In this personal piece, Adrian Hawthorn, a frequent contributor to EU-CORDs work, offers his thoughts on decolonisation, faith and our work together.
As I watched the news on my TV the statue of Edward Colson was on a journey in Bristol from a place of high honour on a plinth, being rolled to the queue side and dropped into the harbour. This was June 2020 when ‘Black Lives Matters’ protests were frequent. Not knowing who Edward Colston is has started a journey for me. Clearly many people had strong opinions regarding Colston. At church, a wise and knowledgeable friend explained that he was a kindly man who gave generously to the people of Bristol. Another friend explained that if her great, great, great grandmother had been kidnapped, transported in chains and worked to death for profit she knew exactly what should happen to his statue. As Deputy Governor of the Royal African Company, he owned about 388,000 slaves. Yet he was an Anglican churchman and benefactor!
Most countries where we work were directly or indirectly affected by colonialism over the past 500 years. Local governance, languages, histories and peoples were suppressed through European administrations, extractive trade practices which followed violent conquest based on unstoppable seafaring and military technologies. Some, like Edward Colston grew rich while most experienced subjugation. For many growing up in Europe, this colonial history has framed assumptions about the way the world works, where Europe has got it right and where others need to change. Christianity followed conquest into the colonies as the religion of the powerful.
- So, how has our shared history of colonialism affected relationships, and how is Christianity is viewed?
- How unwittingly has it affected the way each of us views the world and the way it works?
- If we confront the crimes of the past could it change the way we approach our endeavours in the aid sector?
- Can this journey lead to better understanding, the reframing of partnerships and lead to more equal relationships? Would it help us to live out Paul’s instruction in Galatians 3v28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
If we find some answers, this might lead us to ask what our motivations are for the work we do?
Perhaps these questions lead us on a journey to a better place where greater empathy, insight, and awareness of past injustices lead to the potential for stronger partnerships between all of us crossing both generations and continents.