Tag Archives: racism

Black Lives Matter

In our quiet corner of Surrey where there is little ethnic diversity it may be hard to relate to the unrest taking place across the USA. But, however, distant we are in both miles and life experience, the parish stands with those who are reminding us – in increasingly urgent voices – that Black lives matter.

The reason is the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer, kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time Mr Floyd was gasping that he couldn’t breathe. For the last almost three minutes George Floyd was unresponsive. He died. Derek Chauvin has now been charged with murder.

This is the current background to the call that Black lives matter, but the background could just as well have been the death of Eric Garner or John Crawford or Michael Brown Jr or Tanisha Anderson or Tony Robinson or Michael Dean or Jamee Johnson or Yassin Mohamed or Finan H. Berhe… the list goes on and on. They were all black and they were all killed by police officers.

These were in the USA where the Black Lives Matter movement began, but the background is also the disproportionate number of arrests of Black people in the UK (three times higher than for white people)1; it is also the fact that Black workers with university degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white workers1 ; the fact that a survey found that 38% of people from ethnic minorities reported being wrongly accused of shoplifting between 2013 and 2018, compared with 14% of white people, with Black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected2. It could be the greater impact of coronavirus on Black people than on white people in this country which has highlighted longstanding inequalities in health, incomes, housing and employment3.

These, and many more reasons are why Black Lives Matter, a phrase that has sparked a campaign which is here in the UK too (blacklivesmatteruk.com/). There will be people who say“but all lives matter” and, of course, all lives do matter, everyone is equally important. And that is the point. When there is a group of people being treated unfairly, even brutally, when there is a group of people which is discriminated against even to the point of being murdered, then it is up to us all to say “enough!”

What does it have to do with this parish in north Farnham? Most of us will claim not to be racist. We also claim to be inclusive and to be so because we follow Jesus. But we have to put that into practice. We have to remember that Jesus responded to need where it was. When someone was on the margins and asking for help he didn’t check that the more privileged were OK first.

So what do those of us who are white do? For a start, don’t just listen to me, a white woman. Instead, you and I must listen to the experiences of Black people, we must look at ourselves and our own actions, and we must see where we can change and where we can stand against racism and for our Black brothers and sisters. We must ask what our faith challenges us to do – what Jesus, whom we try to follow, would call on us to do.

We need to listen to people like Siana Bangura when she tells us that “being anti-racist is a verb, a doing word” and that “Guilt has little use now, we need to see courage and action. In the same way that you love black culture, you need to show up for our struggles too.” We need to listen to British man Rakeem Noble who spoke on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show this week (1hr, 50)and explained why the UK is not innocent. And we need to read the Gospels.

As Lesley Crawley says: “The Black Lives Matter campaign is so important because there are such gross inequalities between the way Black people and white people are treated, not just in America but here too. It is of central importance to us as Christians because Jesus, time after time, stood on the side of those who were marginalised. He stood up for lepers, for Samaritans, for the disabled, for women, for the poor… the list goes on. If these passages were removed from the Gospels then there would be very little left. Our heartfelt prayers are for an equal society, and until we get there, we lift our voices with those from whom justice is denied.”

Let’s add our voices to those calling for justice, for George Floyd and for all Black people.

Stella Wiseman

Note:  I have capitalised the word Black because I have been following the guidance of Lori L Tharps, Black woman and journalism professor, who wrote: “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.

1 Race report statistics, Equality and Human Rights Commission www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/race-report-statistics

2 Robert Booth, Aamna Mohdin, The Guardian, December 2, 2018. www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain

3 Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, May 27, 2020 www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/27/call-for-coronavirus-uk-race-equality-strategyCMP=share_btn_tw&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn

Photo: George Floyd memorial. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Sermon Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37

24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

A journalist once had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa and so he said “Mother

Philip Tirone kissing the hand of Mother Teresa
Philip Tirone kissing the hand of Mother Teresa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Teresa, you believe in God so I guess you must pray regularly”. “Yes, I do” came her reply. “So what do you say?” asked the Journalist. “Oh mostly I just listen”, she said. Thinking that he now had a great scoop, the very words of God to Mother Teresa he said “Ah, so what does God said to you?” “Oh mostly he just listens too”.

I would like to talk about listening to God, just a little bit, because I am drawn to the word “Ephphatha” that Jesus said – opening the deaf man’s ears – and I feel strongly that we too need to be able to hear God’s voice as a Parish so that we might walk in the right paths.

But I have to first unpack the first story because it is perhaps one of the most fascinating and challenging stories in the bible. It throws up questions of discrimination and questions of Jesus’s divinity and humanity.  So Jesus is possibly tired and fed up, he doesn’t want to be noticed, but a Gentile woman finds him and begs him to get rid of a demon in her daughter. I tend to think that “demon possession” in their terms was either something like epilepsy or mental illness.

So Jesus responds saying that the children should be fed first and it isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. What a horrible response – the woman would be well aware that the Jews referred to non-Jews as dogs. There is that famous prayer that Jewish men at the time used to pray – “Thank-you God that you didn’t make me a gentile, or a woman, or a dog”.

Admittedly, the word used in this text is “little dogs” rather than “dogs”, but I don’t think it makes it any better – it is dehumanising – I find it frightening when any group diminishes another, dehumanises them, because once we do that we can make them other than ourselves and treat them badly.

The woman responds that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table. And Jesus is impressed by this response and tells her that her child has been healed.

There are two possible interpretations of this story – the first is that Jesus is learning – that he listens to the woman and learns from her, and indeed this changes his ministry. The story is set between two mass feedings – and the symbolism and locations of these meals suggest that the first was for Jews and the second for Gentiles, the “dogs” suddenly finding themselves at the table and no longer eating the crumbs. This reading of the story would suggest that Jesus in his humanity had to learn to be Christ in his divinity. I quite like this idea – I am doubtful that when Jesus was a child he had the wisdom of Christ, I doubt that in his essays at school he wrote things like “God is love and all who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”. I doubt he said to his brothers “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God”. On this day Jesus learned something about equality between races that undid the racist teaching that he had learned before. Jesus then has a time of ministry to the Gentiles, the story marks a turning point.

The second interpretation is that Jesus is testing the woman and she comes through with flying colours. The woman is remarkably persistent – under the circumstances – she has been put down, insulted and she still keeps going. I dislike this because I find it insulting, the notion of Jesus testing her, especially in the context of the insult. But it does preserve the notion of Jesus being unchanging, emphasising the divinity of God.

How do you see Jesus? Do you see him learning? I think that is the reading that I take, in which case if it is ok for Jesus to be wrong sometimes, to learn from others, to be challenged and change his mind, then it is surely ok for us too.

Moving on to the story of the deaf man hearing, the reason I think we need to listen to God, particularly at this time, is because times are hard in the parish. Over the last few years the numbers of people who have attended our three churches has reduced probably from 134 per week to 87 per week. The amount of money we spend has stayed constant at about 45k per year, before paying our parish share, but our income has gone from 108k to 78k over the past four years. Alan will preach about this next week, but we the long and the short of it is we can’t afford to replace Carol, and the Vicarage will be let until the situation changes.

These numbers look depressing, and they need facing, but my belief is that God is with us, God will lead us through this. And in the meantime my hope is that we will come together more closely as a parish, we will need to work together, to help each other. My belief is that churches have seasons, and at the moment it is Winter, but Spring is coming. This belief has been strengthened by experiencing once again such a strong call to come here and it has been strengthened by finding such faithful people and the warmth of the welcome and friendship when we arrived.  I am convinced that together we will have the persistence of the Syrophoenician woman to work though this, the humility of Jesus to hear others and change where we need to, and I believe that Spring will come. I hope that you will also have that belief. Amen.