Amy Rhodes: Contemplative prayer from a neurodiverse perspectiveFebruary 11, 2023
Al Barrett: When I (finally) realised I was WhiteFebruary 23, 2023
The deconstruction of racism in the church has been an especially painful journey for Global Majority Heritage Christians. However, I am convinced that healing will not be manifest until we see the evil of structural racism expunged from God’s church.
Like my many colleagues of Global Majority Heritage (GMH) I have experienced racism in the church on multiple levels. This injustice needs to be confronted through a multi-pronged approach. While we are beginning to see GMH individuals at particular stages of leadership, it does not necessarily equate to liberation for us all, as the recent Modern Church blog entry by Anthony Reddie has indicated. We can also write reports, but this does not mean that recommendations will be honoured, as was witnessed in ‘Lament to Action.’ Yet, our hope is in our Redeemer – the one who transforms unjust structures: the temple scene where Jesus haphazardly rearranges the furniture is only one example of his passion for justice.
One approach I have taken in ‘rearranging’ the furniture in God’s house is through the decolonisation of resources and curricula.
Background – Imagery
In my youth, as a Christian from a Muslim background, I had not considered the Biblical context to be Middle Eastern/Palestinian/Semitic. What was presented to me was a white Saviour alongside an exclusive and dangerous theology. I recall reading children’s Bible stories as an 8 year old with images of a Scandinavian Jesus (even though I happen to find the Scandinavian look especially attractive…) As a child, however, there was no one to signpost me towards the Middle-Eastern Jesus. Why would anyone allow this type of imagery to flourish? Could it be that a white Jesus keeps the power holders in their position? Over the last two decades, I have come to appreciate the Bible from a Middle Eastern perspective – our Lord lived and ministered in a culture that was Middle-Eastern Asian (with an early excursion to North Africa). There were so many traditions and patterns of etiquette which I identified with, such as the touching of one’s feet: the feet in Asian culture are considered to be the lowliest parts of a human body and so to touch someone’s feet or wash them as Jesus did was an anathema! The subversiveness of Christ took on a new meaning for me as an Asian Christian.
Ordination Training College
How do Anglican training colleges perpetuate racism in the Church? Three of the most significant indicators can be found in the content of their theological libraries, the curricula of the various courses that are taught and the composition of staff. Let me explain …When I arrived at an Anglican Training College to commence ordination training in 2011, I was not prepared for such a discrepancy between the Bible of the Ancient Near East and an institution that trained mainly non-GMH male Christian leaders. I was the only female of South Asian origin training at the time. (In fact I became the first female of Bangladeshi origin to be priested in the Church of England). The staff were a homogenous group who were not as cross-culturally fluent as they had imagined themselves to be.
The college library consisted of books written by one section of the population: the power holders. This further perpetuated the myth of Jesus being a white man. Euro-centric perspectives in theology seemed to dominate with a particular bias for German theologians – incidentally, all of whom are remarkable scholars. However, their world views could never be the same as GMH scholars. During one semester break I travelled back to Birmingham and accessed The Queen’s Foundation Library where I found an extravagantly diverse collection of books and resources. It celebrated theologies of liberation: books by womanists, feminists, scholars from the global south, scholars from persecuted lands . Why didn’t my Training College have the same books? But if information and knowledge is power, why would the powerful give it away?
During my training, it became evident to me that the curriculum for the Church’s Common Awards was written by non-GMH Christians. It was entrenched in Christianity’s colonial narrative, as I made clear to my personal tutor who then included it in my report to my sponsoring — white male conservative — Bishop. The calling of the prophet is never an easy path to tread, but it is in our DNA: a fire that refuses to be quenched. On the occasion of the visit of the GMH scholar, Vinoth Ramachandra, to present a Federation talk on cross-cultural referencing (or rather lack of it) in Cambridge, I felt affirmed in my convictions. I recall asking him what advice he had for the then Cambridge Theological Federation on cross-cultural referencing. I was then interrogated by a staff member from the federation with ‘What whiteness are you talking about?‘
Now to my pièce de resistance: discipleship resources for Christians from a Muslim background. As a CMB, I observe that resources have been designed mainly by non-GMH Christians, most of whom are male. (Caveat: There are some exceptional male theologians such as Al Barrett, Anthony Reddie, Robert Beckford, and so on). However, contributions from British liberationist/womanist perspectives remain exceptionally rare. Discipleship is not limited to courses, it is a way of life and our formation is a lifelong journey. However, resources that reflect the Black and Asian diaspora — the culture of Jesus himself — remain rare. Although some discipleship resources have been created in collaboration with CMB’s, most are still dominated by non-GMH patriarchal Christian perspectives. Resources written by non-GMH Christians can never convey the same perspectives as those of us who see and experience the world as GMH Christians. Neither can those resources ever address the complexities that converts from Islam encounter. The colonial narrative woven into certain resources seeks to perpetuate the racism in God’s church. How can we remove the racism from God’s Church?
The Western Church can work towards the deconstruction of racism in its structures by:
- Actively encouraging diverse leadership.
- Adopting diverse curricula for training Christian leaders that references theologies of the Global South and womanist scholarship
- Decolonising discipleship resources for delivery to all new Christians through the guidance of GMH Christian leaders.
Go and rearrange the furniture in God’s Church!
Hasna Khatun is a Pioneer and a Priest. She spent over 20 years revelling in Pioneer Mission work in the night time economy of Birmingham before being dispatched to a ‘Vicar Factory’ in Cambridge. Her last role with the Church of England was Pioneer Minister to New Housing in Southampton. Her expertise is in Pioneer Mission and the Discipleship of Christians from a Muslim Background. She worships God through her love of sailing.