TWO POSTS TO READ
Both on Psephizo: Adrian Chatfield and Ian Paul.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has spawned uncountable news stories, many, many opinion pieces, and thousands upon thousands marching in protest across America and around the world.
Last week, Christians had cause to be shocked that President Trump used armed forces and tear gas to create a path through protestors to make a photo opportunity of him standing in front of an Episcopal church holding a Bible. (Literally "a Bible" because when asked if it was his Bible he said, No, it was "a Bible." One of the few true statements to come from his lips!)
(A subsidiary shock for some of us was that some Christians turned on those who condemned Trump for his behaviour.)
The protests have raised the question, not only in America, but here and elsewhere, with Coronavirus as a backdrop, When will we eradicate racism from the human story?
The vaccine, it has been observed, already exists, and each of us have access to it.
Certainly, for Christians, observing Trinity Sunday yesterday, there is much to reflect on:
- The Trinity as a community of love provides no basis for racism;
- The Gospel is always a call to repentance from behaviour and attitudes which are imperfect in their imitation of the holiness and love of God.
Overnight another question has emerged (albeit not an original question) as news reports from the UK tell us of a statue of a slave trader in Bristol being shifted by protestors and thrown into the sea, and also of a statue of Churchill being defaced with graffiti describing him as a racist.
Does eradicating racism today necessarily involve erasing historical memory of past sins of racism?
(In New Zealand, for example, we are in the midst of a period, 250 years after Cook's voyages of "discovery", of revising our estimation of Cook. In this case the direct charge against Cook is less about his racism (e.g. to the extent that he assumed the British were superior to all races met along the way of his voyages) and more about the racism he spawned (e.g. flowing from his voyages were the European settlers of these islands, we, their descendants today, have a natural tendency to celebrate Cook while not celebrating the Polynesian navigators 800 or so years before Cook who found their way here, back to the islands they came from and then back here with the firsts settlers of these islands).
My own instinct is not to remove and/or destroy statues - they are a monument to times past when things were different and thus a reminder to us of past wrongdoing and of present need to maintain our repentance of that wrongdoing.
But I imagine I have my limits - if I visited Germany or Austria I suppose I wouldn't be thrilled to find a statue of Hitler still standing.
But perhaps we can make useful distinctions?
There is nothing good to say about Hitler.
Churchill by contrast, for all his ill-chosen words about other races, did lead the fight against the scourge that was Hitler. That is, one can say good things about Churchill even as we reckon with his faults.
We might also observe that nobody is perfect.
If perfection is a criterion for erecting monuments to men and women, there should be none. But that seems a shame, for some of us humans have lived remarkable lives and leave treasured memories and memorable achievements.
Back to racism.
We should pray for America. Especially here in NZ. If the Treaty of Waitangi as a foundation document for our nation teaches us anything about racial harmony it is that it is very, very hard to achieve. Even with the Treaty as a starting point, we have made some terrible misteps, not least because for a long time we forgot about the Treaty!