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The politics of prejudice and the rebuilding of a nation

In post-EU Referendum United Kingdom, churches are well-placed to demonstrate the mutual benefits of being part of diverse communities. By Malcolm Patten 

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As the results of the EU referendum trickled in, two results caught my eye. The City of London had voted to remain with a majority of 75 per cent while my home town of Hartlepool had voted to leave with a majority of 70 per cent. Given that immigration has been one of the major narratives motivating the growth of the leave vote (evidenced by the voices from Hartlepool speaking on the radio the following day), it was striking that a multicultural but prosperous area of London chose strongly to remain, while a relatively monocultural though poorer area of the UK chose to leave.

Will Kymlicka, a Canadian political scientist who has written extensively on multiculturalism, observes that people will often warm to multiculturalism in good times, when they are reasonably affluent and feel safe, but oppose them when they their prosperity and security is threatened. The rise of nationalism across Europe over the last decade can clearly be traced to both the recession and multiple terrorist attacks which have led to a heightened anxiety and dissatisfaction across Europe, but also in many regional areas of the UK.

Research undertaken for the National Communities Forum in July 2008 considered the sources of resentment and perceptions of ethnic minorities among those in ‘white’ urban estates in England. One reflection was that where perceptions articulated as factual stories, or rumours extended beyond what was actually true, (for example, ‘they’ve taken all our jobs!’) these stories were to be understood as the indigenous community recasting itself as the victim of discrimination. When anxiety increases, for whatever reason, the indigenous community (whether in a multicultural area or not) begins to express itself as the victim of everything that is going wrong. Migrants, almost by default, become the scapegoat.

As we look to rebuild a sense of unity within our nation, it has to begin for all of us in and among the communities we inhabit. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his book The Home We Build Together reflects on the significance of the building of the Tabernacle by the Israelites in the wilderness that we find in the latter part of Exodus. He says that a community does not just happen, but has to be created and that the Israelites created their sense of community as they all played their part in the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. This gave them a shared sense of ownership and belonging in a place that was for them the focus of their community and their spiritual home. And here lies the secret for every minister, politician, businessperson, head teacher: that among the people they lead they must now redouble their efforts to ensure that everyone plays their part in building thriving multicultural communities that we can be proud of.

American social psychologist Gordon Allport calls for four factors to be in place for multicultural communities to grow and prosper:

  1. The leader needs to make clear that the community is multicultural and all are welcome;

  2. Task-oriented teams must reflect the diversity of the people present;

  3. There must be no reason why any appropriately gifted individual may not rise to the highest positions regardless of ethnicity or cultural background;

  4. People must somehow feel the benefit of being in a multicultural community, maybe through new friendships, insight into how others live or increased capacity for wise decision making.

Churches and Christian organisations are well-placed to contribute to this rebuilding task within our nation, modelling good practice and demonstrating the mutual benefits of being part of diverse communities. Whether the future increases our prosperity or impacts adversely upon it, we can still grow as the people of God in the weeks and months ahead. As Paul prayed for the multicultural church in Ephesus, ‘I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’ (Ephesians 3.17-18).

Let it be our prayer that rich and poor, black and white, indigenous and migrant, may grow together in Christ’s limitless love for us all. 


Picture: Death to the Stock Photo


The Revd Dr Malcolm Patten is senior Pastor at Blackhorse Road Baptist Church, Walthamstow, east London and an Online Tutor at Spurgeon’s College. He is the author of Multiethnic Church, a six week course for small groups to help develop healthy, integrated churches which reflect the richness and diversity of the Kingdom of God.

His forthcoming book Leading a Multicultural Church will be published in September by SPCK


Baptist Times, 27/06/2016
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