Latest Anvil amplifies global voices on racial justice and mission

Guest editor Rev Canon Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy introduces a special edition of Anvil, which focuses on race, colonialism, mission and renewed imagination.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, millions of people took to the streets of our cities demanding radical change, and calling for the toppling of an old order and its symbols of power, objectification and commodification.

This issue of Anvil is inspired by a willingness to offer an introspective response to this global wave of protest calling for racial justice and asking with insistence whether black lives do indeed matter in our societies and institutions.

At the invitation of Cathy Ross and James Butler, both from CMS, Dr Harvey Kwiyani, Rev Shemil Matthew, and I agreed to co-edit this issue of Anvil. From the outset, we wanted this volume to offer a more personal approach, and provide a more reflective and introspective tone.

We have invited contributions from a variety of voices to help us address the theme of Faultlines in Mission: Reflections on Race and Colonialism. These consist of longer essays, personal reflections, interviews, poetry and book reviews. Each contribution seeks to speak with the authority of personal experience.

Harvey Kwiyani’s article offers us a crystal-clear view of how white privilege and white supremacy have provided the buttresses for empire and have made mission in their own image. To illustrate this, he movingly weaves his own story from his childhood in Malawi to living in George Floyd’s city of Minneapolis to now forming part of the tiny minority of black and brown people who lecture in theology in the UK.

My own reflection entitled Hope reimagined: making the world that ought to be, is an invitation to lift our gaze beyond a vision of personhood essentially defined in self-reflective and polarised moods. I explore how the murder of George Floyd offers a critical vantage point from which to rethink and redefine mission in ways that lead towards transformed structures and restored relationships.

Bishop Emmanuel Egbunu provides a clear overview of the shameful humiliation of Bishop Ajayi Crowther by European colleagues and the far reaching impact this has had. These injustices from the past visit and profoundly affect subsequent generations.

In his article titled Colonialism, Missions and the Imagination: Illustrations from Uganda, Angus Crichton offers a critical overview of the legacy of CMS’s mission with a particular focus on Ugandan experience. Angus reminds us that despite this, an African-initiated missional movement flourished. In his reassessment of CMS’s heritage and legacy, Angus insists that there are lessons to be learned.

Rev Dr Sharon Prentis invites us to revisit the biblical concept of lament as a blueprint towards a life framed in mutuality and solidarity in love. As she highlights the inescapable reality of sin, personal and corporate, and its propensity towards categorisation, fracture and segregation, Sharon reminds us that Christ’s mandate for the church is framed in interdependence and calls for the building of the beloved community.

When the Poisonous Tree Attempts to Produce an Antidote: colonialism, colonial CMS missions and the caste system in Kerala, is a stimulating reflection on the challenge of a missional organisation caught at the intersection between colonialism and the caste system. In this essay, Rev Shemil Matthew speaks with the integrity of one who considers himself an insider to multiple contexts. Shemil has invited his PhD supervisor, Rev Dr Anderson Jeremiah who specialises in Dalit theology, to give a short response to his article, which provides a further layer of insight.

In his essay, Home is Where the Heart is – a story about race and post-colonialism, Gilberto Da Silva Afonso reminds us that there is no theology that is not at its heart biography. From his native Angola, to inner city London, to the soulful tunes of Marvin Gaye, Miriam Makeba, and Michael Kiwanuka, and through the complex historical and socio-political landscape of his heritage, Gilberto illustrates both the tension and opportunity of hybridised identity. For him, mission needs to migrate from objectification and commodification of black bodies to full integration and participation of those historically marginalised and minoritised.

Pastor Dupe Adefala recounts the experience of planting a church in the UK, the challenges of minoritised living, the painful reminder of racial fault lines in British society and everyday experiences of racism in her interview with James Butler. Together, they reflect on practical challenges for Christians and for CMS as they attempt to respond to the issue of racial injustice.

Eleasah Phoenix Louis, who self identifies as a churchgrown Black-British millennial, brings the perspective of a seldom heard voice in theological discourse in a thought provoking reflection on Faultlines and Factions: a theo-political conundrum in the era of Black Lives Matter and New Black Religious Movements. In this essay, she exposes the limits of a modern philosophical framework that seems to only find expression in the tension between theological liberalism and conservatism. She sees in the Black Lives Matter movement and other black liberative or womanist theologies an opportunity to affirm black humanity and agency, and an opportunity to tell anew the experience of the Church in mission.

Awais Mughal brings a deeply personal and moving reflection on Racism Dishonouring the Image of God. Inevitably, the murder of George Floyd casts a long shadow on her piece. She takes us through an exploration of the expression of racism in the Church’s mission and ministry through various interpretative lenses.

This volume is punctuated with a poetic reflection: Let Me Breathe by Natasha Godfrey is a visceral responses to the murder of George Floyd: a protest, a plea, and a prayer. Above all, it is a lament, a prophetic complaint appealing to the heart of God, and whatever humanity is still present in those listening.

Our hope in focusing this volume on the question of race and colonialism n is not merely an attempt to join the bandwagon and do our bit for the cause. What drives us is a willingness to engage in meaningful and continuing conversations about what we believe is a fundamental Christian ideal – racial justice. Our prayer is that as we raise questions and engage with these contributions, they will stimulate our own reflection, and encourage us to remain active agents for racial justice and reconciliation.

Rev Canon Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy is the BAME mission and ministry enabler for Leicester diocese.

The above is a shortened version of Lusa’s editorial in this special edition of Anvil. To read the full text and articles, go to: churchmissionsociety.org/anvil

Published 28 October 2020
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