George Floyd death – faith leaders respond

Pic: Fibonacci Blue Creative Commons LIcense

Faith leaders have continued to speak out in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black delicatessen worker, in Minneapolis, and say there is a central role for them to play in taking action and fighting for justice. In the UK, two religious leaders have spoken of the similarities here in the devaluing of black people, their under representation and how a terrible death fuels existing injustice and resentment.

Rev Steve Chalke MBE

On Monday morning, the Rev Steve Chalke, Baptist minister and founder and leader of Oasis Global, tweeted his response to the continuing violence following George Floyd’s death, and the protests taking place all over the world including the UK:

Racism thrives in the company of silence. We will not stay silent! #ICantBreathe

‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence…in a descending spiral of destruction.’ Martin Luther King Jr.

Speaking later to the Religion Media Centre, Steve Chalke said a black Church of England vicar had thanked him for tweeting and said there had been a total absence from white church leaders about this.

He said: “Why is putting your knee on the neck of someone an acceptable restraint? It beggars belief. It’s pretty clear that any follower of Christ has a pretty explicit duty to stand up to injustice.

“While we mourn George Floyd’s death across the pond, we must also look at the situation in this country. We run 52 schools around the country with 31,000 children. Of the 4,500 state secondary schools in this country, there are only just over 30 black head teachers. So within Oasis what we have done is we have set up a movement called Break the Cycle, as we know the leadership of any school should at least reflect the ethnic makeup of the students and the area.

“You may be running a wonderful school that produces great results but if you have got a bunch of white teachers at that level teaching Bame (black, Asian and minority ethnic) students, you are sending lots of unintentional messages to them – that the person who makes it to the top is white.

“I’m also told that there’s only one black prison governor in this country, but the black population is hugely over-represented in the criminal justice system. Why is that? All these things are connected.

“Youth leaders Oasis works with have reported that the kids say ‘you never get stopped and searched if you’re white – you only get stopped if you’re black’. So we still have our knee on the neck of the black population in all of those ways, so we need to do something about it here.

“Religious leaders have not just a role to play, but a central role. Martin Luther King was right at the heart of the civil rights movement. In some ways we have come so far, but in some sense we have come nowhere.  It’s about non violence – we take the blow but we don’t return the blow. You stand up for what is right and you speak out for what is right.

“Often the church response has been ‘let’s reflect, pray and find peace and solace’. All of that is important but we also need to take action. We won’t get a different result by just wishing – that’s what’s wrong with reflective prayer without the action.

“We should demonstrate and stand up and white people need to do it too. Racial justice is not just for black people to stand up for – it’s for the whole of humanity to stand up and say we are one human race.

“I think there’s an opportunity for the church in this country to stand up and say we are not going to be violent but we are not letting go of this. I absolutely understand why there has been violence but it’s the wrong route.”

Rev Ade Omooba

Rev Ade Omooba co-chairs the National Church Leaders Forum, set up to draw together black Christians in the UK. He is part of the oversight leadership of the New Life Assembly, which has 9 branches in the UK with mainly Caribbean worshippers. He is also co-founder of Christian Concern, a conservative group which campaigns, for example, against abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia. His father joined the Nigerian Police Force in the forties under British colonial rule, subsequently enrolling in 1960 at the Police Training College in the UK, and returning to Nigeria to take up a position as a police commissioner. Ade Omooba sits on a Scotland Yard advisory reference group.

“We have added our voice to this situation as we have done in the past – that indeed black lives matter and America really needs to deal with this situation and how black people continue to be killed.

“Eighteen complaints had previously been made against Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of murder and manslaughter.

“How is he still allowed to serve in the police force? I grew up as the son of a police commissioner and learnt from my father that you don’t police people, you police with people.

“Every life matters – behind the George Floyd story is a feeling that not every life matters in the States, and you can see the same here, with cases of deaths in custody. Life has been devalued.

“We don’t condone any kind of violence but we understand why some level of violence will spew out when this kind of thing happens. People in these circumstances are already challenged in so many ways. This case has added fuel to that.

“Spiritual leaders have a role to play in the protests ‘big time’. A considerable number of those people protesting out there from ethnic communities are church goers. They “do” God. They listen to their spiritual leaders so we have a very key role to play on leading dealing with the issue.

“Those who are in leadership need to take serious responsibility, not just to speak vaguely but to seek out the root causes.”