Do we really need another post by a middle-aged white man? Probably not, but if the alternative is silence then my keeping quiet could indicate complicity (or refusal) which would be even worse. Nevertheless, in spite of this blog, the real choice I want to make is not a decision to speak but a decision to listen.
A commitment to listening is not simply a reactive choice, nor is it a failure to act because proper listening requires taking what is said seriously, and this will necessitate change that impacts the roots of everything we do.
It is easy to recognise that Black lives matter, to understand that black people continue to suffer from systems that weigh down on them because of the colour of their skin. It is harder to acknowledge that, in unseen and unconscious ways, I perpetuate this. Most of my life I’ve lived in a white-dominated world, whose cultures and power structures, histories and values have formed the air that I breathe.
It is uncomfortable to be open to doing things differently, particularly if you suspect you might not do so well out of the new order.
Black and other non-white voices matter, we need to listen to them, and we need to let them speak in whatever way they choose. In many ways, the structure and culture of our organisations is like a computer operating system, but its developers were predominantly white and western. To truly listen to other voices we mustn’t insist they do so within the confines of ‘our’ operating system, we must challenge the ‘them’ and ‘us’ language so that we can embrace others by sharing in their lives.
To say that people and voices matter implies a willingness to listen and to change.
Christian mission organisations should be at the front of the queue here: demonstrating our willingness to listen; allowing other voices to take the lead, direct and discern; and being humble enough to recognise that our structure, culture and history may now be impediments to progress even if they were once the ropes of gospel advancement.
To say Black lives matter is also to commit to doing this over the long haul. The moment in the headlines will be short-lived, but real lasting change will take time to effect and embed. There’s no point saying it if we are not willing to do it.