Yesterday saw the teargassing and beating of peaceful protesters outside the church of St John's Church which sits on the north side of the White House in Washington D.C. Priests and Clergy were attacked by the police in the process. HOPE not hate Charitable Trust board member Peter Adams, himself a Christian leader, reflects on the role of faith leaders in opposing this violence, and the violence meted out to Black communities by those in authority.

I will remember this last week for a number of reasons. First as the eleventh week of lockdown. A week when as restrictions begin to ease the economic and social consequences bite harder. And with them the deep issues of injustice that plague this and so many other nations.  Second, I will remember it for the horrific scenes of protest, riot and devastation we are seeing from the USA, again a result of injustice, and deep societal divisions, driven significantly by structural racism.

I will remember those things, but personally I will contrast with the Christian celebration of Pentecost last Sunday.  This festival is our occasion to remember the pouring out of God’s Spirit on confused, fearful and timid followers of Jesus. The premiere of a church that was from its inception was to be multicultural, crossing every racial divide.

Like many I was greeted this morning by images of US President Trump holding a Bible up outside a historic Church just opposite the White House.  What was also evident was that in order to get there hundreds of people gathered peaceably were driven away by mounted police, stun grenades and tear gas. My American friends and colleagues trained and active in recent days in nonviolent intervention and protest also supplied the account of the clergy of that church and other Christian leaders who’d been providing a place of sanctuary, first aid and refreshment outside that church. They were driven away with everyone else. There were no clergy there to greet the President, even if he’d been interested in more than a photo opp.

The clergy were there to bear witness to God’s love for all. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that "God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right". Black Lives Matter. This is at the heart of Christian teaching, or should be. And it is at the heart of what those Clergy were doing when they were tear-gassed to make way for the Presidential photo opportunity.

As a Christian leader in Luton I know something about policing demonstrations.  Working in the home town of the EDL, as faith leaders committed to our towns welfare we’ve had our fair share of opportunities to work with the police, ensuring everybody is safe when we are flooded with people all trying to make their point or make trouble. My heart went out to those church leaders because we’ve provided places of sanctuary for fearful and wounded people here too.  My heart is with my friends who have been out every night for a week in cities across the USA nonviolently intervening to keep people from smashing each others brains to pieces. Our clergy and chaplains have been right in the demos urging restraint, challenging lies and the ugly narrative of division. We’ve worked closely with the Muslim community in all that and in doing so challenged the very ideas that the demonstrators stood for. And together with them we’ve worked with police, all of us sharing the common ideal of a town committed to justice and united against hatred.  And that means when things get tough they lean on us for support rather than send us running.

That is what angers me so much about what I’m seeing across the pond. I know what good policing looks like. I’ve seen it work, and I’ve seen its long term fruit in a community.  What we are seeing right now are police forces that resort to force rather talk, that are increasingly militarised, and where bigotry and racism seems to be tolerated and in some places institutionalised. And a nation just grows further apart.

There have been many examples of good policing.  Christiane Amanpour of CNN, interviewing the Police Chief of Houston Texas earlier asked him today if President Trump was right that police should dominate to show they are not weak.  After saying that if the president had nothing to constructive to say he should keep his mouth shut, he went on: “It’s not about dominating, its about winning hearts and minds. Let’s be clear, we do not want people to confuse kindness with weakness, we do not want ignorance to ruin what we have here in Houston.”

“Hearts and minds policing” is actually something everyone in a community can contribute to.  As Christians that is what the message of this season of Pentecost is for us. We are to be a church where all are welcome, working to break down in our midst the barriers that are there in our wider community. By doing so we contribute to our community, our society, our nation. 

There is one more thing I will remember today for. The birth of my granddaughter!  Of course I’ve not seen her yet, but her middle name is very appropriately Hope.  If we need anything right now it’s HOPE.  For me as a Christian leader, I have hope of a church that challenges hatred and brings peace and justice to my community. As a supporter of Hope not Hate I bring that passion into its work. And together we can hope – and pray - that the USA can find a way to turn itself around at this critical moment.