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Black lives really do matter

by
19 June 2020

But does the Church really believe this, asks K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm

PA

An image of George Floyd, painted on the side of a building in central London, last Friday

An image of George Floyd, painted on the side of a building in central London, last Friday

I

WHERE are you from? No, where are you really from? But where are your parents from? Come on mate, you’re obviously not from around here!

The events of the past few weeks have occurred because unarmed black men and women have died in a country which feels like a police state to African-Americans. The protests have shocked the country, but they did not shock us. As Will Smith summarised observantly: “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.”

Our leaders didn’t believe us. Not when we spoke about our experiences. When we showed you our scars, or even our bleeding and open wounds, you still doubted. When we sent you statistics after statistics, not just from wailing mouths but academic books, you still ignored us. But we continued to sit in your pews, we went on your retreats, and even helped to organise your church fairs. But still you did not listen. The events of last week are a searing reminder that we don’t matter. And worse — we don’t belong.

I matter. I matter. Black Bodies Matter.

 

II

My Church, I love you. Do you see me? I can’t jog. I can’t sit in my home alone. I can’t walk in certain neighbourhoods. Do you see me? Do you hear me?

We aren’t talking about the centuries of transatlantic slavery or the glorification of the British Empire. We are talking about the traumatic environment in which we currently live — one in which our black bodies are united by the singular blood of pain. This is our daily anguish and horror.

Deep within our souls and minds, we think that this could have been me. I’m alive today, but maybe not tomorrow. It’s a fear baked and cemented into our hearts and minds. This is not a tough few weeks, this is a tough life. If you are tired of talking about racism, then try living it.

There are two choices. If you can avoid this conversation, you are already more privileged than me. But if you choose to be on this journey, there can be no looking back.

Our consciousness is only fuelled when we are alert to the plight of our brothers and sisters. The Church has a history of physical and emotional brutality towards black bodies. Our system doesn’t favor accountability or transparency but white supremacy. The Church’s ability to end the disease of racism has been exposed as impotent and feeble. You still don’t listen to me.

I matter. I matter. I matter.

 

III

Our brown and black bodies are broken. For whom? Not for the Lord Jesus Christ. He was broken, for us.

We wait and anticipate the savage reality. A misunderstanding can carry you to the grave. Our white brothers and sisters break us. We are always the slaughtered lamb on the altar of selfishness. This table is no feast or thanksgiving. It is wickedness, a table built with stones of sin — built by the unexamined hearts of men and women who both knowingly and unknowingly destroy us.

You virtue-signal through social media with no plan for action so that you can show you are not a racist. You make public statements and change your profile picture and “feel bad”. Then, after a week or two, your life will return to normal.

But our normal is oppression and pain. If you have no desire for the pain and oppression of black and brown bodies, then leave the ministry. Stop calling yourself a disciple of Jesus. And do not patronise us by supposing that social welfare is the same as social justice. Foodbanks do not change hearts. People with black and brown bodies are not always poor. Social charity is not the only way to engage with us.

I matter. I matter. I matter.

 

IV

It’s not my job to educate you. It’s not my job to hear your shock. It’s not my job to be a token. It’s not my job to hear you tell me about how sad and upset you are rather than listen to my experience. It’s selfish to turn my pain into your gain. We’ve been telling you for decades about this. When we live in an age of instant information don’t come to me for resources.

My mentor Anthony Reddie, has been writing, researching and speaking about this for over 20 years of his life, yet you never chose to engage with him. You invest your time, money, and energy on white-run projects that only enhance your career. You spend more time speaking out about giving or stewardship than seeking justice for the poor and marginalized people. You want our money more than you desire justice for our people.

You never answered my emails or phone calls, but you want my time and emotional energy. It’s insulting to deny me a job or a leadership role and then ask me to share my feelings and time with you and your congregation for free.

You told us that we are victimhood culture. You told us this is political and we don’t do politics, we do Jesus. You told me this isn’t a gospel issue. But it is!

I matter. I matter. I matter.

 

V

If you get there before I do, Coming for to carry me home. Tell all my friends I’m coming too, Coming for to carry me home.

We created music for worship like songs, spirituals and gospel, the songs of oppressed people longing for freedom, longing for Christ to return, longing for the good news of the gospel story.

We know from our circumstance how to praise and worship God. We know that the goodness of God is not determined by our feelings or the environment that we are in. But you don’t even engage in our music. Maybe because our music is about a call. A call for repentance. A call and response.

The music isn’t about entertaining ourselves, but the love and desire to know and worship our lord and our king forever. It’s a genre that was birthed from the deep anguish of slave tones and emotions. We cry to the Lord and our brothers and sisters for help. And we are constantly reminded that our help can come only from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth. Because you remain silent. The church is silent.

I matter. I matter. I matter.

 

VI

We weep like Jesus wept for Mary wept for Lazarus, the dead.

We wait. Because we wait for you to look for the one, and not just say that ninety nine is good enough. We watched. We watched as Covid-19 killed and destroyed our communities disproportionately. You were too preoccupied with Dominic Cummings’ eyesight. Or President Trump’s golf handicap. We linger. Because we desire to see your heart transformed by the grace of God. We see. We see how your networks grow through words and the appointment of people that look, smell and gesture just like you into new worshipping communities. We are shocked. Because, just like the secular government’s gentrification of our communities, you use the same tactics to “cleanse” our “struggling” churches. You use the words “partner” and “missional”, but you really mean control and empire-building. You say that this is about local churches changing nations, but most of your local churches don’t even look like your nation. You say that you want to transform society before you even transform yourself. Do you hear us?

I matter. I matter. I matter.

 

VII

Wait eight minutes and 46 seconds. Try to hold your breath for three minutes and see how you feel. Does it feel bliss or like death? Eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long a policeman put his knee on an unarmed black neck. And he died.

I see grandparents who have lived here for more than 50 years. I see grandparents who have given this country their lives. I see grandparents questioned about their right to live here, told by the Government to “go back” to whence they came.

If you have never been spat on, verbally abused, or had rocks thrown at you because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege. If there are no parts of your hometown that you have to avoid because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege.

If you have never had to worry that you will be passed over for a job or a promotion because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege. If you have never had people refusing to speak to you in your professional capacity because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege. If you have never had people questioning your competence to speak for your organisation because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege. If you have never had people questioning your right to free speech because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege.

If you have never had to worry about the physical safety of your spouse or your children because of the colour of their skin, that is your privilege. If your kids have not been made to feel ugly and unwelcome in their school because of the colour of their skin, that is your privilege. If you have never been refused service by a salon of fully qualified hairdressers because nobody can cut “your kind of hair”, that’s your privilege.

If you have never had medical practitioners ask if you are capable of reading a form because of the colour of your skin, that is your privilege. If you have never had a doctor ask if you are acquainted with basic hygiene, that is your privilege. If you have never had a medical specialist refuse to examine your or your child’s body because of the colour of your skin, then that is your privilege. If you have never had to relocate geographically because of the colour of your skin, then that is your privilege.

We are tired of fighting, praying and crying for love and respect from the Church. We are looking for ACTivism, not silence. Don’t you know that riots are the voice of the unheard? We, the people, have faith in Jesus. We hope one day our pastors will believe in him, too.

I matter. We matter. Black. Lives. Matter!


K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm has recently completed ordination training at Cranmer Hall, Durham, during which he completed an MA in Theology. He is a finalist in the 2020 Theology Slam competition, which takes place online on Tuesday. For more information and to register, visit www.licc.org.uk/events/theology-slam-live-final

 

Listen to an interview with Augstine Tanner-Ihm on the Church Times Podcast here

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