Sunday 13and In February, the church will mark Racial Justice Sunday. While many will enthusiastically commemorate a day dedicated to remembering that justice is for all, no matter their place of origin or heritage, some will wonder why?
To answer this question, we must go back to basics. We need to explore why it is good to remember our Christian imperative for racial justice and what more the Church and the UK government can do to tackle racial injustice.
Racial Justice Sunday is essentially a date for us to take at least one day to remind ourselves and our church families that treating every human being with love, dignity, and justice is at the very heart of God.
Christians have always taught that God’s love and salvation are freely available to everyone and to all racial groups. Any call for racial justice must be recognized as grounded in an explicit theological understanding that the kingdom of God is multi-ethnic and that it is through our baptismal covenant that we recognize and respect the dignity of every human being and our unity in Christ.
The historic slave trade remains a scar in world history, in the way it dehumanized slaves on the African continent. Racialized injustice has evolved into a social and financial construct influencing the attitudes of a large majority of individuals and institutions in majority white countries in their treatment of people of color around the world.
The Church of England has acknowledged and apologized for its role in the slave trade and subsequent colonialism as part of British colonization in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. However, he has yet to respond to growing calls to pay reparations for benefits derived from slave and colonial possessions.
While the British government has apologized for its involvement in the slave trade and even acknowledged the damage caused by slavery to the financial systems and populations of countries and territories that were used as major slave economies, reparations for these damages have not been paid to date. Other institutions not only acknowledged their role but continued their actions, including the University of Glasgow which paid £20 million in slave trade reparations.
In addition to the call for financial reparations in cash or in kind, there is also a growing movement for racial and climate justice as more people recognize the link between poor climate choices in the global North and its impact on the poorest and most marginalized peoples, many of whom were also affected by slavery and colonialism. Organizations such as Christian Aid are at the forefront of work in the region.
At Christian Aid, we mourn racial divisions in our society and our churches and seek to pursue a path of repentance and reconciliation. But it’s also worth exploring the role that Christians have played in advocating for social and racial justice.
In the 20and century, notable periods included the civil rights movement in the United States from 1954 to 1968, with Dr Martin Luther King at the forefront, the apartheid era in South Africa from 1948 to the 1990s, with the Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the main activist.
The civil rights movement in the UK mostly took place in the second half of the 20and century. Examples include the exposure of institutional racism within the Met Police in their handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, with the involvement of Bishop Wilfred Wood, Archbishop John Sentamu and many others.
While progress has been made in the fight for racial justice, the 2020 murder of George Floyd, along with many other incidents in the US and UK, has led to a broader conversation about racial inequality and show that there is still much to do. .
The Archbishop of Canterbury has revived this conversation in the Church of England in his General Synod apology for the Church’s response to the Windrush generation. And its recognition of the Church’s history of racial injustice. He recently established a Commission on Racial Justice.
The UK government also recently set up a commission on racial and ethnic disparities and last published a report on racism in the UK. The report’s findings caused widespread consternation and controversy as it denied the existence of structural racism and claimed that racism in the UK mainly occurs only in isolated incidents by individuals rather than institutions .
Undoubtedly, the events of 2020 have brought the subject of racial justice to the fore in church and society. Despite their actions so far, both the Church and the UK government must do more to act on past transgressions, as well as work on what can be done now to address continuing racial injustice.
Racial Justice Sunday reminds us all that as Christians we have a moral duty to ensure that all are treated equally, just as everyone is considered equal in the sight of God.
Dr Rosemarie Mallet is Archdeacon of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark.