Working Towards a Different Future

First published on: 15th October 2021

As part of Black History Month, Revd Canon Malcolm Rogers MBE, The Bishop of Liverpool's Canon For Reconciliation interviews Adeyinka Olushonde about his work as part of the Triangle of Hope and developing its ‘Slavery Truth Project’. Adeyinka explains why the projects are important to every member of our diocese, as we grapple with what are often challenging and painful issues, working towards a different kind of future.

Q1 Malcolm: Hi Adeyinka. You have a long and interesting track record of community development and social activism in Liverpool, but there may be readers of this Bulletin who don’t know you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

 

I am a pretty fun-loving kind of person, I have a creative mind and a keen sense of humour.

Having trained at LIPA in the late 90s I gained a BA in what was then Community Arts and have since specialised in using creative processes to support community engagement, organisational and social change.  I now have nearly 25 years’ experience in roles that have included themes of creativity and expression, conflict and reconciliation, community cohesion and social regeneration.

I have a generally relaxed attitude to life that is balanced by a keen sense of social justice.  I have a history of working across various disciplines including community/voluntary, creative/artistic, local government and private sectors.

I have been blessed with quite a broad skillset involving direct delivery, training/teaching, workshop leading, coaching singing, dancing and drama and have been lucky to have worked in local, national and international contexts.  This may sound impressive but it basically means that I am a jack of all trades and a master of none!!!

Quite ironically, given the last answer, I completed a Masters’ degree in Christian Leadership in 2019 (focussing on Brexit, social trauma and cohesion) and am currently undertaking a PhD, focussing on offence and reconciliation.  This doesn’t make me an expert in anything (and I’d laugh out loud if anyone thought I was!) it simply means that I have sat down, read other people’s books and tried to understand some difficult subjects from different angles!

I am also an ordinand – which is basically a ‘vicar-in-training’, I have been married for 18 years, and have 2 school-age children (and a dog who shares a birthday with me!)

 

 

Q2 Thanks very much indeed for that. Such a wide and varied experience. Can I focus us on just part of that, the focus of your work around social justice and in particular, racial justice?

Your PhD is all about offence and reconciliation, you work as part of the Triangle of Hope and are responsible for developing its ‘Slavery Truth Project’. Why is it important not just to you, but to each member of our diocese that we grapple with what are often challenging and painful issues, and work towards a different kind of future?

We all know Liverpool is a fabulous city full of dynamism, culture and history – it really is no wonder we were Capital City of Culture in 2008!  That said, there are parts of our great history that we have been perhaps less equipped (and even reluctant) to acknowledge.

The truth is that there are many, churches in the Liverpool diocese that have statues, memorials and gravestones commemorating those who were involved in the slave trade and indeed the wider slave economy.  The church received significant support from those involved as shipbuilders, coopers, rope makers, bankers, insurers, blockade-runners and traders in salt, tabacco, sugar, coffee, cotton and other cash crops.  All of these areas of business brought many people to Liverpool, helping it to grow into a world-renowned city and one of the key drivers of the industrial revolution.

One of the reasons for the importance of the project I am working on is that the church willfully supported a trade that we know was morally wrong.

To say that is not just looking back through the lens of history with rose-tinted glasses, holding those in the past to moral standards that were irrelevant or unrealistic.  On the contrary, many at the time also knew that it was wrong and yet their voices were drowned out.

This points to the sad fact that the church had clearly lost its moral compass, relinquishing its obligations to protect and serve the powerless (see Matthew 25:37-45) in favour of unprecedented financial gains that were promised by those captains of industry who sought progress and wealth at any cost – or more appropriately, at no cost!

But we know there is always a cost, and somebody always has to pay.  It is conservatively suggested that between 15 million Africans were enslaved and therefore paid for our development through their blood, sweat and tears. 

That is ten times the population of the Liverpool city region!!! Can you imagine what impact that would have had on England if that many people were taken from her?  What if it were 15 million of our sons, daughters, brothers, fathers and mothers that were taken – how would it affect us now and in the future?

Their plight went unnoticed at the time and their labour was used to build an infrastructure that brought about unprecedented development, security and status for the UK on the world stage that is still enjoyed today.

It went largely unreported for generations and is often ignored by us today – so what can we do?

To be clear from the outset – the Slavery Truth Project is by no means wanting to remove statues or memorials – but we do wish to provide a space to ‘re-tell the story’.

As an overall aim, the Slavery Truth Project will seek to help churches in Liverpool acknowledge their past in a way that is respectful and honest, and through a creative process produce a creative response that can be engaged with and used by future generations.

 

Q3 We talk about the challenges of racism and discrimination, and for you that is a constant lived experience. This vision of the just and equitable kingdom of God you have described, does that always match with your experience of the church?

Here is where my work and thinking begins to intersect with Liberation Theologies, and in particular Black Liberation Theologies.  There are many in the UK (such as Anthony Reddie) who have a lot to say about Black Liberation Theology, and their admittedly polemic works are a constant (and perhaps necessary) challenge to an establishment that all too readily ignores the difficulties still experienced by people of colour both here in the UK and around the world.

There are, however, those who accept that change must come in order to build and maintain better relationships and thereby ultimately preserve individuals, nations and political systems.

This I believe is part of our current Christian responsibility – this is what social justice actually looks like, and this is what will save humanity (and indeed the rest of creation), from humanity’s own destructive tendencies.

 

Q4 So we have a challenge internally as well as externally. What can churches do to become more Jesus like when it comes to racial justice. Have you any practical suggestions?

Well, to start with I want to briefly highlight a scientific and natural law that is actually replicated in the spiritual – that ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’.  If we use this scientific premise as one of our guiding principles, what then will it take to make things right both in the physical and the spiritual?

The answer to this question may prove to be both simple and complex – depending on your deontological position.  For many, it may seem morally obvious that if something has been stolen then it should be returned, but in another sense the implications of the answer are complex. 

Arguably, the historic and perpetual lack of interest in addressing the issue of restitution has meant that the potential chain of consequences that may be set off by simply counting the cost (including any interest and benefits accrued in the interim) and handing that sum out to individuals and nations at this juncture in history would be economically ruinous, thereby causing misery and suffering for many on another side – and perhaps a return to armed conflict.

But that is also a compelling reason to stay the course, trying to find creative solutions – since the consequences of the slave trade have been (and still are) disastrous for those people displaced and forced to labour under inhuman conditions for the benefit of others. 

It is still disastrous for those nations from whom the youngest and fittest were taken for several generations.  It remains disastrous on an economic level for those countries that were pillaged since their economies have always been dictated by those who were bent on domination and economic supremacy.

Perhaps the greatest gift to public and political history can be seen in the development and signing of the Magna Carta.  Whilst it was signed somewhat under duress, it established (at least within the British Isles) the legal rights and responsibilities that were to exist between two parties.

I find that in this day and age we have focussed heavily on our individual and even national rights, but have neglected the other half of that coin – our responsibilities to one another.

I think in this area there are 3 basic responsibilities – the responsibility to listen, the responsibility to lament and the responsibility to launch.

So, beginning with a responsibility to listen – this is connected with the notion that there are voices that deserve to be heard.  There are the silent, lost voices of those who died without anyone to see, but God sees.  When Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis 4:9-10, the blood spilt cried out to God as a witness to the terrible crime – a crime that required recompense.  There is a learning element involved here as well.  This means that while we may not have directly committed the crime, we cannot ignore what has gone on, but must be aware of it, teaching the lessons from it and only by doing this can we move on to the next stage.

The second responsibility is to lament, which I think in the Christian context (especially given our complicity) is entirely appropriate.  There needs to be a connection with what happened then, to what happens now. 

We recognise this in the doctrine of sin and the salvific work of Christ, looking back to the past and its impact on our present.  Truly, there is ‘no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1), and this responsibility is not about piling on the guilt, but in developing our ability to love one another and to follow Jesus’ admonishment to deeply care for the welfare of those who we profess to call our brothers and sisters as stated in Matthew 25:37-45.

The final responsibility is to launch, and admittedly I chose this word because I like 3-point alliteration (I can’t quite shake the Pentecostal tradition out of me!), but really it is all about action

We can use our voice, our influence, our actions to launch ourselves into new healing endeavours, being part of the solution to the problems we see around us – when we are willing to see them.  We have a responsibility to act in love, for the benefit of others, so that the world will know that we are God’s children. 

I believe these three responses are spiritually and relationally powerful as witnesses to Christ in the 21st century.  Practised collectively, they have the ability to tear down strongholds and release captives – let us, therefore, commit to being part of the solution and our eyes shall see miracles in this age!!!

 

 

Q5 When the bulletin goes out we will be two-thirds of the way through Black History Month. Is it too late for churches to engage with this as a next or first step?

Absolutely not!!!

The Church of England has some great resources that can still be used and accessed here

In addition, there are many, many events that Christians in Liverpool can engage with.  I am a great believer in supporting other people’s events if you can (that way they are more likely to support yours in future!).  So, the city of Liverpool is not short of activities and events – all of which can bring people face to face with opportunities to learn and then to launch into activities to support the black community right here on our doorstep:

 

Cultural events (independent links)

Liverpool Black History Month - Culture Liverpool

Liverpool - Black History Month 2021

Black History Month | National Museums Liverpool (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk)

Black History Month 2021 at HOME - HOME (homemcr.org)

Black Britain on Film (bfi.org.uk)

 

Academic/learning events (independent links)

 

Black History Month - Department of History - University of Liverpool

Liverpool Hope University

 

Organisations you could support (independent links)

Also, Black History Month may be set aside as an annual reminder, but Black People and organisations are positively contributing to life in Liverpool all the time:

A List Of Black-Owned Independents, Causes, Charities And Platforms You Could Support In Liverpool – Independent Liverpool (independent-liverpool.co.uk)

 

Finally, if people want to know more about your work Adeyinka how can they do that?

 

Well, they can look on the Triangle of Hope website to get some information on the wider context of the Slaver Truth Project: www.thetriangleofhope.com

Also, you can always catch me on LinkedIn Adeyinka O. - PHD Student - University of Chester | LinkedIn

 

 

 


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