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Why White Christians Should Listen: A Faithful Response To The Black Lives Matter Movement

AUCKLAND, 17 June 2020- Outspoken Christians in Aotearoa New Zealand have sparked recent controversy amidst the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement. Be the Bridge, a culturally-diverse group of Christians working towards racial reconciliation, reject this racist rhetoric, instead calling white Christians to listen and learn. 

Outrage has been caused by a clip showing a Canterbury Pastor mocking Black and Brown people, Māori, LGBTQ+ people, and other disadvantaged groups. We at Be the Bridge denounce the racism woven through his sermon, delivered three days ago on the day of the Black Lives Matter Solidarity and Anti-Racism Rally.

In the sermon, the pastor belittles the identities and experiences of disadvantaged groups, making light of colonisation while claiming that people (Christians) “don’t think through these issues.” We do not support his comments, finding them harmful, dehumanising and misaligned with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, himself a Brown person born in Israel, validated and sought to improve the experiences of those who suffered under oppressive structures. In his Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth” (Matthew 5:5, NIV), otherwise interpreted as “Blessed are the oppressed”. There are nearly 100 passages in the Bible in which Christians are called to see and to support their neighbour, including foreigners, the poor, the fatherless, and the widow.

“The pastor’s comments make the agreeing listener uncaring about the suffering of their neighbour,” says Be The Bridge member, Lillian Murray.

The pastor’s words fall only several days after anger was incited by an “All Lives Matter” sign shown outside a Masteron Catholic church and a Christian wearing a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) cap at the previous Black Lives Matter rally in Auckland. These events reflect the ongoing tendency for Pākehā New Zealanders, including Christians, to undermine people’s experiences of marginality.

Furthermore, only a year after the racist terrorist attacks in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019, the horror still lingers. We must learn from this past event and this present moment to avoid future attacks.

To respond to Jesus’ call to justice, Pākehā Christians must listen first; act second. Pākehā can be quick to share an opinion about issues predominantly affecting Māori and People of Colour. However, it is essential to listen and learn about people’s experiences within the systems and structures that uphold racial hierarchy. Without this, our speech, signs, or actions ultimately perpetuate dangerous, racist narratives.

Be the Bridge acknowledges that white supremacy and racism is rife in Aotearoa New Zealand and in its churches. It prioritises dialogue and education to equip its members to stand up to racism. “Ultimately, we are all on the journey of awakening to racism. At the same time, speaking the truth is in love, so we stand in solidarity with those who are harmed by [the pastor’s] comments,” says member, Jennie Ekigbo.

The pastor of Celebration Church is right on one thing - it is time for the Church to “think through these issues as to what is going on in the world.” We must think deeply about how to respond to entrenched racism in our churches and in this country, to affirm rather than belittle people’s experiences.

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