light in our cultures.
Not Listening or Engaging –
I don’t think the article listens or engages at all. It’s just a simple set of accusations and rehashed memes offering simplistic solutions to complex problems. This is where we are at in society – people take positions and then just simply react emotionally to anything that would question their position. Which is why there is no point in you reading on if you have already pre-determined that I am just an apologist for racism – which for the record I totally despise. But like Kumar you will already have your answer – ‘you are only saying this because I’m defensive about your own racism”…and so the never-ending circle goes around.
- The church must avoid adopting the ‘social media’ methodology of not engaging and not listening; picking our tribe and letting fire! We do not fight with the weapons of this world.
Accepting the philosophies and politics of this world rather than the philosophy of Christ.
The article makes several highly questionable political statements.
“racism is intrinsic to Western society” – who says? – apart from the Critical race theorists and those who want to self-flagellate about other people’s sins? Is racism any more prevalent in Western society than any other? Is not racism a form of tribalism and are we not all societies ‘tribalistic’ to some extent? Indeed a case could be argued that Western societies are the most diverse and non-racist in any human history. I would argue that the basic teaching of the Bible, that all human beings are created equal, is the reason why racism is seen as a sin in the Western world – and why in general it is less prevalent in multi-cultural Western societies than in many other countries in the world. Of course, there is racism, as there is theft, murder and adultery – but these are not the norm and are regarded as sin. Although as we move away from our Christian roots, I suspect that that concept of sin will be redefined to permit and justify what God calls wrong. It is ironic that having moved some way towards Martin Luther King’s dream of people not being judged by their skin colour, BLM and their woke allies in the media and corporates, are taking us back to a place where people are defined by their skin.
“Today, British society is waking up to the fact that many black and other minority ethnic people have not been listened to for far too long.” Is it? What is the evidence for that? A few BLM marches and lots of chatter on the media and in the church? Is this really British society waking up and listening? I very much doubt it. And which black and other minority ethnic people should we listen to? The ones with the ‘correct’ political opinions who support BLM – or those who don’t? I have several BAME friends (who hate the catch all phrase BAME – apologies to you) who don’t agree with the BLM movement. Of course we should listen to all people – especially those who have suffered discrimination and disadvantage -but we should not select certain groups as being more worthy of being listened to, than others. We must not get caught in the victim game trap – where the group that shouts the loudest gets to win the oppression stakes.
If we are really concerned about black lives mattering, then it should concern us that the KKK murdered 3,446 African Americans in an 86-year period. Every six months in the US the same number are murdered by other African-Americans. Yes, we should be concerned about the handful that are killed by police but why is there so little concern for the thousands killed every year? Why is it that white ‘anti-racist’ people seem only to care about the few and not the many? Of course, the reasons for all these murders are complex (poverty, guns, drugs and the consequences of systemic racism) but a major factor is that the black illegitimacy rate has gone up from 24.1% in 1965 to 77% today. The breakup of the family is the major cause of black deaths by murder (other than abortion). So how can any Christian write in support of an organisation who have as one of their aims the break-up of the family? It’s a strange way to show you ‘care’!
2. The politics and philosophies of this world are fundamentally shallow and superficial. For us to adopt them is not wise. Christians need to be far more radical, discerning and wholistic.
Misuse of Scripture –
There are several examples of Kumar simplistically using Scripture to illustrate his political/cultural viewpoint.
In Acts 10, God demolished Peter’s prejudice against Gentiles, yet in Antioch past socialisation and fear led him back to prejudicial behaviour, which Paul rebuked. (Galatians 2:11-13)
This is true but is it really about racism? Is it not more about religion? And the change in the law – from Mosaic law to Gospel? Paul rebukes him because he was being hypocritical – professing to follow Christ but reverting to the legalism of Judaism. Yes – there are implications for racism but was this really about ‘socialisation’? Peter was being cowardly in this instance by being afraid and resorting to the societal norms – just as today there are few Christian leaders who dare to stand up against the societal and religious norms in our culture.
I don’t endorse all aspects of Black Lives Matter (BLM), but their slogan, “No justice, no peace” is scriptural. In Isaiah 59 the prophet laments the absence of truth and justice, hence there’s no peace, but God acts. He has ultimately acted at the cross where the truth of sin is writ large, justice accomplished, and our peace procured (Isaiah 53)
A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever opinion the writer wants. Like using Isaiah 59 without seeming to be aware of its context – just because it mentions justice (although it does not mention peace). But the reasons for there being injustice is because we have turned away from God – ‘our offences are ever with us….truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter…no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil…..Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands”. I think it is indeed an appropriate biblical text for our times…but not in the limited way that Kumar uses it. He cites it in support of an organisation which uses violence, seeks to bring down society and openly avows that it wants to get rid of the family and the bibles teaching about gender and other subjects. Racism – and the BLM response to it are both sinful rejections of the law and love of God. To equate the ‘justice’ of the BLM movement and the ‘progressives’ with the justice of God is a false equation.
Isaiah 53 is about Jesus procuring peace with God. It is whilst we were still his enemies that Christ died for us. This is not first of all about social justice and the kind of ‘all we are saying is give peace a chance’ view of peace. It includes that – but as a consequence of peace with God coming – but it is also about something much, much deeper. I doubt that many of the BLM proponents that the article is supporting will appreciate being told they are enemies of God, and they need peace with him first! They don’t think they are the problem…it’s the white racist society….
Robertson thinks BLM protests have set back race relations in the UK and US by 20 years. He may be right, but not because of BLM protests. When Pharaoh realised the Israelites had left, he marched out to recapture them (Exodus 14). The Judaizers sought to bring Gentile converts under the Mosaic law (Acts 15). Power and privilege are never willingly relinquished; white hegemonic power will seek to reassert its dominance, and sadly will probably succeed.
The first sentence is illogical…You cannot say I may be right about BLM protests setting back race relations whilst at the same time saying that this not because of BLM protests. It’s a basic principle of logic that A cannot equal non-A! Furthermore to equate the police in the UK or the US with Pharaoh in Exodus or the Judaizers in Acts 15 is eisegesis (reading into Scripture what is not there) of an extreme order. The sentence about white hegemonic power (apparently causing the riots, looting, shooting and trouble) is straight out of the Critical Race Theory manual – and nothing to do with the Bible or Christ. It’s also meaningless waffle.
“When I dialogue with people who experience caste prejudice, I am quick to listen, hardly speak, and am only angered by the injustices they have suffered (James 1:19).”
Apart from the miscitation of Scripture and the somewhat proud reference to self – the text Kumar quotes says nothing about becoming ‘angry about the injustices they have suffered’.
3. Church leaders seem far too willing to read the bible through the eyes of their own political/cultural views, rather than read the culture through the Bible.
Despising the Mind
“We’re taught not to deny sin, yet many white Christians assert they are free of racism”.
The racism and prejudice of this comment is stunning – is it only ‘white’ Christians who assert they are free of racism? Do all Christians of other skin colours admit they are racist? I wonder how many were on BLM marches with banners confessing ‘I am a racist, forgive me’? Of course, all of us are sinners – and sin is in so deep that no amount of marching, knee bending, or social media posting will atone for it. It’s a truism to say that we are all guilty of sin – but illogical to then suggest that that means every individual is guilty of every individual sin. This kind of sloppy reasoning makes a mockery of any attempt to have an intelligent discussion.
But Kumar has his basis covered on that one as well. He suggests that we have been too intelligent in the past and now “the best place to start is not with the head, but with the heart by lamenting and repenting”. Forget thinking. Forget facts. Forget getting the actual information. Just feel. Just lament and repent. But repentance without thinking is just emotional non-sense.
It’s this kind of irrational, unthinking approach which allows Kumar to get away with such statements as “At the time many did not consider black people to be human and the murder of George Floyd shows that some still think that way.” It may be that those who killed George Floyd did not think of him as a human being, but it is not self-evident or obvious. Is it the case that every human killed by another human thinks the person they are killing is not human? Do all those who kill an African American think that the person they are killing is not human? But the truth of what happened or what the people thought seems to be irrelevant. We know because we feel. And we feel because are told to. It’s like watching a film where the mood music tells you what your feeling should be. Forget what happened. Just lament and repent.
4. We don’t need less thinking and more irrationality in the Church. We need more clear thinking and less gut feeling – or feeling guided by the spirit of the age.
Not knowing or understanding history –
But the Western Church’s ‘intelligent’ misreading of the biblical text has led it to justify the enslavement and subjugation of humans made in God’s image, and we live with the consequences.
This is a really cheap shot – and historically illiterate as well as prejudiced. Did the Eastern church not ‘misread’ the biblical text as well? What about the African church? Or the Indian? As someone whose degree is in history and who has spent years studying the history of this particular subject, this comment is at best, misleading. The idea that if only they had gone by their feelings and not read the bible ‘intelligently’ then we would not have had slavery is absurd. If Kumar knew his history, he would know that slavery has existed in every single human society – except ironically in the Western societies he so despises, which under the influence of Christianity, eventually (admittedly shamefully late) got rid of slavery. It was a simplistic dumbed down (i.e. not intelligent) reading of the text with the wicked heart (ie. I want to keep my wealth and society as it is) which justifies the enslavement and subjugation of humans made in God’s image – just as today it is a simplistic and dumbed down reading of the text which justifies the slaughter of millions of humans in the womb who are also made in God’s image.
Robertson sides with the founding fathers of America that “all people are created equal” but may be unaware that some were slave owners.
I am fully aware of the history of the founding fathers – they were men of their time. I still agree with the statement they made. I wonder how many of us would have acted any differently – it’s easy to pontificate from the safe distance of 400 years. I believe that equality is a fundamental that arises out of Christianity and the Christian foundations of the West that he so easily dismisses as systemically racist. I am also aware of how the shaking and removal of those Christian foundations has its own fruits – not least growing inequality and the re-introduction of slavery. Kumar seems keen to support those who are seeking to destroy the West – but offers no alternative.
Past prejudice and discrimination led to the West’s ill-gotten wealth, privilege and power, which should be repented of and costly steps taken, e.g. paying reparations, to redress some of those injustices.
Like all caricatures this statement has an element of truth within it. But the West’s wealth, privilege and power were not all ‘ill-gotten’. Some of it was legitimate trade, industry and hard work. There was shameful exploitation, violence and wrongdoing – as in every society. But the notion that the whole of the West’s prosperity was built on this is simplistic and false.
As for the idea of paying reparations – I wonder how far Kumar would take this principle? Should the Arab slave traders who took more than a million white Europeans into slavery in the Middle Ages be forced to pay reparations? What about the African tribal leaders who enslaved other people? The Greeks? The Chinese? The Spanish? The descendants of the Incas who slaughtered children in their thousands? Should the Japanese compensate the Catholic church for the slaughter of so many of its missionaries? How far does this principle of paying for the sins of our forefathers go? 100 years? 200? 1,000?
Many white Christians are woefully ignorant of the sins within their nation’s and church’s history; consequently, they make well-intentioned but ill-informed statements, which don’t help matters.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Again, what I don’t like here is the racist comment about ‘white Christians’ (whatever happened to the biblical idea of in Christ there are no ‘white, brown, black, yellow, pink’ Christians but we are all one in Christ?). I do wish that some Christian leaders would stop playing the tribalistic race card – ‘othering’ groups of people. I’m sure there are many Christians of whatever colour who are woefully ignorant of the sins within their nation’s and church’s history – not just white ones!
As for the dig about ‘well-intentioned but ill-informed statements’, it’s hard to overcome such prejudice and judgementalism, especially when it is based upon ignorance of the person you are writing about.
5. The Church needs to know its history better – and stop adopting simplistic memes that only confirm our bias, rather than inform and change our thinking.
A misunderstanding of sin and the Gospel
Kumar admits that he is a racist because he will ‘always be in recovery from caste prejudice’. Yet on that basis he assumes that because he is a racist, everyone else must be. I struggle to believe that he really thinks he is a racist. As I read this week –“Critical race theory is indistinguishable from a bunch of racists trying to offset their guilty consciences by projecting their racism onto the rest of us”.
I have been reading White Fragility – the new bible for Critical Race theorists – coming to a school or Uni near you soon. It’s one of the most inane and insane books I have ever read. Amongst its many illogicality’s is the white author trying to explain why she is not a racist, although she belongs to a society in which everyone white is systemically racist. Apparently in this Woke world, one can admit to sin, but then say ‘it wasn’t me guv…it’s society…and honestly I’m going to get redemption by re-educating myself (or paying the author of White Fragility $6,000 per hour to cast out the racist demons within)”. The biblical doctrine of sin is much, much deeper. Yes, racism is sin. It is also is a consequence of sin- the sin of turning away from the living God. Sin is much, much deeper than that and includes a whole lot more. And redemption is more costly than the unforgiving price that the cultural elites of our day demand. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us.
Almost all Western denominations have profited from the dehumanising acts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade but are far too slow to own their truth and do justice that there may be peace. Christ’s philosophy first requires us to remove our plank.
Again, this is far too simplistic and greatly exaggerated. I am not aware of any denomination in the West who have knowingly profited from slavery in the past 150 years. I know plenty who have profited from, or defended injustice in other forms. Perhaps instead of focusing on repenting for the past sins of others we should try to deal with injustice today? and the sins within our own hearts and lives? It’s ironic that in an article full of judgement about ‘white Christians’ in general and yours truly in particular, the author cites Christ’s words about not taking the spec out of our brothers’ eye, before taking the beam out of our own!
Robertson says “we should not boast about our own right-on-ness” but when the powerful and privileged publicise that they’re acting in genuine and humble solidarity with the oppressed, it can help. There’s no need to criticise those who are helping.
This is a dangerously naïve statement from a Christian pastor which shows a lack of awareness of the biblical doctrine of sin. According to the author the self-publicists of the powerful and privileged, who tell us that they are acting in ‘genuine and humble solidarity with the oppressed’ should be believed and welcomed. I don’t think that wealthy people or companies putting on badges, going on marches or adding hashtags to their corporate logos, really are helping anyone, other than themselves. Genuine and humble solidarity doesn’t self-publicise! You shall know them by their fruits. When these wealthy people and companies start giving to help the poor, rather than signalling their own virtue to their peers, then I might be a little less cynical.
Robertson states that marching will not achieve much and that we should not endorse violence, but he offers no compelling alternative. The non-violent protest movements led by Gandhi and Dr King, achieved much through marching, and even more through economic boycotts. So, let’s keep marching and work to make an economic impact, thereby being a prophetic irritant to today’s Pharaohs, who’ll eventually relent.
This is the most dishonest statement in the whole article. I list ten things that can be done and specify the biblical alternative to the blame and shame cancel culture that Kumar is defending. I do offer a compelling alternative- i.e. “Ultimately this is a spiritual battle. The dividing wall of partition (wherever it is) will only come down through the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Why are we fighting with the weapons and tribes of the world, when we have the weapons of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ – to take on the evils of racism?”. Perhaps this Baptist minister thinks that the biblical alternative is not compelling?!
But what is astounding in this statement is the tacit endorsement of violence – Robertson states that ‘we should not endorse violence. But offers no compelling alternative”. Violence versus the weapons of the Spirit?…I know which one I would choose and am frankly astonished that any Christian clergyman would suggest otherwise.
6. The church needs to grasp the importance and practicalities of biblical theology. And we must learn to be gracious and honest with those who disagree with us – especially if they are not Christians. However, we need to deal with false teaching as poison.
Misunderstanding of the Church today
The article assumes that what Martin Luther King said about the church in the US in the 1960’s is true of the church in the UK today. There is no doubt that when the ‘Windrush generation’ came to the UK in the 1950’s many did experience rejection based on racial prejudice within the churches. But many were warmly welcomed. And I would suggest that such racist churches are few and far between today.
The situation is much more complex than Kumar suggests. So, whilst there were undoubtedly ‘black majority’ churches set up at that time at least partially because of the racism some experienced – there were also other reasons including cultural ones. Today in Scotland there are 80 Nigerian churches that have been set up. I loved preaching at the one in Dundee – and had a lovely and warm enthusiastic welcome. The reason I was asked is because years earlier, when the newly arrived pastor and a friend were on the streets of Dundee doing some open-air preaching – they were being harassed by a couple of off-duty soldiers. I spoke up in their defence and challenged the young atheist soldiers. I don’t think it was a racial thing, and it never crossed my mind that I should help them because they were black (the White Saviour mentality is for me both patronising and paternalistic). Quite simply they were my brothers seeking to communicate the Good News and I wanted to help them – whatever their skin colour. They did not forget and ten years later invited me to preach. Cast your bread on the waters and after many years it will return to you! Incidentally I have found that I sometimes I get on better and feel more at home in some black majority churches than in some more ‘white’ ones! But I think that is a cultural rather than a skin colour thing!
It concerns me a little that churches are being planted on ethnic lines not because of racism but rather because of culture and ethnicity (an African friend in London told me that some of these churches were even being supported on tribal lines, rather than on country). I’m not sure that this is a healthy model…not least because the traditional established churches, which are largely dying, need the infusion of life and spirituality that comes from our African brothers and sisters. (and other people groups). I can understand why it is done – after all we Scots established ‘Scottish’ churches in many cities throughout the world – but I am not convinced it is biblical. I wonder if anyone dare ask the question – are these churches being planted to escape racism or because of racism – just as the Scottish churches overseas could have been planted for good reasons (language, culture) mixed with bad- even racist – ones (we want to worship with PLUS – People Like Us)? Is it right for us to have churches based on ethnic groups? Is that what Jesus would do?
7. We need a better understanding of the Church in the West today. We need to be more honest and less cliched. Above all we need real unity between brothers and sisters in Christ – whatever race, class or any other dividing wall of partition which Christ came to breach.
“The possibility of true unity in Christ has been marred by racism within the Church. It must be urgently addressed because we can only preach the gospel of reconciliation with credibility when we practice and live by it”.
This statement I totally agree with. But it must go far wider, deeper and longer than the current fashionable BLM cause. Christians bow the knee to a much greater God, for a far greater cause.
Doubtless Kumar meant well. Doubtless my article annoyed him, and he felt the need to response. I am sorry that he responded in such a way. But at least it has been helpful in making me think things through.
I hope these reflections have been helpful for others as well…for me I can only wearily cry ‘ How long, O Lord? How long?
PS. My article had this warning after it –
“Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher”
I’m sure it was a Freudian slip, but the same warning was initially missing from Kumar’s article! But I think it is a useful mistake – because it is indicative of a truth in the wider Western church. If you question the zeitgeist of the culture you are far more likely to be cancelled, than if you question the Bible! (note – the warning for Kumar is now there as well!)
It’s strange how all this pans out. The editor of Premier Christianity, SamHailes, was lauded (by others, not himself!) for how ‘brave he was in calling racism sin”. I think of course he was right in calling racism sin, but am not sure in what sense it was brave to say what everyone thinks. I can’t think of a single church leader in the UK who would not agree that racism is sin…and most of them publicly say so. Bravery would have been to challenge the BLM movement, the church leaders who support it – and the hypocrisy of bishops in the House of Lords who support BLM but can’t be bothered to vote against killing babies in the womb. Print that and watch the fur fly!