It’s 1988 and I need to make an urgent phone call. Fortunately, I was in the centre of Rochdale, near the post office where I knew there were four phone boxes side-by-side.
However, when I got there, all were occupied, each – as it happened – for an interminable time. My impatience quickly grew and when I noticed that each occupant was Asian, guess what I thought?
The truth is that we are all capable of racism.
This morning’s Times gives a prominent lead to a paper by the National Centre for Social Research showing that 26 per cent of adults admit that they are prejudiced against people of other races. And that’s probably an under-estimate.
The Times makes the observation that “over three decades, Britain has gradually become more socially liberal on issues such as sex outside marriage, gay relationships and abortion. Racism, however, has been stubbornly immune to this trend.”
The report also found that that the focus of racial prejudice may have shifted, with less aimed at black people but more prejudice against Muslims.
But racism is afoot in our world, witness the emergence of the Alt Right in America, the rise of the National Front in France and the success last weekend of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Bundestag elections. Not to mention Brexit.
It’s what happens when people are insecure and fearful of change.
However, racism goes deeper than that. Witness the recent wall-to-wall coverage of floods in Houston and Florida while the media largely neglected the devastating floods across India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Here more than 1,200 people have died, with 40 million affected by the devastation.
Why the difference in coverage? I guess the essential reason is that those on the subcontinent unlike those in the US are not us.
As African-American actor Sterling K. Brown points out” “It’s the people who don’t recognize the racism within themselves that can be the most damaging because they don’t see it.”
For the truth is that we are all racist in the same way that we are all adulterers – if we accept Jesus’ definition of adultery as anyone looks at a woman with lust (Matthew 5:28). We need to be totally honest with ourselves – it is what we are capable of, each of us. The problem – and it is a problem – lies deep in the human heart.
And it is a problem which will largely be untouched by editorials in the Guardian. At a fundamental level, we need the Holy Spirit and his work is often not without pain.
However, the glory of the Gospel is that we are all valued, cherished and favoured by the God who made us, We see this above all at the cross of Jesus. Each of us may be defined as by the apostle Paul as “someone for whom Christ has died.” (Romans 14:15)
This love for us is both comforting and frightening because we know we have to change, change a lot. But to know God’s love deep in our bones is transformative.
As ever we are a work in progress. There are times when we have to decide to do the right thing, even think the right thing when all four phone boxes are being used. In all this it is essential to give the Holy Spirit access to every area of our life.
So we begin with me and we begin with us, that is the church. For the church as the body of Christ is called to be witness to God’s all-conquering love. More than anywhere on earth we are commissioned to show God’s welcome.
“Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.” (Colossians 3:10)
Of course, there is a temptation to worship alongside people like me, same culture, same outlook on life, same income group, and so on. And there lies the challenge for all churches, including ours in Ormskirk. We seek to cross all boundaries.
I remember being hugely encouraged by what happened in a small Anglican congregation in Liverpool some years back. A racially mixed congregation some black members were asked to leave and join a newly-formed black church. They refused because they wanted to demonstrate the church as welcoming all people, all races.
I’m running out of space now, suffice it to say that when we take on racism in the world, either directly or supporting those Christians and churches who are engaged in the fight against this pernicious disease.
Such as our mission partners, Andrew and Maria Leake in northern Argentina who are essentially confronting institutional racism against the indigenous people of the Chaco.
Here Martin Luther King must have the last word: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Yes, the resurrection of Jesus changes everything.