A CALL for the Church to move beyond “cheap diversity” and be a place in which black and minority ethnic (BAME) voices are heard was declared the winning talk at the second Theology Slam final, on Tuesday evening.
It was given by Augustine Tanner-Ihm, 30, who recently completed ordination training and a Masters in Theology at Cranmer Hall, Durham (Comment, 19 June). The final took place online, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Theology Slam was organised jointly by SCM Press, the Church Times, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC), and the Community of St Anselm.
The judging panel on the night consisted of Selina Stone, a Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College, London; the Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Mark Greene; and the winner of the first Theology Slam in 2019, Hannah Malcolm (News, 15 March 2019).
In his talk, Mr Tanner-Ihm said that most people in the UK “get stomach cramps just thinking about the idea of talking about race. If you’re honest with yourself, you may be one of those people who say, ‘oh no, here comes a black man, come to tell us that we’re bad for being white’. . .
“In many cases, even statements of racial facts and statistics, such as definitions of racism, disparities in income and education, segregation of neighbourhoods, hate-crime figures, and so forth are met with defensiveness from a white demographic.”
He continued: “I hope that we might be challenged by the Spirit of God to reflect on our uncomfortable postures, our disinterest, and our tuning out.”
Mr Tanner-Ihm referred to Nicodemus as someone who had “a blind spot”. He said: “Nicodemus was a person of high status and he was admired by people around him. He was faithful and religious, but he was completely and utterly blind.
“The Church is blind to our siblings in pain, because we are using natural eyes.”
Mr Tanner-Ihm went on to speak of receiving the letter from a diocesan director of ordinands, in response to his application for a curacy. The letter said: “We are not confident that there is a sufficient match between you and the requirements of the post. Firstly, the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working-class, where you might feel uncomfortable.” (News, Podcast 12 June).
The Church should “work towards a radical new Christian inclusion”, Mr Tanner-Ihm said. “Accessibility is being able to get into the building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. But belonging is having your voice heard at the table.
“Are the wonderful and beautiful brown and black bodies being heard at your table? Or have they not even been invited to the table? Can they even get into the building? Does your table look more like a table of bank executives or like the Kingdom of God?”
Before Mr Tanner-Ihm spoke, the online audience heard from Molly Boot, 22, a Master’s student in medieval church history at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, who spoke on theology and #MeToo; and from Sam Hodson, 23, who works in a community with people who have learning disabilities, on theology and disability.
In her talk, Ms Boot spoke about “what #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have in common: solidarity”.
“When we say ‘Me, too’ or ‘Black Lives Matter’, we’re not speaking on our own. We’re aligned to something greater than ourselves. We join a surge towards justice, towards the liberation of those who have been treated cruelly, abused by individuals and systems that attempt to make us suffer in silence.”
She continued: “The God I hear in the voices of black activists calling for justice, in the stories of survivors of all kinds of abuse is the God who chose to risk everything just to be with us. . .
“Within this story of God made human, the story of Jesus, God doesn’t just stand by. God enters in to the very fabric of human experience and reminds us that the story of Christ, the story of the MeToo movement, the story of Christ’s ‘Me, too’ doesn’t end with the pain and the suffering and the abuse: it ends with resurrection.”
Mr Hodson spoke in his talk of how “the slowness of life in our community hasn’t become much more comfortable to me. But I am learning about life with God through my discomfort: that God’s love is always slow.”
He continued: “Matthew’s Gospel revueals this extraordinary secret, which is that those perceived as weak in our world — ‘the little ones’, as it calls them — are possess a uniquely clear vision of God in his Kingdom. . .
“It is among those perceived as weak in our world where God continues to feel most at home, and that is where disability and theology meet.”
On Wednesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a message on Twitter congratulating Mr Tanner-Ihm. The Archbishop wrote: “Thank you for calling us deeper into the urgent conversation we must have — and work we must do — on the racism in our Church and society that blinds us to the Kingdom of God.”
The winning script will be published in the Church Times next week.
Watch the full event here.
Listen to the finalists’ talks on the Church Times Podcast.