Church leaders in the UK have reacted with shock and outrage at the unfolding riots and social unrest in America following the killing of George Floyd. One has called this a ‘Kairos moment’ – a moment of opportunity when events and people come together to create change. There has been a furious response in the United States and the UK over Donald Trump’s PR stunt, when he ordered protesters outside St John’s church near the White House to be moved away using tear gas, so that he could walk across the road, stand in front of the church, and brandish a Bible for a photo opportunity. Church workers and clergy (pictured) were among those tear gassed off their church yard, where they had been distributing water, snacks and sanitizer to peaceful protesters.
Dr David Muir, Roehampton University, executive member of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance: (speaking in a Religion Media Centre online briefing)
“As Martin Luther King said — riots are the voice of the voiceless. But there comes a time when people get tired and the cup of endurance runs over. What you’re seeing is all that frustration and white Christians have a moral responsibility now more than ever. This is a defining moment to move the dial. Black Americans and white Americans, the world saw what happened.. This is a Kairos moment. I pray that God will goad white brothers and sisters who are followers of Christ to do something about this at this moment.”
The Archbishop of York John Sentamu, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“Many in moments of anger, in moments of deep bitterness, engage in riots. Governments must listen to the voices of those who are really telling it as it is. Isn’t it shocking that people who have died in large numbers … of Covid-19 come from mainly minority groups? … We ought to be holding a mirror to ourselves. I want to plead with my brothers and sisters that what is called for is restorative justice, where truth, justice, mercy, peace meet. ..People sometimes think that because you’ve got the power and the authority, you can abuse that authority. Martin Luther King said violence causes as many problems as it solves … darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that…. The problem is America has not been listening to the real problems of African Americans and people of colour.”
Once more, Anglican bishops have taken to twitter:
The Bishop of Washington Mariann Budde, whose diocese includes St Johns church, where Donald Trump stood brandishing the Bible
“The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.
“We are followers of Jesus. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. We stand with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd through the sacred act of peaceful protest.
“The Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbor; that all people are beloved children of God; that we are to do justice and love kindness. The President used our sacred text as a symbol of division.
“The President did not come to pray; he did not lament the death of George Floyd or acknowledge the collective agony of people of color in our nation. He did not attempt to heal or bring calm to our troubled land.”
“This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
“I thank God for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s leadership and for all in the US who are striving for racial justice and reconciliation. I pray that those of us who are white Christians repent of our own prejudices, and do the urgent work of becoming better allies to our brothers and sisters of colour. For those of us who are white Christians, I pray that we reflect and pray deeply and honestly on what it means to follow the teaching of Jesus to “love your neighbour as yourself. Centuries-old racism and white supremacy are a root cause of the suffering of black and minority ethnic communities here, in the USA and around the world. We must pray and work together for a new and more just society.”
Joint statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu:
“Recent events in the United States of America have once again drawn public attention to the ongoing evil of white supremacy. Systemic racism continues to cause incalculable harm across the world. Our hearts weep for the suffering caused – for those who have lost their lives, those who have experienced persecution, those who live in fear. God’s justice and love for all creation demands that this evil is properly confronted and tackled. Let us be clear: racism is an affront to God. It is born out of ignorance and must be eradicated. We all bear the responsibility and must play our part to eliminate this scourge on humanity. As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: ‘In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Therefore justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We pray that God’s abounding wisdom, compassion and love will guide leaders across the world to forge a better society’.”
Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool:
“The book is not an idol. It’s not made to be waved about, closed. Open it. It tells of the God of love and righteousness, who is not mocked.”
And Posting a picture of Trump holding the Bible : “This is a good book. Extracts: ‘God is love.’ ‘Love your enemies’. ‘May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people … #BlackLivesMatter”
Bishop of London Sarah Mullally:
“Now is a time to listen, and to learn. We stand together for dignity, equality and justice. #BlackLivesMatter.”
Bishop of Burnley, Philip North (posting a picture of Trump with the Bible)
“Now read it.”
Rev Dr Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain:
“It is with outrage and deep sorrow that we have witnessed the brutal killing of George Floyd in the United States. But outrage and sorrow are not a sufficient response to racism and inequality in society… As your President, I start by saying I am sorry. Sorry for being silent when we should have spoken out against the everyday injustices that affect BAME communities. I am sorry that, despite our efforts, we have not done enough for those who feel excluded and we need to do better. We know this includes people of all ages from the Windrush generation to the very young. I am sorry when we have not listened carefully enough and not challenged the assumptions of white privilege and bias. Repentance can lead us to change, to embody a gracious, loving spirit of inclusion and understanding. There is no excuse for racism. All people are made in God’s image. We are one body in Christ Jesus.”
The galvanised response from black and white church leaders in the UK came on the day when Public Health England published a report saying that bame (black Asian and minority ethnic) people in England are up to 50% more likely to die from Covid19. People of Bangladeshi ethnicity have approximately twice the risk, while people of Caribbean, Black, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani or other Asian descent, had between a 10 to 50% higher risk of death than white people.
In other news:
The Methodist Church has sold its £17 million stake in the oil companies BP and Total at a time when their value had plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is estimated they have lost 40% of their value since January. The church had decided to disinvest on ethical grounds due to climate change concerns and its central finance board concluded that BP had not provided sufficient detail on how it would cut carbon emissions, so it decided to sell. A finance board spokesman said the decision was made on ethical grounds and it was impossible to hypothesise on how much money would have been saved if they had waited in the hope that share prices would recover.