We thank Reverend Larry Wright for providing us with his material from the BLM session on 30th July. It was very interesting listening to him as a speaker, so we hope this post is useful if you would like to recall the session or couldn’t attend the meeting at all.
I speak as a white privileged male, who has been a priest for nearly 30 years in a part of the global Anglican Church that has just set up a commission to investigate endemic racism within its structures and institutions and I’m a former Police Officer.
As a Christian priest I subscribe to a mandate of inclusive love while in practice I wrestle with my own prejudices daily. Within the churches and communities we serve I sense the fears and anxieties of many who feel overwhelmed and besieged by current trends in society which challenge their assumptions and values. Some respond with bewilderment others with anger, others with an uncomfortable aversion or awkward attempts at engagement.
As a priest in one of the most ethnically diverse and dynamic cities in Britain, the fruits and blessings of multi-culturalism are all around me. Birmingham has a good record of racial harmony but we must not be complacent. The immediacy of social media brings international incidents directly to our attention and the killing of George Floyd resonated globally exposing the unhealed, unresolved character of institutionalised and inculturated racism.
The expressions of grief and outpourings of protest witnessed in America, the UK and elsewhere have accelerated the need for a comprehensive re-assessment of our attitudes, our values and our use of history. From my perspective, there are two distinct though interconnected aspects to the BLM upsurge of protests:
- Raising consciousness of the depth of racism still prevalent in society
- And the pressing need to reconsider accepted views of history
As a person of faith, I search the sacred texts of my religion for guidance and inspiration. In them I find challenge and hope for they are both an historical witness to the struggles of faithful people while containing truth and wisdom for future generations.
A prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims is known to me as Ezekiel. In the prophetic book of writings bearing his name a key chapter is found in what we know as chapter18 in our Christian Bible. In this chapter the prophet draws a profound distinction between the wrongdoings of parents and children (one generation and another) and who bears the consequences of those wrongdoings. Previously, it was widely believed children were punished for the sins of their parents: God’s anger would punish the many for the sins of the few. Ezekiel reforms this sense of collective punishment so the sins of a previous generation are not to be regarded as the responsibility of the next. The current generation must bear the consequences of its wrongdoings and sin, says the prophet.
In the current campaigns for retrospective justice and recompense for the sins of previous generations who exploited, abused and enslaved millions, many of my generation and background acknowledge the legitimacy of these campaigns while sensing we are being perceived as complicit. The discomfort this generates becomes an obstacle to addressing current issues of racism, exploitation, abuse and slavery.
Some of my generation and background ask ourselves: Can we be sure that the pulling down of statues, violent and non-violent protests, the reform of historical narratives, national acts of remorse and where possible compensation awarded, help to address and overcome racism and exploitation in this generation? Or, put another way, are these campaigns necessary preliminaries before a new enlightenment era of racial justice can dawn? While they may be powerful acts of protest and demolition, they appear nihilistic and we are fearful they will harden attitudes among those whom we are seeking to transform attitudes.
Retrospective justice is important and necessary but the victims of racism and exploitation now must take the highest priority, let not the campaigns for the former detract from the urgency of the latter.
Reverend Larry Wright