The chants rose from football fans in England this past weekend. England had reached the finals of the European Championship against Italy, the first time in the final of a major tournament in 55 years. After 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, it came down to this: the fate of a dramatic penalty shootout. Three young English stars, taking the last three of five penalty kicks; Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and 19-year-old Bukayo Saka. All three missed. These misses delighted one nation and ended the dreams of another. A national defeat again, but rather than celebrating reaching the final, some turned to vitriol and racism. The three young players were targeted for the colour of their skin, with hateful images and racial slurs. Some told Saka to ‘go back to Nigeria’. He was born in London.
As I have reflected on the events since the defeat, I found myself being reminded of what I always knew. For those within the black community, our identity in regards to being English is dependent on our success or failure: put simply, ‘when you win, you’re English; when you lose, you’re black’.
In my moment of retreat, I was led to Colossians 3:5 (NLT): “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” Lurking. When I hear that word, I think of a shadow hiding in a dark alley or a sinister plot waiting to be exposed. Lurking is described as “being concealed, but capable of being discovered”. Paul uses this word to remind us of the sinful, earthly things within us.
We all have sin hiding away which doesn’t show up every day. We are capable of masking it. The craftiness of Satan means sometimes he knows how to trigger these things and remind us of our depravity. As a follower of Jesus, I could be doing so well in how I love and serve others. Then suddenly, I respond to a situation in a way that is at odds with my faith, and I am reminded of just how sinful I am.
In the last year, racial tensions have been heightened. We have seen the senseless killing of black people and in the last few days, the fallout of the tournament has further highlighted the issue of racism. We should examine our hearts and reflect on how we see those of other races. We should pray for what is hidden to be revealed and seek God for racial healing. The problem with racism, prejudice or bias is that the shame and pain it produces means people are often reluctant to confront it. Racism is a disease that is ‘lurking’.
Many of us have been raised to love and be in community with each other. We may have friends, family and colleagues of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and we try to express love. However, the world is broken and fallen. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (James 1:17) and uses every opportunity to divide us. Admittedly, there have been times when I have allowed seeds of prejudice to be planted in my heart, and it hurts to admit it.
We should be encouraging healing at all levels. We have a responsibility to pull these hidden feelings from the shadows to enable us to see each other as Jesus sees us. To communicate and speak out against the lies of racial superiority and discrimination because that is what they are; well-crafted lies told for centuries. Football is incredibly powerful, but hasn’t got the power to heal the social divisions in play, because regardless of whether those three young men missed or scored, it wouldn’t have changed the colour of their skin. We ought to see people as God says in 1 Samuel 16:7: “Don’t judge by appearance. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Gracious God, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of people and cultures that enriches our lives and allows us to expand our fellowship to discover your presence in all people. Deliver us from the bondage of racism in our social, economic and political institutions, that denies the humanity of some people and deprives all people of the blessings of the diversity you have created. Dear God, grant us racial healing and unite us in love. Amen