The Church must address the racism in its midst but there is some good news too

(Photo: Pexels/Brett Sayles)

I find any form of racism abhorrent, especially when it rears its ugly head in the Church. That's why it's been depressing to see so much evidence of it recently. To discriminate is to despise someone created in the image of God. The Church is intended to function as a community of equals; race, gender, social status should have no attraction for God' people.

We are saved by grace and called to share that same grace with each other, serving one another and 'in humility' considering others better than ourselves. Racism is a terrible stain on the Church's witness too, and it stops the world catching a glimpse of the glorious future God has planned for His people.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recently wrote, "Most of us are aware that Judaism is a faith that expresses what it believes about God in specific actions, actions towards others, actions of obedience."

The apostle James says something similar about the Christian faith too because he said, "I will show you my faith by what I do."

James was very blunt: any form of favouritism (that is discrimination) in the Church breaks the 'royal law' found in Scripture. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves.

But I find racism incomprehensible too. I don't just accept difference; I wallow in it! My son, for example, has a Japanese wife and we have been incredibly blessed by the contribution she has made to family life. In the same way, I continue to thank the Lord for the pastor from Zaire - now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo - who many years ago showed me that it is possible to rejoice in times of adversity. And another person I admire, someone I think of as my 'Ghanaian son', simply exudes humility.

As a result, I applaud every effort to rid the Church, indeed the whole world of the sin of racism. As the Archbishop of York rightly says, the Church must oppose racism in all its forms, call for racial justice and challenge the white hegemony which so often still controls the narratives of the world. But if we want to do that we obviously have to put our own house in order first. Unconscious racism in particular needs to challenged, however unsettling and painful the process might prove.

Having said all that, we need to remember that we can be unconsciously influenced in other ways too, not least by the media with its overtly negative approach, particularly when it is talking about the Church. My Baptist pastor friend Peter Cho, a South Korean immigrant to the UK, came to this conclusion last week when watching the recent Panorama documentary 'Is the Church Racist?'. He was so disturbed by what he felt was the unfairly negative picture it presented of the entire UK Church (not just the Anglican Church) that he travelled to London and mounted a week-long protest outside the BBC! He was determined to let people know that the programme in his view did not reflect his own experience of coming from an ethnic minority background and settling in the UK. 

"I have experienced nothing but love, welcome and support from the majority of Christians I have met over the twenty-five years I have spent in the UK," he told me. "I appreciate the fact that the documentary came to an end by showing the case of a vicar who was welcomed and accepted well by the people in her church and community but there was a loss of balance to the programme. The title itself only served to enhance a negative approach to church life."

Our experiences will inevitably vary, and the Church will constantly fall short of God's ideal, but as someone who never shies away from highlighting the Churches' failures, I feel I must applaud Peter's determination to add something positive to this on-going debate. The Church must be cleansed of racism, of that I am in no doubt, but it would be tragic if we threw the baby out with the filthy bath water.

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.