Dean Kelly Brown Douglas — known as the “Queen of black theology” — has told an audience in Liverpool that the Church of England must confront the structures in which white supremacy is embedded.
Speaking at the first Global Theology conference held at the Anglican cathedral, she said church responses to slavery and racial injustice must go beyond compensation and apologies.
Brown Douglas said it was no accident that the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in 2013, erupted during the Covid pandemic, which disproportionately affected people of colour.
Anti-black white supremacy was a second global pandemic, she said. “George Floyd’s murder [in 2020] was a catalyst for people across the globe to speak about racial injustice in their own contexts.”
The present situation was “our Kairos time, a moment of grace and opportunity in which God challenges us to decisive action”, she said. “It is also a dangerous time, because if the opportunity is missed then the loss to the church is immeasurable.”
Reparations that are not focused on creating a different way forward will not lead to change, but simply assuage the guilty white conscience, she said. “Our reparations must close and repair the gap between the present and God’s just future.”
Dean Brown Douglas is head of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral. She was speaking at the first Global Theology conference organised by Emmanuel Theological college, Chester, which was set up in the summer of 2020 to train people for ordained and lay ministry in the Church of England and is supported by six dioceses in the northwest.
The college says it aims to host the Global Theology and the Future of the Church conference every two years. The majority of the world’s Christians now live in the global south and global theology reflects this, seeking to bring non-western contexts and perspectives into the mainstream of contemporary theological thought.
The conference heard from the Rev Dr Renie Chow Choy, associate lecturer in church history at Westcott House, Cambridge; the Rev Dr Isabelle Hamley, theological adviser to the House of Bishops; and the Rev Dr Carlton Turner, tutor in contextual theology and mission studies at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham.
In an interview after the conference, Dean Brown Douglas — called “the Queen of Black Theology” by the British theologian Professor Anthony Reddie — gave her views on populism and trends in America.
She spoke about the rise of white Christian nationalism in the United States and beyond and said people should be alarmed. “What we’re seeing across the globe, which we euphemistically call populist movements, is really a symptom of white supremacy,” she said. “We have never dealt with this in our own country’s foundational history and therefore it was easy for Donald Trump to give it new life.
“We have to come out and bear witness to the fact that this is not Christian. Yes, people called themselves Christian and put Jesus on the side of the slave ships — I am sitting here in Liverpool after all — but there have always been voices from those born on the underside that resist that narrative.”
She also spoke about the recent Supreme Court decision to reverse the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that gave women a constitutional right to abortion. The religious right had played a long game, she said, and Democrats and progressive Christians had been naïve in failing to challenge the ways the right had organised itself to get its preferred judges on to the Supreme Court.
She mentioned comments made by Justice Clarence Thomas after the court’s decision which suggested that other rights were now at risk and said religion was again being weaponised to political ends.
“Religious liberty has become the canopy under which they will allow people to discriminate and they will roll back other rights legislation in order to perpetuate a racist anti-LGBT agenda about who they believe has the right to be considered an American citizen,” she said.