Ben Lindsay, We Need to Talk About Race: Understanding the black experience in white majority churches, (London: SPCK, 2019, £9.99).
Ben Lindsay aims to start a conversation: to create opportunities for prayerful self-reflection, enquiry, understanding and actions, large and small, from black and white people, to help dismantle racist structures in the Church and beyond. How well he succeeds is indicated by some of the credits:
“A must read for the UK Church”Justin Welby
“It is about God’s mission” – “it is geared for action”Rose Hudson-Wilkin
“a game-changer for so many churches engaged in the complex world of building a “church for all nations”Wale Hudson Roberts
In We Need to Talk About Race Ben Lindsay has proclaimed the gospel afresh for his – and our – generation. This is a refreshing and up to date challenge to the UK Church to work on becoming intercultural. He writes as a British Caribbean pastor born in London, raised in white-majority churches and now leading a white-majority church in a racially-diverse area of south-east London. For Lindsay, integration is not about assimilation where people leave their cultures behind to be accepted into another, but means being included in, and creating and contributing to, church culture so that the culture they worship God in is their own. For me, this book moves beyond black theology to be much more of an intercultural theology.
Starting from his personal experiences, Is it because I’m black? Being Black in the UK (Chapter 1) and Family Feud: Racism in the Church (Chapter 2), Lindsay engages with Why black man dey suffer: The Church and Slavery (Chapter 3) and You don’t see us: Disentangling Christianity from White Supremacy (Chapter 4).
Stories of black women Christians in an Interlude: Don’t touch my hair, lead on to a challenge to Love like this: Racial Solidarity in the Church (Chapter 5) and Kick in the door: Church Leadership (Chapter 6) which presents a deliberate strategy to achieve a racially-diverse leadership through developing black people and relinquishing (white) power. This is illustrated by an interview with Kate Coleman which occupies a second Interlude: Black (wo)man in a white world.
Jesus walks: Social Action (Chapter 7) addresses issues of concern to black communities. and Let’s push things forward: What Next? (Chapter 8) responds to the world around us being in desperate need of displays of racial unity and a multi-coloured picture of hope.
We Need to Talk About Race is all about the UK Church learning to encompass the gifts of all her multicultural members and be better equipped for the Mission of God. It is vibrant intercultural theology with big ideas, and Ben Lindsay invites readers into reflective practice with questions framed for different cultural backgrounds: persons of colour, white church leaders, white church members, and those looking in.
Different reactions are likely from different people coming from different cultures, but for me, as a white church leader in a black-majority church in Inner London, there were three big ideas in We Need to Talk About Race:
- Agency – Learning from biblical figures such as Joseph and Esther who had the ear of the majority culture, and worked on behalf of the oppressed and fought against injustice. If we are committed to seeing a diverse Church in which everyone is able to flourish, we will need to exercise responsibility for each other.
- White allies – Discipleship and leadership development of persons of different ethnicity was brought to life by Kate Coleman’s experience of men calling her to leadership in a church that did not believe in women in leadership, and of a key white church member validating her ministry by saying he recognized authority, grace and gift in her.
- Unmute – Engaging with issues that disproportionately impact black people locally or nationally. Alan Everett showed what this looks like by “opening the doors and turning the lights on” at St Clements, Notting Hill for those impacted by the Grenfell Tower disaster. Is the UK Church willing to do this for racially diverse communities?
London is a multicultural city with many churches that are multicultural in membership and monocultural in leadership and culture. Ben Lindsay has crossed the racial divide himself, and in this book has given the UK Church a gift so we can do likewise, and in so doing demonstrate the good news that the love of God is from all and is for all.
At the time of writing, the first edition of We Need to Talk About Race is available from The Book Depository at £7.59 [accessed 26 August 2019].
Ben Lindsay will be speaking at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday 29th October 2019 at 6.30 – 8pm with Guvna B, Rosemarie Mallett, and Chine McDonald. Tickets are available free here.