Let the sleeping giant awake
Black church goers are estimated to account for up two-thirds of Sunday church-goers, despite the African-Caribbean community making up 2% of the population. With such potential people power, the Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs (MECA) held a seminar earlier this month regarding the Black churches and political mobilisation. The aim was to devise an action plan to radically change the relationship between the Black church movement in Britain and the British political process. The main objectives were to create a Black church political manifesto and a national voter registration campaign.
In attendance was an array of representatives and leaders of national Black-led churches from various denominations. The panel was chaired by Dr Joe Aldred and the speakers comprised of Director of Operation Black Vote Simon Woolley; theologian, documentary film maker and reader in Theology and Religious Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University Dr Robert Beckford; and also the founder of the Christian Party Reverend George Hargreaves. This format allowed a range of viewpoints to be voiced, progressive, conservative and secular.
In his opening remarks Dr Aldred wanted to encourage people to vote with their feet and to awaken the sleeping giant that is the Black Church. Dr Aldred said:
given the challenging context of Black and Minority Ethnic life in Britain, there is an urgent need for the Black Church community of all persuasions to stand together and with friends to maximize its political potential.
Simon Woolley carried on from where Dr Aldred left off citing some alarming statistics:
Approximately 50 percent of African and Caribbean people in London are not registered to vote, while 50 percent of Black young people are unemployed.
He added that:
the unemployment rate is even more shocking when compared to the bankrupt countries of Europe. Greek unemployment is around 23%, Spain 25%, and Portugal 15%, making the young Black man in Britain in a worse social situation than the citizen of a near bankrupt nation. With this in perspective it would be ludicrous not to act.
Another injustice that Woolley highlighted was the fact that Black people have been arrested for stealing a bottle of water while bankers, politicians and media moguls have looted our wages, pensions and privacy and gotten away with it.
Dr Robert Beckford highlighted four components of political mobilization, Philosophy, Network, Strategy and Moral Courage. He wants to use the Lord’s Prayer and the Churches networks to recognize and prioritize the needs of the community and be brave with our message. Dr. Beckford also spoke of colonial Christianity as being a major barrier to political theology as it has created a “docile non-prophetic ministry”. Rev George Hargreaves spoke of the success of his own Christian Party as an example where the use of Christianity has been effective and successful in winning elections and spreading the party’s ideas.
Despite the Black churches having strong political foundations and a strong political message in earlier years, it has failed to encourage activism and political engagement in more recent times.
In America, high profile African-American church leaders have been at the centre of campaigns for racial and social justice, yet in the UK there is mainly silence. The Archbishop of York John Sentamu has often voiced concern on domestic and international matters such as stop and search, Guantanamo Bay and the financial crisis, but we need more figures à la Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
The Black church is one of a few sources of influence that can be used to reach out to a large part of the BME community, but it’s not the only one. It should be used in conjunction with other sources to create a formidable voice with a broad demographic appeal. With poverty and unemployment facing the African-Caribbean community and the potential to decide over 100 seats in Parliament, and poverty, the sleeping giant that is the Black church must wake up and voice the communities concerns.