On Sunday 13 February, the Church will mark Racial Justice Sunday. Many churches will commemorate this day set aside to remember that justice is for everyone no matter their place of origin or heritage. Some, however, will perhaps be asking why: why we need a day, why does the Church mark this day? Some will be asking what we mean by racial justice. These are important questions to respond to, as there should never be an assumption that everyone understands the social justice precepts and concepts behind such dates as these that the Church encourages us to mark.
Racial Justice Sunday is at its core a date for us to take at least one day out to remind ourselves and our church families that to treat every human being with love, dignity and justice lies at the very heart of God. Christians have always taught that God’s love and salvation are freely available to all people and all racial groups. When the Church calls for racial justice, it is in recognition of our explicit theological understanding that God’s kingdom is multi-ethnic, and that it is through our baptismal covenant that we recognise and respect the dignity of every human being and our unity in Christ. Sadly, differential and cruel treatment of people of different ethnic groups, and on the basis of skin colour, has for too long been a part of our inhumane condition.
This is epitomised by the historic slave trade, which remains a scar on world history in the way in which it brutalised and dehumanised enslaved people from the African continent. Racialised injustice developed into a social and financial construct influencing the attitudes of a large majority of individuals and institutions in white majority countries in their treatment of people of colour worldwide.
The Church of England has recognised and apologised for its part in the slave trade and the colonialism which ensued as part of British imperialism and colonisation in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. However, it is yet to respond to the growing calls for reparations for the benefits it derived from slave and colonial holdings.
Added to the call for fair financial reparations in cash or kind, there is also a growing movement for racial and climate justice, as more and more people recognise the link between poor climate choices in northern countries and their impact on poorer and more marginalised peoples and communities, many living in countries that were former colonies.
In the second half of the 20th century, there have been notable developments in the call for racial justice, in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-Apartheid activism in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the UK. In each of these movements there have been outstanding church leaders involved, including such iconic leaders as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop John Sentamu and Bishop Wilfred Wood. Sadly, the churches they served were not as active as they were in working to transform racial injustice in society and within their institutions.
The Archbishop of Canterbury reignited this conversation in the Church of England in his February 2020 General Synod apology for the Church’s response to the Windrush generation and his acknowledgement of the Church’s history of racial injustice. This has led to a hard-hitting publication, From Lament to Action, and the establishment of a national Racial Justice Commission.
In the Diocese of Southwark, we have long recognised systemic racial injustice in our structures. However, the mechanisms we put in place to tackle such injustice were not sufficiently intentional. In 2021, we adopted an Anti-Racism Charter which establishes not only intentions but measurable outcomes. Adopting and embedding these goals and objectives at all levels of Diocesan life is one of three of the triennium development goals for the Diocese, along with the commitment to greater diversity in our lay and ordained leadership.
Without a doubt, the death of George Floyd and the events of 2020 brought the topic of racial justice to the forefront in church and society in the UK and around the world. Certainly, the Church at national and diocesan level, despite its actions thus far, needs to do more to tackle continuing racial injustice.
Racial Justice Sunday reminds us all that as Christians we have a moral duty to ensure that all are treated equally, just as everyone is seen as equal in the sight of God.
This blog is based on a similar article submitted to the Church Times