Thoughts on the Methodist Covenant Service – Anthony Reddie

Anthony Reddie posted the following on 18th August 2020.

He points out the need to be careful in our use of familiar material in worship and even whether we should continue in its use. Tradition is not sufficient reason.

‘Speaking with Azariah France-Williams and others about his wonderful book ‘Ghost Ship’, I am reminded of the dangers of Whiteness as an unacknowledged generic theological and ecclesiological norm. I have NEVER spoken the words of the Methodist Covenant service because I have always found them deeply problematic. For a long while I couldn’t work out why I recoiled from speaking these words. Now as a Black liberation theologian I know the reason why is because they are steeped in privilege of patrician Whiteness. Black bodies have been colonised for centuries to the point where prior to the various Black power movements of the 20th century the notion of Black people having agency was an oxymoron. I remember as a young child sitting next to my Mum in church as she uttered these words of being ‘put to whatever use’ decreed by the White colonial God proclaimed by British Methodism and wondered how this applied to a poor Black woman who once literally broke stones with her hands for a White stone merchant in Jamaica in order to find the coach fare to travel home to see her dying elder sister before it was too late ( Andrea DA and Karen Hope that was your paternal grandmother Alvina). I didn’t have the words or the concepts to give voice to my anger at this exploitative framework that saw my family volunteering (no doubt under the guise that this was an expression of OUR discipleship) to clean the church floor prior to the 1978 Methodist Conference at Eastbrook Hall Central Mission but not good enough to be invited to the opening of the conference, when all the White people for whom the Covenant service of ‘being used by God’ didn’t include cleaning the floor, but were unsurprisingly invited and given seats of honour. And then remembering being scolded by the then General Secretary of the Methodist church for retelling the latter story at a Connexional event at Swanwick because presumably it was a worse crime to retell the story than it was that the only Black family in this church were deemed good enough to clean the floors but not good enough to sit in the balcony when Donald English was sworn in as President of the Conference. So the next time any of you have the unoriginal idea of asking me to stand for Vice President of the Conference again, please do remember this post and the stories contained within it and know that it will be a cold day in hell before I stand for such a post given the hypocrisy of White Christianity. Now, not only do I not recite the words of the Covenant service, I stay in my bed and not even dignify the service with my presence.’

Black Lives Matter – Professor Anthony Reddie

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement emerged in order to counter the patently obvious fact that Black lives do not matter. This is not just a question of economics or materiality, it is also about seemingly ‘ephemeral matters’ like the impact on our psyche and associated questions of representation and spirituality. It has been interesting observing the concern of some white people for matters of law and order and governance and property re: the tearing down of the Colston stature in Bristol. I worked for a year in Bristol and was confronted with the sight of statues built in honour of men who enslaved my ancestors. Polite petitions to move these and other statues were ignored. Long before a so called mob tore this one down Black activists asked for it and other statues to be move to museums where those who deliberately wanted to see them could, but saving those of us who didn’t, the ignominy of having the lives our oppressed ancestors constantly insulted. White authority ignored our claims, BECAUSE OUR LIVES DON’T MATTER and in the face of White complacency and disregard, OUR FEELINGS DO NOT MATTER EITHER. In 2007, I along with many others, campaigned for a national monument to mark the epoch of the slave trade and the countless millions who died under the yoke of British slavery. We were peaceful, respectful and went through the usual peaceful channels and first the Labour government under Blair, then The Coalition and finally May’s government all summarily ignored our pleas. We were peaceful and respectful and made our entreaties in the time honoured and peaceful way. But we were ignored BECAUSE OUR LIVES AND FEELINGS AIN’T WORTH JACK! We campaigned for an apology for Britain’s involvement in the Slave Trade and Blair gave us deep sorry but no apology because the slave trade, sanctioned by greedy white mercantile interests, said it was legal at the time. So no apology and certainly no reparations. Once again, we were not hectoring or behaving like a mob. We made arguments, some of us wrote books, essays and articles and it still made no difference. So we continue to live with the psychological and spiritual damage of witnessing monuments to the people who made millions from peddling the Black flesh of our ancestors, and this is before we even get to the tangible manifestations of economic hardship and the social deprivation facing Black bodies in postcolonial Britain. So I find it interesting that following the pulling down of a statue, we have the usual concerned voices of White people sharing their concern for law and order and the dangers of mob rule. Where we their voices when all the aforementioned was happening? Where was the British academy and theologians commenting on the collusion of the Church in the slave trade and the later colonialism that enriched all the historic churches, but taught Black people to hate themselves? My friend and fellow Black theologian in Britain Dr Delroy Wesley Hall speaks of Black people living in Britain struggling with a form of existential crucifixion. We are mired in our continued ‘Holy Saturday’ following our social and collective crucifixion, but with no ‘Easter Sunday’ on the horizon. So White people can complain about our not abiding by the rules when our attempts to do so have been ignored completely and treated with contempt! So at this moment in history, I am not going to thank White people for issuing apologies and ‘taking the knee’ and writing statements and going on marches that don’t cost them anything, when we are dealing with existential crucifixion that leads to us being more likely to struggle with mental ill health issues, such as schizophrenia. I am not going to ‘educate’ White people on how to deal with their discomfort and emotions when I and countless Black people are afraid to go out of our houses lest we end up as part of the disproportionate numbers who are stopped, detained and questioned by our supposedly benign police for breaking lockdown restrictions. Some of us have simply had enough of White hypocrisy and the sudden interest in our concerns having shown scant regard for them in years gone by. Systemic racism didn’t start with George Floyd’s death nor will it end with White people ringing their hands in liberal guilt, telling us how sorry they are for the racism that blights our lives and not theirs! Some of us will continue to fight, but we are tired and more angry than you can ever imagine, so please don’t you dare tell us how we should behave, because when we played by your rules of civility, you didn’t give a damn!
Professor Anthony Reddie
Extraordinary Professor, Theological Ethics
University of South Africa
NRF ‘A Rated’ – Leading International Researcher
Director:
The Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture
Regent’s Park College,
University of Oxford
Pusey Street
Oxford
OX1 2LB
Author of Theologising Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique (London: Routledge, 2019)
1st ever Black and Postcolonial theological assessment of Brexit.
Editor:
Black Theology
An International Journal