Issues facing the church today: Racism

Article by Kirsten Abioye

Photo of Marcus Rashford's mural having been defaced by racists by https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/51309219843/

From the boos that echoed around the stadium as England’s football team silently took the knee, to the resounding racist abuse that followed their loss in the final of the Euros, we don’t have to look far back in time to see an example of what the racism dividing Britain looks like. What the football scenes have highlighted is something that is widespread in our country. Racial slurs, abuse on social media, the expectation of racist hate crimes after a loss is the norm for black footballers, and it’s important to remember that racism isn’t a neatly packaged experience that is confined to the stadium. The people who abuse black players at the weekend go on to teach in the classroom on Monday, lead the team meeting on Wednesday or bring it to the office party on Friday. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? It can feel a bit hopeless when we see how deeply entrenched the racism in our society is. From the media to politicians, and everyone in between, there are so many voices to listen to in the scrambled search for hope. Does the church have anything meaningful to add to the noise?


In our world that is so painfully divided by racism, Jesus offers us the hope of unity. Unity is dealing with the issue, right from the roots, in order to come together and I think the church is best placed to lead the way in this. All the surrounding noise can be silenced by the secure hope we have as Christians.


I saw a meme floating about social media recently that said,

“The perfect parent does exist. They just don’t have kids yet”

and it made me laugh because I understand this perfect parent well- I was that perfect parent… until I had children of my own! The realities of parenthood look very different to the picture I had envisaged pre-children. I had misunderstood the intricacies of parenting- choosing to believe in my own superiority over the experience told by the parents who came before me. My child wouldn’t have tantrums because I’d discipline them properly, and there’s no way I’d become so obsessed that my Instagram would be solely pictures of my children. (If you’ve met my children or are a friend on social media feel free to pretend my life is in line with my nonsensical notions, while scrolling past picture after picture of my kids…) While this example is light-hearted, I think there are serious parallels to be drawn between this and how white people like me view racism.


I thought I knew what racism was and I was confident that being disgusted and outraged at hate crimes was me playing my part. I didn’t need to do much learning on the topic because, in my mind, I already knew about it and it wasn’t an urgent issue. That is, until I started doing life with my now husband, who is black, and I saw that racism played a much bigger part than I had ever imagined. The reality of racism looked very different to my perception of it before I’d seen it up close (though obviously still not experiencing it personally). The more I learn, the more I realise how much I had misunderstood what racism is. I see it in others too- this thinking that we, white people, know best when it comes to racism; that black people are the cause of this divide by talking about racism. Sin is a very familiar concept to Christians and to non-Christians alike, though the language may differ, so the ugly reality of racism shouldn’t surprise us and we shouldn’t be reluctant to acknowledge it. Although it may be tempting to distance ourselves from the racist abuse we saw over the weekend, we have to realise that it isn’t simply the race-based hate crimes but that racism goes much deeper, and distancing ourselves won’t help. This isn’t something we can fully grasp if we haven’t experienced it, so the first step in healing division needs to be listening to the people that racism affects.


In the aftermath of the Euros final, we saw that the celebration of the black players as valued members of the team was conditional on their success. This type of conditional love is entirely in line with what the world offers us; love with the threat of being cancelled at any time. This threat of being cancelled is compounded for black people, there is a constant reminder that in order to be accepted here they have to be “good”. In contrast, God shows unconditional love that isn’t just some fickle feeling but is an action, ultimately dying on the cross for us to bridge the gap between humanity and God. We want unity in our world, and it starts with being united with God.


Highlighting the problem of racism is a call to unity and this call echoes the values of Jesus Christ. He shows us that racism is a square peg to the round hole of Christianity-utterly incompatible- when he shows, time and again, that every human has value based on their identity as children of God. Through reading the Bible we learn God’s plan for the redemption of humanity, we see a deep love for people and alongside that, an intricate threading of justice throughout. So while Christians don’t always get it right when it comes to pursuing racial justice, God’s heart for it is clear. Jesus’ life gives us our roadmap on how to value others and show a glimpse of who our God is by the way we treat the people he created. Instead of being like the perfect, pre-children parents from that meme, we have the opportunity to learn from those who have more experience than we do, recognising their value and loving them well. We have the tools to tackle racism here if we follow Jesus’ lead, and a certain hope for our unified future as one beautifully diverse human race.


About the author:

I’m Kirsten and I live just outside Edinburgh with my husband and our two wee boys. When I’m not working or studying I can be found playing dinosaurs or “sampling” delicacies from my sons’ mud kitchen.

My blog is: myafrocelticclan.wordpress.com but it is a personal blog so it may not cover as many topics like this one but feel free to take a look!


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