Editing our history won't benefit anyone

Robert Milligan's statue was removed from outside the Museum of London after anti-racism protests. Milligan owned two plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica.(Photo: BBC News)

I am no fan of Alistair Campbell but like him there are times when I feel just a little ashamed to be British. I used to be proud of the way we handled our differences, but that is no longer the case. This doesn't mean I was blind to our failings, for even the most superficial reading of British history will rid you of any delusion we are some kind of superior breed.

Winston Churchill certainly had his critics, and my father (who served in the SAS in WWII) would have been the first to point this out. He could never forget Churchill's role in sending troops into the Rhondda to deal with striking miners. As you might guess, it made him angry.

Having said that, we do seem to have sunk to a new low in the way we disagree with each other. Intolerance and anger are so prevalent that I'm beginning to wonder where it will all end. I readily identify with those who want to expose the failings of previous generations, but I don't think this should mean editing history. We do far better to publicly acknowledge their faults and, where appropriate, relocate any contentious monuments to more fitting locations.

This is why I am proud of the Bible. It tells the story of God's people 'warts and all'. Take Abraham. He lied on three occasions to save his own skin, and I never cease to marvel at his wife's willingness to say she was his 'sister'. King David stands out too. In his desperation to hide an adulterous affair, he had his mistress' husband killed. The apostle Paul didn't have an unblemished record, either, and because of this, the church was pretty scared of him when he first tried to join it.

Church history attests to the same truth. Martin Luther has been accused of anti-Semitism and there was a time when even the great John Newton was blind to the systemic sin of slavery. Does that mean we should stop singing "Amazing Grace" or have it banned from our hymn books?

We are all flawed. We have our own personal failings and in addition to this we are often shaped by values that are out of step with God's Kingdom. Consequently, too many people find it difficult to recognise the richness of the human race and fail to celebrate our God-given differences. The result can be the evil of racism.

Christians have a God-given calling to expose injustice and to do all they can to shape the way people think for the better. And they can do so knowing that the day is coming when everyone will have to give an account for the way they have treated others. Until then, we must do all we can to expose evil and to promote justice, while praying that God will open people's eyes to the truth as He did for John Newton.

Talking of 'eyes', I'm reminded that Jesus once told His followers "to get rid of the log" in their own eyes before they dealt with "the speck" in someone else's. That does not mean we have to stay silent in the face of evil, but it does suggest that if we want to topple statues and remove monuments, we should at the same time remember our own failings and ask God for His forgiveness too. It's for this reason Newton's 'Amazing Grace' should find a place in every hymn book. 

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.

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