Racism: why we need a heart MOT

The annual Racial Justice Sunday – marked this year on 14 February – is a chance for Christians to do an 'MOT of the heart', according to Bible Society's BAME Church Relationships Manager.

Reverend Victoria Lawrence

Originally from Nigeria, Revd Victoria Lawrence is a pastor who works with black and minority ethic congregations for Bible Society. She's experienced racism herself, and she knows how much of an issue it is in the churches she talks to – and Christians aren't immune to racism. She's seen racist attitudes among white Christians, and believes racism is a sickness from which we need to be healed.

‘We need to be forebearing with one another, and be willing to stretch ourselves and have a conversation with ourselves and with others,’ says Victoria.

‘I say to my white friends, “Engage with the Holy Spirit, who is able to open our eyes, so we see things we don't want to see.”'

Victoria speaks from a deep awareness of the damage racism does and its roots in the historic injustices of slavery and colonialism. ‘It goes back to the slave trade,’ she says. ‘Racism originated from the ill-treatment of the black race, over a long period of time. There's ongoing racism in every sector of the community in the UK and other parts of the world.’

And she has had to live with racism both as a black woman and as a mother – some of it casual and unthinking, some far more worrying. She tells of one occasion when she went for a job interview and sat in the reception area while her interviewer repeatedly came out and looked for her. Because she has an ‘English’ name, she says, ‘He was clearly coming down to look for a white woman, and when he saw a black person he went back.

‘He was very embarrassed.’

She adds: ‘I've always had a positive attitude. I feel sorry for racists, instead of feeling the pain. My attitude is, if they don't appreciate me, it's their loss not mine!’

But as the mother of three children, she worries particularly about her boys. She's concerned about their physical safety because of the dangers they face from gun and knife crime. One son works in a bank and has several times been stopped by police on his way to work during lockdown – part, she believes, of the way young black men are ‘profiled’. At the same time, she encourages them to be discerning: ‘I don't want them to live their life thinking someone is discriminating against them.’

But, she says: ‘As a black person you're the last to be promoted, it's harder to be heard. Every day as a black person, we find ourselves working harder – if we don't, we won't get easily what our [white] counterparts do.’

Racial Justice Sunday offers Christians – white Christians particularly, but all Christians – the chance to ‘carry out an MOT of our hearts’, she says.

‘I find it extremely difficult to understand how a Bible-believing, God-loving white Christian is not able to see how they're being racist to other Christians. We need to be willing to change, to allow God to touch our hearts.

‘The Holy Spirit has power to deal with us. I believe, no Bible-believing child of God wants to be deliberately racist, or bad, or to hate others. There's a seed that's sown and grown, and established itself in their life so they can no longer think otherwise. It's a tough conversation to have, but I love the fact that as a Christian we can be so open to have that conversation with others. We have a basis to start from – prayer, understanding and plenty of love.’

But, she says: ‘It's going to take first an encounter with Jesus, and a really, really honest conversation with yourself. We can begin to work with that and deal with that.’

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