Interview: Race matters
Charissa King and Stephen Tomkins speak to pastor, charity founder and author Ben Lindsay
Ben Lindsay is on a mission to get churches talking about race. He describes himself as a black pastor of a white-majority church in one of the most racially diverse boroughs in London, Emmanuel Church in New Cross. Two years ago, he gave each of his fellow church leaders a copy of Reni Eddo Lodge’s multi-awardwinning book: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury, 2017).
Discussing Eddo Lodge’s book with his colleagues sparked such invaluable conversations and learning, that out of that process his own debut book was born: We Need to Talk About Race: Understanding the black experience in white majority churches (SPCK, 2019). Mr Lindsay’s book has received plaudits from theologians including the broadcaster and professor Robert Beckford, and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who called it ‘a must-read for the UK Church.’
Two of the Reform team – a black woman (Charissa) and a white man (Stephen) – met Mr Lindsay on a surprisingly sunny afternoon in south-east London. Here’s how the three got on.
What was church like growing up for you, in south-east London?
It was great. But in the 80s and 90s there was a lot of racism. Not just the type of racism where someone calls you a name, but life threatening. That was the backdrop of my youth, and I don’t really recall churches really knowing how to deal with that.
What attracted you to church leadership?
I kinda just fell into it. It wasn’t a field I thought I would ever go in, I had a black role model, so when it came to an opportunity to work for a church, it wasn’t a foreign thing – there was somebody to identify and look towards.
How do we acknowledge and celebrate our racial uniqueness, while promoting our oneness with God and other Christians?
I think we’ve got to have some very honest conversations. Some people say: ‘I’m colour blind. I don’t see colour,’ which is weird. Are you just blind? Because clearly God sees colour – he made us all different. The other end of the spectrum is being completely colour conscious: ‘My identity is my skin colour,’ which is equally dangerous. We have to bring the two closer together, and that requires brutally honest conversations; that requires bravery, and for people to step out of their comfort zones. I’m hoping this book gives people the permission to do that.
We’re used to white-majority culture’s stories, or the white perspective on black stories. As soon as a person of colour stands up and says: ‘This is my perspective,’ they sometimes fall into the angry bracket, or ‘She’s got a chip on her shoulder,’ or ‘You’re playing the race card.’ No, I’m just telling you my story!
Your fellow church leaders, what have they learned about race?
You’ll probably wanna ask them! Leaders at my church are amazing; they’re open to engaging with the hyper-diverse community of Lewisham borough. It’s beautiful. I gave them Reni Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and that was a game changer for some of the white leaders. I think they’re on a journey. They’re learning that for a truly diverse environment, you’re going to have to step out of your comfort zone. If you want that black couple to feel included, you, being part of white-majority power structure, are going to have to make the first move. It’s not a natural thing for the minority to say: ‘Hey! Hello!’ No, no, no no. You’re gonna have to step in. …
This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2019 edition of Reform