Reflection on Wednesday 24th June – Whose lives matter?
1 John 3: 17 – 24
“17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”
In recent weeks I have been disturbed about what is going on in the world especially in relation to the excessive violence experienced by the black community at the hands of people who have a duty to protect life and prevent injury. The Black Lives Matter movement has been met with a variety of reactions, most commonly the statement “all lives matter”.
There is no dispute that every life matters to God and certainly that comes over loud and clear in scripture. God’s love is for all humanity; we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:26) and everyone shares His name and is part of His family (Eph 3:15). But there is a theme running throughout the bible which clearly instructs people to love each other and highlights the need to pay particular attention to the poor and disadvantaged.
Isaiah 58:9b – 11
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
We are not only instructed to look out for others we will benefit from doing so and conversely suffer if we don’t. (See also: Deut. 27:19; Job 22:8-10; Psa. 94; Psa. 146; Isa. 1:16-17; Jer. 7:5-7;Jer 22:3; Zech. 7:9-11.)
Another reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, is to consider racism on a personal level. It has become clear to me that this is not a very useful question. I do my best to treat everyone equally and I am polite, perhaps even overly so, to the few people I meet from black and ethnic minorities who I come across which in Suffolk tend to be few. I have witnessed racism when I was living in Manchester and London and I have had to confront my own, inbuilt, racist tendencies when I was working internationally and would often be the only white person in the room.
One of the problems with racism is that it is not only the obvious hateful instances which are easy to spot and this is where, I cannot exclude myself from being part of a structure which privileges me simply because of the colour of my skin. Scott Woods, author and poet wrote, “Yes racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another.”
It does not feel good enough any more to say that I am not racist – if I am not against it, I continue to collude in a system which overwhelmingly privileges people just for being born white. Some people still dispute this but it has been demonstrated by COVID 19 over the last few months with its toll on black and ethnic minority lives. The privilege I mention is not about luxury or wealth, it is about basic access to education, health care, employment, leisure etc – normal day-to-day things that anyone might expect or hope for in life.
Of course, there are other groups in society who are struggling right now and to say “black lives matter” is not to suggest that other lives don’t. There is no competition. All people are asking for is an equivalent right to life, freedom and opportunity than everyone else expects. When the odds are stacked against you it is reasonable to highlight those odds. BUT as Dr Elizabeth Jenkins, the Advisor to the Church of England in Black and Ethnic Minority matters, puts it: “There is something deeply perverse in expecting those who are oppressed and excluded to be the architects of eliminating that oppression and/or exclusion”.
I cannot speak for everyone but I feel a duty, especially as I continue my journey to ordained priesthood, to inform myself better and to find out how I can challenge systems and structures I am part of and benefit from including the Church. The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, in his recent book “On Priesthood”, highlights the duty of priests to be sentinels, to watch, learn and be brave enough to speak the truth.
I am at the beginning of a journey which I feel I must take – not because it is trendy or politically correct but because it goes to the heart of who I am as a Christian. I want to abide in God and have God abide in me and as John says, this requires me to “love, not in word and speech but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18) however uncomfortable or painful that might be.
Rev’d Gini Williams
References supplied on request