Prime Minister’s Visit To Festival of Life: What Blacks, Africans and Christians Expect.
It was a surprise to see you at the Festival of Life (FOL) event on Friday 17 April 2015. It was also an honour to have you come to one of the largest gathering of Christians in Britain. Never in the nineteen-year history of FOL has it welcomed such a high profile dignitary. We are extremely grateful that you found time out of your very busy schedule (especially with the election round the corner) to spend a couple of minutes with us. I loved your speech and it was refreshing and surprising to hear you mention Jesus Christ, a name that you have barely mentioned in public ever since you became Prime Minister. I also liked the photograph of you addressing the 45,000 audience with the big bright cross at the background. You certainly looked like a Minister of the Gospel. The photo of you shaking hands with Pastor Adeboye and the image of you in the VIP lounge overlooking the congregation have been widely viewed in our community. Great photos indeed. You really felt at home and we were all impressed when you called Pastor Adeboye, “Daddy G.O” not once but twice. You also got the congregation into frenzy when you said that you could see someone in the crowd who could one day become Prime Minister of Britain. It was a worthy performance and your campaign team has certainly earned its pay.
I must now move on to the reason why I have decided to write this open letter to you. Most of the 45,000 people that you addressed on Friday have four things in common. They are predominately Christians, they are predominately Black, they are predominately Africans and they predominately reside in the United Kingdom. They can be described as a proxy for Black African Christians living in Britain. While you have used the FOL platform to deliver your message to Black Africans who are Christians, it is equally important for you to hear what some Black Africans who are Christians have to say.
Pastor Agu rightly pointed out on the night that as Christians, we are obligated to pray for those in authority and this was demonstrated when the General Overseer prayed for you. But Sir, a search through the Scripture also reveals that throughout Christian history, ministers of God have also spoken truth to power especially when leaders stray away from the Word of God. King Saul, King David and King Herod were not immune from rebuke by men of God. Moreover, church leaders also have a moral duty to act as shepherds for their sheep. As Martin Luther King once said, “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it.” Likewise Martin Luther King said that the church is, “Not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool.” So the church leadership whom you interacted with on Friday should have articulated the yearnings of Black African Christians and also highlighted the injustice inherent in some of your government’s policies. Since I was not privy to the private discussions that you held with the FOL church leadership, I don’t know whether or not they articulated the yearnings of the laity. But in case they did not, in the next couple of paragraphs, I will discuss some of these yearnings from the perspective of many black people, Africans and Christians living in Britain.
While delivering your speech, you touched on many things. You spoke about your believe in aspiration, you spoke about family saying, “As God’s children we are all one big family”. You spoke about Big Society and linked the concept with the FOL gathering. You also stated that we should be proud that Britain is a Christian country that stands for the freedom of people to practice their faith. You also prayed for our missing Chibok girls and for peace in Nigeria. On the issue of Big Society, one wonders why this concept (which is a marvellous idea) that you introduced when you became Prime Minister was crucified early into your premiership, only for it to be resurrected 20 days to a General Election?
During your speech, you said, “I believe in aspiration… the only limit to someone’s potential is their own ambition and talent.” I agree with the first part of your statement. Aspiration is a virtue and we should all strive to be ambitious, however the second part of your statement is flawed. It completely ignores the structural barriers, which prevent people from achieving their dreams. You might have assumed that all those whom you addressed at FOL come from a privileged middle class background. If that is the case, you have made a wrong assumption as the black church is a broad church (no pun intended). The black church is not only populated by middle class people who drive middle class cars, who live in middle class neighbourhoods and hold middle class positions. The black church is also made up of the unemployed, the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalised. So one cannot ignore the structural barriers that prevent us from living the British dream.
From the Black perspective, your government has done little to help the people of colour. With the emergence of right wing parties, which have strong views on immigration, your government has joined the bandwagon in demonising immigrants (many of who are represented in the crowd that you addressed on Friday). Sir, your government’s rhetoric’s against immigrants dehumanises us and creates an atmosphere of hatred against people of colour. Should anyone be surprised at the spate of racial abuse hurled at people of colour in the buses, on the trains, at schools, in the media, on the football pitch and on the streets? Prime Minister, if you are re-elected, we urge you to call your colleagues to order and tell them to stop demonising and dehumanising us.
People in my community have also been caught up in the institutional racism that prevails in the land. In the area of employment, we are usually the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Some of us with “funny sounding names” have got used to opening the envelope or checking our emails with the words, “”We have received your application and after careful consideration, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for this position. We will retain your candidate file in our database and we also invite you to visit the Career Section on our Web site regularly,” staring at us. Black people are overrepresented in nearly all the tiers of the criminal justice system where we are eleven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the London police; where black and brown bodies populate the prisons; where blacks are more prone to be charged for possessing cocaine and less likely to be cautioned even though Black people use less drugs than white people.
Regarding Africa, your government has helped to the fund a number of developmental projects and we are grateful for that. It was under your premiership that Britain attained the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on international development. Your government has also assisted a number of governments to help combat terrorism in parts of Africa. However, your government has contributed to some of the instability in the continent. Britain along with France played a crucial role in the ousting Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan ruler. After Gaddafi was killed, Britain turned its back on the Libyan people who had to pick up the mess. The instability in Libya has led to groups like Boko Haram and the Tuareg rebels gaining access to arms from Libya. This has partly contributed to the crisis in Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Chad. Your Defence Secretary once urged, “British companies, even British sales directors, to be packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can.” It would also be nice if your government could find a way to clear the mess it created in Libya.
As Africans, we scratch our heads when we see your government’s attitude towards our brothers and sisters drowning in the Mediterranean. We are appalled that Britain withdrew its support from any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. Ever since Britain and other countries stopped funding Mare Nostrum, thousands of immigrants have perished in the sea (as at the time of writing this letter, I have just learnt that another 700 people have drowned). It is morally wrong and evil for a government official to say, “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit.” These people may not attend our church, they may not be Christian, they may not be British, but they are God’s creation and it is time for your government and any future British government to view them first as human beings before tagging them as migrants.
Besides being Black and Africans, we are also Christians and we have to say something about your government’s attitude towards Christians. Your government has done little to protect the rights of Christians in Britain. We are seeing our religious freedom taken away from us. We have seen a Christian doctor sacked for emailing a prayer to hospital colleagues; we have seen our Christian sister suspended for wearing a silver cross on her neck and refusing to conceal it; we have seen another Christian doctor given an official warning by a medical body because he shared his faith with a patient; we have once been prevented by a City Council from distributing Christian literature. We have been put under pressure from obeying the Great Commission, which tells us to preach the Gospel and make disciples. We are also concerned about the silence of your government as our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are getting killed for practicing their faith. We therefore urge you to protect our religious freedom should you be re-elected.
We are called Christians because we are followers of Jesus Christ. Since Christ was concerned about the “least of these”, we also have to be concerned about the least of these and be vocal about social justice. In your speech, you hardly mentioned social justice except when you linked it to the Big Society. Sir, it is not only Big Society or the church that has to address social justice; the government should play a key role promoting social justice. Aspiration might be important, but social justice is equally as important.
Unfortunately, if your government was to be assessed on the area of social justice, it will get an “F” score. Your government has turned its back on the millions of white, black, yellow and brown Britons who live below the breadline. Despite the fact that the poor, the lame and the downtrodden didn’t cause the Great Recession, they have borne the brunt of the government’s austerity measures that were introduced in response to the crisis. In modern day Britain, there is a kind of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. It is a tragedy that while financial institutions are too big to fail, the downtrodden are too small to save. In the battle for social justice, your government has sided with the classes to the detriment of the masses.
In your speech, you talked about Jesus feeding the multitude. From Scripture we learn that when Jesus saw the multitude, he had compassion on them and he did not want to send them home hungry. So just as Jesus fed 5,000 people out of almost nothing; just as the Bank of England creates money out of nothing through its quantitative easing programme, which satisfies the appetite of hungry investors and financial institutions, your government should do something to feed the nearly one million of God’s children who queue in front of the various food banks around the country. In the event that you are re-elected, we hope that you will turn your gaze to the least of these and stand up for social justice.
Sir, without beating around the bush, we all know what your visit to FOL was all about. It was about courting votes from ethnic minority voters who have historically voted for the Labour Party. There is nothing wrong with you visiting a Christian gathering to solicit for votes just as there is nothing wrong when you visited a Sikh Temple twenty four hours after you visited us (probably for the same reason). However, if you have expectations from us, you need to realise that we also have expectations. We expect the next government to treat ethnic minorities with respect; we expect the next government to take the issue of racism seriously; we expect the next government to stop the demonisation of the less privileged; we expect the next government to provide us with an enabling environment to practice our faith without fear and we expect the next government to champion social justice.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA
Pastor E.A. Adeboye
Pastor Agu Irukwu
Redeemed Christian Church of God