In this video, Mez McConnell, Ian Williamson, John Onwuchekwa and Sung Kim talk about whether or not there really is a class and race problem in evangelical churches.
Mez: What’s been interesting, and I know it’s not the same: race and class… We’re not getting shot in the streets by the police, ok? So there is obviously different levels of suffering but, it’s just fascinating to me that there are some connections, right? As you’ve been here have you observed those?
Sung: I mean definitely class, and the lack of resources limits your opportunity. Right, and so when you don’t have those opportunities. You know there is prejudice systemic prejudice that happens between middles class, lower class and, you know, as we’ve talked about before the middle class, upper class thing you know ‘They’re lazy…’ when in fact the upper class, middle class simply given a tonne of opportunities. [bctt tweet=”‘Class, and the lack of resources limits your opportunity.’ (Kim Sung) #RaceAndClass #prejudice”]And it’s really easy for the middle class to say ‘Yeah I’m a self made man!’ When in fact there are so many things that are not even in your control, or things that you haven’t even contributed to that have allowed you to have those opportunities that people who are disadvantaged just don’t have.
John: Yeah, we talked to one of your church planters in the scheme out in Dundee. And one of the things that he talked through was in their scheme there’s a high school, the one high school that’s in that scheme that services 19,000 folks. That they’re getting ready to close down, and so now if they close down that high school there then what takes place is that the kids there are going to have to go to a school that’s very far from home, they’re going to have to hop on two buses and trains just to get there, and so as he talks we sit down there and we’re facing the exact same thing in Atlanta where we are, where the first historically black high school in Atlanta, the only one that’s on the south west side is getting ready to get shut down. That there’s moves that they’re starting to make to shut down the government is going to come in take over that school to where you have to apply to get into that school. So kids from the outside that don’t live there would be able to go to that school they transform it, it would be a good school but the kids that live there right across the street, might not even be able to go to that school and they’ll have to find some way to get to school across town. So you start there and now you have a crop of folks that are there on the south west side and there’s already a disadvantage not to have a school where you are. So let’s not talk about college and theological training, let’s talk about high school and just how hard it is to just get through high school some things that folks feel is a given if they come from a context where they don’t have to think about their high school getting shut down.
Mez: And Ian tell me about your church, so in terms of issues with race or prejudice, class. I mean, is yours a relatively mono-cultural church or?
Ian: It’s funny because our region is I’d say about 98% white working class. Other races will be centered around the center of the city. But in the suburbs in the estates where we live it’s generally white working class. But our church is unusual that we’ve got quite a diverse mix where there’s a guy who’s mixed race Pakistani, then we’ve got an Indian man who’s married so there’s mixed raced children there. We’ve had Palestinian and Jewish people come who are Christians. So we’re diverse probably far more than some of the larger churches to be honest. But I think what struck me is hearing you saying that there’s always been an issue with race, but the voice wasn’t heard and I think that’s what I feel myself, as a working class man, that our voice isn’t heard and when we do make a noise, you’re seen as trouble causers, or you’ve got a chip on your shoulder and I just think it’s interesting how the dominant culture…[bctt tweet=”‘I feel myself, as a working class man, that our voice isn’t heard’ (Ian Williamson @NewLifeBoro)”]John: Gets to shape the conversation!
Ian: Yeah and when you approach somebody and mention class or culture or race in the church: ‘Ah there is no class or culture or race in the church! We’re diverse, God’s made us diverse!’ But it’s dominant culture that is always claiming that and the minority culture is always silenced and I think the silencing in the church is probably more than within society itself. But by saying that I have chip on my shoulder.
John: Here’s one of the big things that I’ve seen. It seems like the majority culture wherever you are… It all comes down to the way you view how your past can and should affect your future. So the majority culture at times will say: ‘Yeah, yeah, all that took place in the past but listen, that doesn’t have to affect you from here on out, just work hard and you too can do this!’ Where as those of us that have been in a spot where horrendous things have been done in the past, we say, like the rest people for all of time have said: ‘No wait, wait, wait. What went on in the past does affect our present, it does affect our future. You can’t just wipe the slate clean and say alright, we’re going to start and be fair from here on out.’ What goes on in the past does affect what goes on right now and how things will progress and until the ‘powers that be’, if you will, make that correlation, what goes on in the past has a direct impact on the future it’s not enough just to wipe the slate clean but there are some things we have to do.
Ian Williamson is the pastor of New Life Church, Middlesbrough and has been involved in full time Christian ministry since 2007. Ian first served as a chaplain in the local prisons and community before setting up the charity SixtyEightFive in 2011 and then planting New Life Church in August 2013.