Monday 8 June 2020

Statues and slavery.

After a 40 year non-violent campaign mostly led by the black community to have Colston's statue moved to a museum, a campaign that got absolutely nowhere, frustration and anger and a global anti-racist mood finally brought about the statue's downfall. It didn't have to be this way. If those with the power to do so had simply listened sensitively to a hurting community and just moved the statue in the first place, this would not now be on our news feeds. 
For those who don't know, Edward Colston was a Tory businessman and 'philanthropist' from the late 17th and early 18th Century who made his money shipping almost 100,000 men women and children from their homes into slavery and into an early and brutish death on the plantations of the British colonies. 
During his time in control of the company, at least 19,000 Black people were dumped into the sea if they got sick or died on the journey from Africa to the plantations. That is why the statue got symbolically dumped into the harbour. 
The layout of a slave ship in the pictures below should be a help to those who are struggling to work out how they feel about all that has taken place. As should the picture of a slave, a person, being tossed into the ocean to drown.
The debate about whether the removal of a statue is a violent act or not is dwarfed by the sheer evil and violence of slavery.
I'm no fan of the failure of social distancing that a minority of the Black Lives Matter protests have shown - but I would say that most protesters in most cities have stuck to the rules and worn masks and kept their distance. But none of the complaints about protesting during a pandemic is a justification for allowing statues of mass murderers to simply be an acceptable part of our landscape, no matter how 'philanthropic' the people they represent may appear. As has often been said, a statue of Jimmy Saville would have soon been torn down in Leeds despite all his 'Jim'll fix it' philanthropy. People should not have to see their abusers glorified.
As in all abuse, the effects of that violation are still to be felt long after the event. Not just in the modern repercussions of racism in heath issues, housing policy, education and employment, but in the actual memory of slavery and the idea that one group of people are inferior to another. For those who are interested, it was only in 2015 that we finally finished paying the debt borrowed by the UK state to pay off the slave owners after the abolition of slavery act in 1833. It was the biggest payment in our history, more than the bankers bailout in 2008. It was 40% of our entire GDP. Not a penny went to slaves who still had to work as interns for free for a further 5 years.
I hope the statue is a replaced by something that stands for hope and kindness, or at the very least, remembers the horrors of all those dumped mercilessly in the sea whilst making huge profits for our elites.

Monday 25 May 2020

Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

I'm sorry, Dominic Cummings is not a 'victim' in all this. We were told to stay at home if we displayed symptoms. Not drive 260 miles to the North East.
He travelled to the North East knowing he probably had a deadly virus, knowing that on a 260 mile car journey he could have given that virus to his wife (who was already sick) and a vulnerable 4 year old child. He should of self isolated in his own home and sort help if it was needed.
If the family were worried about his eyesight for driving home, why did they go for a 60 mile round trip drive to Barnard Castle with his wife and a child in the back seat, putting everyone in danger? It simply beggars belief.
Mr Cummings is simply not able to say: 'Sorry, in the difficult and stressful situation I found myself in, I may have made mistakes'. If he had said; 'I was worried about my wife and child, and I just tried to do what was best for them, and I may have made mistakes', public opinion may have moved on.
However, he cannot bring himself to say sorry. I have met people like this on many occasions. They are arrogant and detached, and they often get away with whatever they want. They are entitled, and believe they can justify everything that they do.
He will not go. Cummings and Johnson have let down the nation, but they will hold onto power at whatever cost. We can only hope there will be much, much greater scrutiny of everything he and Johnson get up to from this day forward.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Why Dominic Cummings might get away with murder

I'm pretty sure that they will defend Dominic Cummings till the bitter end, despite it being pretty clear that he broke the government guidelines over his journey to his family's home up here in the North East. 

He may have had good reason to. Getting family members to help look after his 5 year old child is a strong public defence that many will accept and some may even applaud. It's just that nobody else was able to do that. We all stayed at home and isolated ourselves - especially if we were ill. 

To travel, and to knowingly realise you may spread the virus from one end of the country to another, and even perhaps infect relatives is actually morally reprehensible. Anyone else may quickly be disposed of, sacked or simply forced to resign and move on to cause havoc elsewhere.

Not so with Cummings. He believes he can do whatever he likes, and get away with it. And he is right. He knows that if he goes, the whole gang of them will have to go; that he has built an empire that depends on him getting away with it. Without him, Johnson must go, without Johnson, the whole Tory party project, Brexit and all, would unravel.

So I think he'll stay. My only hope is that his political and personal credibility is so weakened by his selfish actions, that even he will pay a price in the end. With at least 55,000 deaths out there, many due to the incompetence of this government, maybe I don't want him to slink away in disgrace. Maybe I want him and Johnson held accountable for their failings.

Jesus warned us about folk like him. The hired hand who does not care about the flock, but flees in terror when danger lurks, regardless of the cost to others. The quicker he is out of the picture, the safer it will be for all of us.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

The Covid-19 Time line that needs to be remembered

I saw this timeline and thought it needs to be remembered (it doesn't even get us to the current advice fiasco and the real death toll) We will need to hold people to account one day:
December 31st China alerts WHO to new virus.
January 23rd Study reveals a third of China’s patients require intensive care.
January 24th Boris Johnson misses first Cobra meeting.
January 29th Boris Johnson misses second Cobra meeting.
January 31st The NHS declares first ever ‘Level 4 critical incident’ Meanwhile, the government declines to join European scheme to source PPE.
February 5th Boris Johnson misses third Cobra meeting.
February 12th Boris Johnson misses fourth Cobra meeting. Exeter University published study warning Coronavirus could infect 45 million people in the UK if left unchallenged.
February 13th Boris Johnson misses conference call with European leaders.
February 14th Boris Johnson goes away on holiday. Aides are told keeps Johnson’s briefing notes short or he will not read them.
February 18th Johnson misses fifth cobra meeting.
February 26th Boris Johnson announces ‘Herd Immunity’ strategy, announcing some people will lose loved ones. Government document is leaked, predicting half a million Brits could die in ‘worse case scenario’
February 29th Boris Johnson retreats to his country manor. NHS warns of ‘PPE shortage nightmare’ Stockpiles have dwindled or expired after years of austerity cuts.
March 2nd Boris Johnson attends his first Cobra meeting, declining another opportunity to join European PPE scheme. Government’s own scientists say over half a million Brit’s could die if virus left unrestrained. Johnson tells country “We are very, very well prepared.”
March 3rd Scientists urge Government to advise public not to shake hands. Boris Johnson brags about shaking hands of Coronavirus patients.
March 4th Government stops providing daily updates on virus following a 70% spike in UK cases. They will later U-turn on this amid accusations they are withholding vital information.
March 5th Boris Johnson tells public to ‘wash their hands and business as usual’
March 7th Boris Johnson joins 82,000 people at Six Nations match.
March 9th After Ireland cancels St Patrick’s day parades, the government says there’s “No Rationale” for cancelling sporting events.
March 10th - 13th Cheltenham takes place, more than a quarter of a million people attend.
March 11th 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans fly to Liverpool.
March 12th Boris Johnson states banning events such as Cheltenham will have little effect. The Imperial College study finds the government’s plan is projected to kill half a million people.
March 13th The FA suspends the Premier League, citing an absence of Government guidance. Britain is invited to join European scheme for joint purchase of ventilators, and refuses. Boris Johnson lifts restrictions of those arriving from Coronavirus hot spots.
March 14th Government is still allowing mass gatherings, as Stereophonics play to 5,000 people in Cardiff.
March 16th Boris Johnson asks Britons not to go to pubs, but allows them to stay open. During a conference call, Johnson jokes that push to build new ventilators should be called ‘Operation Last Gasp’
March 19th Hospital patients with Coronavirus are returned to care homes in a bid to free up hospital space. What follows is a boom of virus cases in care homes.
March 20th The Government states that PPE shortage crisis is “Completely resolved” Less than two weeks later, the British Medical Association reports an acute shortage in PPE.
March 23rd UK goes into lockdown.
March 26th Boris Johnson is accused of putting ‘Brexit over Breathing’ by not joining EU ventilator scheme. The government then state they had not joined the scheme because they had ‘missed the email’
April 1st The Evening Standard publishes that just 0.17% of NHS staff have been tested for the virus.
April 3rd The UK death toll overtakes China.
April 5th 17.5 million Antibody tests, ordered by the government and described by Boris Johnson as a ‘game changer’ are found to be a failure.
April 7th Boris Johnson is moved to intensive care with Coronavirus.
April 16th Flights bring 15,000 people a day into the UK - without virus testing.
April 17th Health Secretary Matt Hancock says “I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky.” The UK has now missed four opportunities to join the EU’s PPE scheme.
April 21st The Government fails to reach its target of face masks for the NHS, as it is revealed manufactures offers of help were met with silence. Instead millions of pieces of PPE are being shipped from the UK to Europe.
April 23rd - 24th Government announces testing kits for 10 million key workers. Orders run out within minutes as only 5,000 are made available.
April 25th UK death toll from Coronavirus overtakes that of The Blitz.
April 30th Boris Johnson announces the UK has succeeded in avoiding a tragedy that had engulfed other parts of the world - At this point, The UK has the 3rd highest death toll in the world.
May 1st The Government announces it has reached its target of 100,000 tests - They haven’t conducted the tests, but posted the testing kits.
May 5th The UK death toll becomes the highest in Europe.
May 6th Boris Johnson announces the UK could start to lift lockdown restrictions by next week.

May 10th Johnson abandons the slogan 'Stay at home' and begins to use 'Stay Alert'. There follows days of confusion as to who should be going back to work, whether masks should be worn in certain situations, whether public transport ought to be used and whether schools would be reopening. Scotland keeps the 'Stay at home' slogan

May 19th The office of National Statistics announce that the excess deaths in the UK for the same period over the average for the last 5 years is over 55,000. The best estimate so far of the true cost in lives of the pandemic in the UK 

Liberation Theology in a time of a pandemic

Well, firstly - I want to say that I love you. The first act of a liberating theology is to declare God's love for the whole of creation. You are loved, and God wants us to love each other whatever happens. This planet and all that live on it are made for love. Thank you for the love you share with all around you.

It may be hard to feel this love in the beginning of a Pandemic. When I say 'beginning', I do not refer to 'peaks' or death rates. Here in the UK, we are hopefully well over our 'peak' (I write this blog in mid-May, the latest daily death toll is below 200 people) I say beginning, because we have such a long way to go. The pandemic is being contained in Europe, but elsewhere there are worrying signs of the spread of contagion, especially in parts of South America. Until affordable and workable vaccines are available to everyone, we are in uncertain territory.

Of course the real cost of the pandemic in terms of lives will perhaps never be determined. Speaking from Sunderland, a region in the North East of England that has suffered some of the highest death rates per head in the world so far, I'm horrified at the human cost. Perhaps as many as 1 in every 1000 people have died here as a result of the virus.

We are only beginning to see the real cost in people's lives. In terms of mental health, those costs will clearly be high. In terms of finances - we are only at the beginning of realising the economic cost on our society. Youth employment is about to soar; small businesses will be hit very hard; universities will lose staff and pay a heavy price. In the UK we were all expecting cuts due to the impact of Brexit on the economy, now we face much deeper impacts on public finances than we could ever have imagined.

What does liberation theology have to say into all this? Firstly, it must be said that liberationists mostly believe that theology is a reaction to communities, not individuals. These are my own personal views, but a real reaction will come out of listening and sharing our experiences in community. The virus has curtailed those communications, especially with the most marginalised. 'Stay at home' policies mean that communication is limited to those with good access to technology and is largely dictated by mainstream media or by our limited social networks. Who we listen and talk to is often those least affected by such a crisis. It will take time to work out our community response to the pandemic for these reasons, but some things are clear.

One. Pandemics do not affect everyone equally. Pandemics openly display the fault lines in our societies. It exposes the gaps that blatantly exist between the powerful and the powerless, between the rich and the poor, between the black and white, between men and women. The virus can hit anyone, and our Prime Ministers hospitalisation showed that, but the real socio-economic impacts between different communities couldn't be more obvious. The poorer you are, the more exposed you are to overcrowded housing; the more likely you are to be in low paid 'key worker' professions; the health of your community and the resources available to your community all affect your chances of survival.

Early on in Pandemic, it became clear that BAME communities were hit hardest in London, ministers made remarks about checking to see if there was a 'genetic' reason for this, rather than easily admitting that our BAME communities had faced systematic healthcare and economic inequalities throughout our country's history. Then the worse death rates began to occur here in the North East, among poor white working class communities, and it became obvious that the dangers of exposure and chances of survival were clearly down to poverty, not genetics.

Liberation Theology points out those inequalities, and shouts out 'that is not what God wants!' This not how it is meant to be. In the Kingdom of God, no community is left behind. God's abundance is designed for all.

Two. Isolation is not how we are meant to live. Humans are collective in nature and design; we all matter to each other. The Ubuntu theology of Africa sums this up perfectly when it says that 'I am who I am because you are what you are'. Our interconnectivity is God designed. Of course we must all separate to stop infection rates, but this has only highlighted how much we all depend on each other, and how our own wellbeing is connected to our neighbours. The longing for community is expressed beautifully in the weekly clapping for our health care heroes. It is an act of community; it is an act of deep solidarity.

Three. Church is about solidarity and mutual aid. The buildings have become redundant. And though some of us clamour for the security of the familiar surroundings, the architecture and rituals that we are so familiar with, we all realise that 'church' is actually people. We break bread together when we share our resources. The Eucharist, the breaking of bread, takes on a new meaning when my neighbour brings round a loaf that he has made, when we take our offering down to the local foodbank. Churches at their best have served their local communities, especially the most vulnerable. Even at a safe social distance they have 'washed the feet' of their neighbours. Churches have been models of 'mutual aid', systems of looking after communities, whether they are members or not. Mosques have fed the hungry. Sikh temples have turned their kitchens over to the needs of the whole community. It is a beautiful insight into what the reign of God's love can look like.

Four. The reign of God turns our world upside down. It is the lowly who have been lifted up. It is the key workers, the healthcare workers, the shelf stackers, the cooks and cleaners who have become the heroes. And the rich have been brought low - with their failure to act with compassion or to organise Personal Protection Equipment for those on the frontline. Scripture points endlessly to this as God's reality, God's desire for humanity - that we should see a world where the powerful are brought low and the powerless lifted up.

Five. Another world is possible. A greener, fairer world is not just a fantasy - we could have it. People could fly less, could cycle more. Nature could heal itself if we stopped buggering it all up. The lockdown has exposed in our minds the possibilities of a new world to come. We cannot pretend we are anywhere near that yet, or that capitalism will not relentlessly go back to business as usual as soon as it can (and indeed, looking at the logging rates in Brazil, will actually try to do its worst even during a pandemic) but we are finally exposed to the reality that the world can be different. Liberation theologians and all progressive people must hold on to those possibilities and work to make them a reality.

That's enough for now. There is too much to do to spend too much time writing about the situation. Liberation theologians must never merely interpret the world. The point, as ever, is to change it.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Liberation Theology article for Student Christian Movement

Exploring Liberation Theology

By Chris Howson
When was the last time you did an act of solidarity with the poor? What do you do with your time and resources and does it help liberate yourself and others from oppressions such as racism, poverty and sexism? Do you reflect on issues of power and wealth in the light of scripture and the teachings of Jesus?
Liberation theology burst into the world in the 1970s and 80s when it was seen as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, made visible through the struggles of poor communities  in some of the most deprived parts of the world.  In Latin America priests and lay people were killed in their tens of thousands for advocating an ‘option for the poor’. The death of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1980 brought these struggles into the homes of North America and Europe. In the context of Apartheid in South Africa, Priests such as Desmond Tutu used Liberation Theology to help articulate the way people of faith must struggle for freedom.
Liberation Theology has a much longer history, and is rooted in scripture that states that Christ has come “to preach good news to the poor...proclaim freedom for the prisoners...release the oppressed...proclaim the year of Jubilee” (release from debts) from Luke 4 v 18-19.
Jesus is born into the world on the margins of society, and sought though his ministry to support those also on the margins. He was brought up on the knee of a Jewish peasant woman who sang songs such as “God has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1 v 52).
For Liberation theologians, the killing of Jesus by powerful political elites was overturned by the resurrection, proof that God was on the side of the victims of oppression. Jesus’ teachings and way of discipleship encourages us to live out non-violent resistance to injustices and gives us new ways of living in community which herald ‘The Kingdom of God’.
In the 20th Century, the work of the civil rights movement, embodied by people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, began the process of developing a theology actively linked to issues of freedom and liberation. The experience of the poor in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America forced Christians to re-evaluate many aspects of traditional Western theology. Most of the debates within the Church seemed irrelevant in the wake of crushing poverty and hunger, as well as unjust political systems that stifled democracy and murdered opponents. Especially in Latin America, theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez (Peru) Leonardo Boff (Brazil) Jose Segundo (Uruguay) Elsa Tamez (Costa Rica) articulated scriptural and philosophical issues raised in ‘Base Ecclesial Communities’ and developed a form of Church that proved relevant to the experience of the people.
By understanding the economic and political contexts of people’s struggles, liberation theology birthed ‘liberated theologies’ that responded to the real life situation of people, often groups previously marginalised and silenced. Feminist, Black, Dalit (India), Minjung (Korea), Womanist (Black women) Disabled, and LGBT theologies are all related to Liberation Theology.  Within the UK, Liberation Theology has been associated with urban poverty, peace movements, human rights and development organisations, alongside those both within and outside the church who are resisting capitalist austerity programs and various forms of oppression.
Liberation Theology ultimately demands us to answer the difficult questions: In the face of global poverty, massive inequality and environmental destruction, how does our theology help build up God’s vision of a better world? If it doesn’t liberate, is it really theology?

Revd Chris Howson is Chaplain to the University of Sunderland and author of ‘A Just Church: 21st Century Liberation Theology in Action’

For Further Reading and Exploration:
You could start of by looking at Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutierrez, Kathy Galloway, Elsa Tamez, Ched Myers or even reading ‘A Just Church’ exploring UK liberation theology. However, Liberation Theology asks that you engage with the people’s struggles first, and then reflect on them in the light of scripture and tradition. So why not go out there and get stuck in, there is plenty to do!

Sunday 26 March 2017


Blessed are mums who are living in poverty - for they still manage to create heaven on earth for their kids. 

Blessed are mums whose children have died - we will comfort all who feel lost this day. 

Blessed are the mums who are homeless - we shall fight for their right to shelter and safety. 

Blessed are the mums who hunger and thirst for what is right - we will be victorious together! Blessed are the merciful mothers - for they teach us how to forgive. 

Blessed are mums who, despite all they have suffered, have pure hearts - they have helped us to see God in everything. Blessed are the women who are peacemakers in our families and communities - for they have created children who are peacemakers. 

Blessed are women and mums who are persecuted for the cause of justice - the future will be yours. 

Blessed are the women who are victims of violence and endure sexism because they follow the call of feminism and equality - this is how people treated the suffragettes and all the great prophets who have gone before us to bring equality and freedom for all.