Lawrence case spurs black Christians to unite against racism

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The Independent Online
POLICE prejudice exposed by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has spurred black church leaders to establish an interdenominational alliance to fight racial injustice, writes Sophie Goodchild.

The Black Christian Civic Forum (BCCF) is supported by the Lawrence family and by Myrna Simpson, whose daughter, Joy Gardiner, collapsed after being arrested by police.

Its campaign is to be modelled on American political and civil rights movements, led by black church leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King.

The BCCF will include the heads of the major black churches, including the Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists and Pentecostalists, who will use their status and social position to petition on behalf of victims of racial injustice.

The official launch of the BCCF will take place in January, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Martin Luther King's birth and the conclusion of the second part of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

The BCCF is the idea of R David Muir, a lecturer and a former executive of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance. Mr Muir says the cases of Stephen Lawrence and Joy Gardiner have illustrated the need to tackle institutionalised racism in Britain.

"In the US, black church leaders are the centre of black life in terms of political action as well as education because of a 490-year history of upset and oppression," he explained.

"In the UK, we obviously have a system of civil rights and laws in place to combat racism but it takes a case like Stephen Lawrence to highlight the fact that the system is not working.

"Joy Gardiner's family were also let down, despite their faith in the British justice system. Until groups take injustice seriously we will not learn from our mistakes and go backwards not forwards. We need Christian militancy to fight for those who suffer injustice."

The black church had been criticised in the past for being too timid to become politically involved in race issues. The focus for action was instead coming from groups such as the Nation of Islam, he said.

"Until now, black churches have been involved in community issues on a small scale. A lot of young black men are turning to the Nation of Islam because they give them a sense of self worth," said Mr Muir.

"Their agenda is not the same as ours but we have many of the same values. Existing black church groups do not have this political dimension, despite the fact that Christianity has always had a radical legacy and been at the forefront of justice."

Myrna Simpson, who campaigned for an inquiry into her daughter's death, said the BCCF could have helped her struggle for justice. "People think it's not Christian, but it is because God is a God of justice," she said. "We have to fight for justice not only for our children but our grandchildren. My daughter has gone and I'm now fighting for my grandchild's future."