Church must lead the way in speaking out against racism in the UK, says Pentecostal leader

Pentecostal leader Pastor Agu Irukwu has spoken of his sorrow and anger over the death of George Floyd in the US. 

The black man's death at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis has triggered widespread protests across the US and in the UK. 

Pastor Irukwu, who heads the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the UK, said he had watched events unfold in the US "with a very, very heavy heart". 

Speaking in a video message posted to YouTube, he said he was "appalled" at the sight of a police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck, and added that his cries of "I can't breathe" had "haunted" him. 

"Amongst the emotions I felt was undeniably an anger that this kind of thing should be happening anywhere in the world and especially in America, the land of the free," Pastor Irukwu said. 

He said Floyd's death had "brought to the fore the very deep faultlines that exist in the American society around the issue of race", and that he could understand why black Americans felt so angry. 

"If I, a black, British Nigerian living in London, felt so much anger and sadness, I can very well understand how a young man or woman living in an American city can be enraged," he said. 

"For him or her, this is just one too many. It is too much on the back of a number of high profile deaths of African Americans in similar circumstances." 

The Jesus House pastor said that while Christians should pray for their American brothers and sisters, they must also speak a message of love and forgiveness, and stand against injustice even "at great cost". 

He also urged the Church not to be silent in the face of institutional racism.  

"The silence of the Church in Germany during the Holocaust, the silence of sections of the Church in South Africa during the evil years of Apartheid are more modern examples of how evil and injustice thrives when good people do not speak out," he said.

"I am a Christian, I have to speak out. It is my problem; it is our problem." 

He commended the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, for his apology earlier this year for racism in the Church of England, particularly towards the Windrush generation. 

Pastor Irukwu called the Archbishop's apology "a model for beginning to address this most complex of issues" and "a significant step in pouring balm on the wounds that exist".

"We owe it to ourselves to see what is happening in America as a mirror that has been placed before us. We need to ask ourselves: what is reflected in that mirror? What do we see?" he said. 

"We must not be under the illusion that we do not have our own very real challenges here. We do. The inherent inequalities in our own system here, the institutional racism that exists in many of our institutions must be named and addressed. I think it is fitting that the way is led by the Church."