Archbishop Robert Runcie, preaching a commemoration address for the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht acknowledged that the roots of the holocaust lay deep in Christian Europe, and would have been impossible without centuries of Christian anti-semitism. The horrible events of Charleston, with the shooting to death of nine Christians at prayer for no greater reason than God created them black, would also not have been possible without centuries of Christian racism, for which I, a white Christian, must accept my share of guilt and shame. Examples abound – Lord Constantine of Trinidad and Tobago, the former West Indian cricketer, reported that on entering a church, he was sent to the back where black people were to sit – and he left the church, never to return. What about some of the white South African churches who proclaimed that Apartheid was the will of God. And how much racist legislation has been enacted over the years by white Christians? So the first emotion must be penitence for sin, the sin of failing to love my brother as myself, the wilful and deliberate disobedience to Jesus’s great command ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another’.
Of course there have been the greats who stood firm and tall for the oppressed – against anti-Semitism, the likes of Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom and Brother Roger from Taize; against racism, Beyers Naude, Wilberforce, John Newton and more recently Father Michael Lapsley, for example. The bright-shining of these stars is in stark contrast to the vast dark skies around them.
My second emotion is pride – pride in the response of the families of the dead, in their pain and grief offering words of forgiveness to the young man accused of the murders, exactly as the agonised Jesus forgave those who crucified him. Is not forgiveness one of the great areas of leadership to us all from black Christians, most notably of course led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu? What a contrast to the (white) Governor’s response – the killer should get the death penalty, as if killing a tenth person, a youth with a warped and acrid mind, would bring any healing to any situation. May that forgiveness be extended beyond the man who pulled the trigger, to all of us white Christians who by negligence, by weakness, by our own deliberate fault have created the environment where evil flourishes.
Andrew Bush is Professor of Paediatrics at Imperial College, Professor of Paediatric Respirology at the National Heart and Lung Institute and Consultant Paediatric Chest Physician, Royal Brompton Hospital. He has written a lot of papers, that no-one reads, and given a lot of talks, which are instantly forgettable. His chief enjoyments are researching clinical physiology and airway inflammation; clinical paediatrics, which means having fun seeing little kids who do more good for him than ever he did for them; and above all, his family, which includes two fabulous grandsons who happily for them do not resemble their grandfather in any way whatever