The toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, the slave trader, is a vivid reminder that human beings get things wrong. The African slave trade was an example of humanity in self-destructive mode; and it was an affront to the Christian gospel. But whilst the practice has been long abolished, the attitudes that nourished it linger on.
Repentance (metanoia in New Testament Greek) is not just to do with changing our behaviour, it is also about changing our way of thinking, changing those outlooks which, in this case, excused both the slave trade and racism. Such attitudes have many and various causes, not least the fear of difference – a fear shared by humanity the world over. The more ingrained these attitudes, the more vested interests will rally to defend them. And yet, as the protests of the past few days have clearly proclaimed, the end result of all this is the extraordinary, if often unspoken, assumption that the lives of others, their needs and their dreams, matter less than our own (whoever ‘we’ happen to be).
I am grateful to all those who over the weekend peacefully protested about the racism that persists in our country and in our world. It is a pity the protests happened during a pandemic, and yet perhaps it was because of the pandemic restrictions that the death of George Floyd has caught our attention. It has brought into sharp focus the fears and inequalities so many people experience simply because of the colour of their skin. And it has challenged those of us who profess a Christian faith to explore what we mean when we say that each person is made in the image of God.
I hope we shall look back in years to come and see this as a turning point, a time when we really began to get to grips with institutionalized racism in our culture. That, at least, would be some kind of memorial to George Floyd and others like him who have borne the consequences of such prejudice. And it would show that we really mean it when we say, Black Lives Matter!