One of the things I most value about CMSI is our heritage as those who take a stand against injustice.
The CMS movement that began in 1799 grew out of a group that was instrumental in bringing an end to the indescribable evil of the transatlantic slave trade. Indeed, along with ‘social reform at home’ and ‘world evangelisation’, ‘abolishing the slave trade’ was one of the three founding priorities of our organisation.
I reflected on this during recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, especially with the pulling down of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.
Statue of Edward Colston being toppled in Bristol (Photo by Keir Gravel/Reuters)
Having served my first curacy in Bristol, I was well aware of the background to this man. I was ordained in the cathedral that his wealth helped to fund, but it was a wealth derived largely from the slave trade. This man, who was described on his statue's plaque as "one of the most virtuous and wise sons" of the city, was directly connected to the trafficking of over 80,000 individuals from West Africa, many of whom died on their journey to the Caribbean. For me, the long overdue removal of his statue was an exciting and prophetic act and one that symbolised an aspect of mission that we often overlook.
Sometimes, mission involves challenging and even tearing down unjust structures. It requires God’s people to stand up and speak out against injustice and to actively undermine anything that would enslave or oppress vulnerable people.
Is that not what we see Jesus do, when he overturns the tables in the Temple courts and drives out the animals with a whip (John 2:13-17)? We follow a Christ who was born amongst the poor, and lived a life identifying with those who are excluded and oppressed.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ sacrificial death is referred to by Moses and Elijah as an “exodus” (Luke 9:21), connecting him to the liberation of the enslaved people of Israel in the Old Testament and, by extension, to the fight against injustice throughout human history.
When Christ was raised from the dead there was a divine “Yes!” in the heavenly realms, as Satan was defeated, the rich & privileged were put down, and the poor were lifted up (see Luke 1:52).
Over the past few months, I have loved hearing and reading the Voices of Hope stories from CMSI’s Global Partners. On one hand, they are inspiring examples of God’s people sharing His grace and compassion. But each of these acts also represent something much bigger. They are a challenge to the unjust status quo that exists in our world: where the poor get poorer and the downtrodden become even more marginalised. These stories reflect a Christian tradition that speaks up for the oppressed and takes up the cause of the vulnerable.
Our Global Partners inspire me – and each of us – to move beyond personal piety and to embrace our heritage as those who are willing to overturn, overthrow and take a stand against injustice.