You’ll have seen the commentary on the Northern Men’s Convention and the controversial publicity for this year’s event. Following Graham Nicholl’s challenge on the Affinity site that the language of the invitation was clumsy, a statement from the convention appeared on their website this morning apologising and acknowledging that the language was “clumsy.” By midday, that apology had disappeared
Now, I want to return to this. You see, whilst some readers may think I’m being obsessive, this matters. It matters because whilst we want to be charitable and talk about clumsy language, we need to recognise that it is more than that. It is worse than that.
I’ve been trying to find the best example I can to help my brothers and sisters understand. The best I can come up with is this. Imagine that you have been coaxing your teenage son or daughter along to church. It’s been a challenge but finally one week, you get them to come. As you walk through the door, the usher looks them up and down, disapproving of what they are wearing. Your child knows that. They say “I hope he’s going to behave.” Then you find your seat. You join in the hymns. Then someone gets up to pray. “Lord God …we just want to pray about the terrible trouble with the youth of today…”
Now, I guess the person’s prayer could mean all sorts of things. Maybe they are concerned about the pressures young people are under, maybe they are concerned to see more outreach to young people but what has your son just heard?
We have people coming to our churches who want to engage with the Gospel who have experienced a cruel and inefficient immigration system. We have people who have experienced racial harassment and bullying. Some will have experienced violence. We have Muslims coming to ESOL classes and picking up literature, asking questions, turning up at events who a few weeks ago may well have stayed at home afraid because they’d heard rumours about a “Punish a Muslim” day. There are elderly people who got off the boats and walked streets seeing signs saying “No blacks.” They heard or read about Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, and they’ve sat through many a rant along the lines of “Enoch was right.” They’ve gone to churches and been treated like second class citizens. Some of them have nearly been deported from the country that was meant to be their home because the Home Office shredded the paperwork that proved they had the right to be here.
Now, I know that there’s a conversation about how best to manage the immigration system but please listen again to that phrase “problems associated with immigration” in their shoes.
Those words in this context were deeply disturbingly offensive. They were words that said to so many people “You are not welcome, you are not loved.” They were words that told people they were the cause of problem. Read them also in the context of the rest of the statement. “We are under threat.” “We are being marginalised.” The implication “You have caused it.”
Now, there may be reasons why the writer and the organisers did not get that. Charitably we want to allow for that. However, I think we also need to challenge how we could get to the stage in Britain today and in the church today that Christian leaders could be tone-deaf to the impact of what they had said.
So, the point is this, those words in context of the experience of immigrants, the gospel need in our country and the words used were not just clumsy, they were wrong. Not only that but as Duncan Forbes has written here, this wrong has happened in a context.
What do we do when a wrong has been done?
How many times have we been challenged about apologies. How many times have we reminded each other that a real “sorry” needs to recognise the seriousness of what was said or done.
Can this happen here. Can we see loving, grace soaked humble confession “We were wrong”?
It’s time for repentance -a recognition of the hurt and harm done not just by one leaflet but by our general failure to love and welcome. It’s time to repent for where we have placed ethnic barriers to inclusion in God’s family.