Racial tensions and a cultural chasm.

Last summer, as British society prepared for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, ugly race riots erupted, first in London, then Liverpool, and then Manchester. Riot gear was hastily issued to police, and for the first time in Britain, gas cannisters were fired to disperse the mobs.

Though not widely known, racial discrimination is a serious problem in Britain, the home for some 2 million West Indian blacks and 1 million mainly Asian Muslims. Coming from commonwealth countries, they entered under special immigration laws. Their birthright includes a British passport.

Britain’s restless ghettos have been fertile ground for the gospel. Since the 1960s, some 250 West Indian black churches have sprung up. Most of these churches trace their roots to the Caribbean islands and, beyond them, to historic connections with American denominations. The largest West Indian denomination is the New Testament Church of God (NTCG), an affiliate of the charismatic Church of God, based in Cleveland, Tennessee. The New Testament Church of God has 91 congregations in Britain, with some 20,000 people attending regularly. Another large denomination is the Church of God of Prophecy, with 100 congregations. The Seventh-day Adventist churches in Britain are mainly West Indian.

Whatever their stripe, the West Indian churches in Britain are growing fast among the economically burdened minorities. There are several reasons for this.

Blacks feel frozen out of British churches, with their traditional formality. Only after blacks assimilate the British culture do they feel at home in British churches, but this creates gaps between them and their West Indian relatives.

West Indian churches are flexibly organized. Time is elastic, and punctuality much less important than among native Britons. Since West Indians do not usually own cars, it is up to the church to provide transportation. Black churches in Britain often buy vans before buildings.

Unlike British churches, West Indian churches aggressively evangelize, not only among their own, but among all lonely expatriates.

Although they are growing, they face unique problems. The single most significant one is a cultural gap between immigrant parents and their British-born offspring. “We lost our property in Uganda,” lamented one Asian father, “but we lost our children in England.”

A young black man complained, “We don’t know what we are. The British treat us as foreign, yet we can’t understand our parents’ Jamaican customs.”

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Some West Indian parents send their children to church to protect them from the Rastafarians. Seen on the streets of British cities with their trademark—uncut hair—young “Rastas” are becoming more numerous, and pose a major roadblock to the spread of Christianity among young West Indians.

Rastafarianism is a Jamaican movement popular among poor urban blacks, which places the pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey in a mythological and messianic setting. It sees the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as the only true God, and Ethiopia as heaven.

Another obvious problem for the struggling West Indians is money. Low on the cultural rung and often ill educated, West Indians perform menial tasks that pay poorly.

Another source of frustration to West Indian churchmen is control by the American parent denominations. As John Root, chairman of the Evangelical Race Relations Group, put it: “A brittleness has led strong-minded individuals to break away rather than stay under close control.”

One NTCG pastor said that his denomination’s clergymen are required to pass three progressively difficult examinations. To meet this standard, many clergymen have been sent to Germany for training. Fortunately, the (U.S.) Church of God is establishing a theological college in Northhampton that will help settle this situation.

Assessing the role of West Indian churches, a Nigerian social worker, Emmanuel Adebiyi, said they fulfill a vital social role, focusing community and family unity. They also enhance West Indian self-esteem and give vent to their spiritual drives.

But there is a lack of black leadership. Many pastors are uneducated and largely powerless in the community. In addition, blacks are completely absent from the national corridors of power (though increasingly active in local government).

British Christians must forge new links with West Indian believers. This cooperative effort may extend to united evangelistic efforts, social action, and the use of church buildings.

More than two years ago, theologian John Stott called on Britons to “pray, witness, and work, to the end that the multiracial dream may come true.” But the multiracial society is still only a dream. Reality is often a nightmare.


World Scene

Completion of Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was accompanied by an unexpected turn of events: the Egyptian government told the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to transfer or terminate its community development projects, including an irrigation scheme, at El Arish. These projects were designed to help Arab families become self-sufficient after earlier Israeli withdrawal from the western half of the peninsula. MCC representative David Osborne said they would comply but are seeking the reasons for these orders. Earlier the MCC had been instructed to restrict itself to church-related activities.

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Nestlé, the world’s largest supplier of infant formula, has announced guidelines it will follow to comply with a United Nations code aimed at encouraging breast feeding. The code was passed last May by the UN’s World Health Organization. More than 20 countries have written laws to comply with the code, and Nestlé said it will adhere to the code even in those countries that do not have such laws. Nestlé has been criticized by a variety of organizations for promoting in Third World countries the use of infant formula instead of breast feeding, in spite of the sanitary and economic drawbacks. Nestle’s infant formula is not sold in the United States.

Burma’s socialist government has stepped in to enforce Buddhist orthodoxy in that country. Two years ago it formed the All-Burma Buddhist Monks’ Organization and used its members as judges in several clerical trials for heresy and unbecoming conduct. The heresies had to do with reincarnation and nirvana, Buddhism’s state of eternal bliss and absorption into the supreme spirit. Sects were teaching that humans who died could only be reborn as other humans, and that it was possible to reach nirvana directly from the human world by adopting a life of complete mental and physical inactivity. About 100 monks were defrocked for heresy and another 100 for bad conduct, usually sexual activity. But another 5,000 Buddhist monks have recanted from the condemned beliefs.

Zimbabwe’s prime minister has threatened to close churches that preach against the government or his Zimbabwe African National Union party. Speaking to a massive crowd in Mabvuku Township last month, Robert Mugabe said that certain unnamed churches were doing this and that he would ask for an explanation. “We allow churches and people to worship whom they like and how they like and, likewise, we expect the churches to leave the government and politics well alone and stick strictly to worship,” he said.

Militant Protestants drowned out a sermon by the archbishop of Canterbury as he preached in Liverpool, England, last month. Their hisses, jeers, and anti-Roman Catholic hymns forced Robert Runcie to cut his message short and retreat from the parish church of Saint Nicolas to his car as the police held back the 100 or so demonstrators. They were protesting Pope John Paul II’s scheduled visit to their city next month.

About 50 charismatic Roman Catholics in Ireland left their church recently to form a Christian Fellowship Community. When several appeals by the local bishop for Ballaghadereen, Thomas Flynn, to return to the church were rejected, he warned parents to guard their children from joining the “sect.” A spokesman for the group said, “We’re born again.”

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