While on annual leave recently, one evening my wife tasked me with choosing a movie to watch. I hate that responsibility, it’s so … risky. But flicking through what was trending on Netflix that day (surely everyone else in NZ can’t be wrong on that particular day?) there was one that caught my eye, particularly as I am a sucker for movies based on true stories.
The movie was called Blinded by the Light and is a 2019 British comedy-drama film directed by Gurinder Chadha. It was inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love for the works and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Manzoor co-wrote the script with Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges.
Blinded by the Light is based on Manzoor's 2007 memoir, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N' Roll. Set in the town of Luton (England) in 1987 Thatcherite Britain, the film tells the coming-of-age story of Javed, a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is changed after he is introduced to the music of Springsteen. And I mean changed. Bizarrely changed really. Being set in 1987 was another attraction as I was 17 at that time and I felt very at-home in the fashion choices and the appearance of an orange Vauxhall Viva (only some of you will understand what I’m talking about).
One of the main themes that was portrayed in the movie was that of racism and the challenges of being a Pakistani immigrant to England at that time. It stuck out to me because I believe that racism has found a resurgence across the world in our times. Maybe it’s not a resurgence though, as racism has been a scourge on the world since … well, for a very long time.
Racism in New Zealand
Racism is nothing new. We’re a nation from which English colonisation created significant injustice and pain to the Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, the Maori of NZ that predated English settlement by a long, long time. There are close similarities in Australia with the original owners of that land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people groups.
Similar stories are recounted all over the world and for as far back as recorded history goes; we have a sordid past of marginalising, oppressing, and often killing people who are different from us, be that by colour or religion.
Racism is not God’s way
As a born-and-bred white Kiwi with my ancestral line being very white and mostly English, I’m conscious that by default I’ve often harboured attitudes that could easily be described as racist. Confession is a step in the right direction and God is good at working on our rough edges.
There is not an ounce of evidence that any form of racism has anything to do with the Biblical narrative of God’s interaction with His people. Any attempt of exegesis to support anything close to racism comes up woefully short, laughably so.
There are so many Scriptures we could quote that support equality of all of God’s people, but they’re perhaps aptly summed up by Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Galatians chapter 3, verses 26-29, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
If the church is really to live by not confirming to the patterns of this world (Romans chapter 12), then understanding that God sees no distinction in race could be one area where Christians are seen to be markedly different from the prevailing culture. Racism has absolutely no place in the local church and it should be called out when it raises its head, often through the attitudes of an existing congregation when change starts to happen. Yes, it has raised its head in the church I lead.
Kingdom living is standing up for God and His ways and I suggest that being a welcoming church based on God’s unconditional love for all His children could become a beacon of hope for victims of racial abuse.
But as we all know, let’s get the log out of our own eye first.
What is the answer?
I find it difficult to know what the answer to systemic racism is, and while I could speculate and theorise, I know that the only answer I do have is that overcoming racism starts with me; it’s starts with me working on my own heart and then living according to God’s precepts for the world I live in.
The answer is me.
I’d encourage you to search out the 2019 movie Blinded by the Light and Google the story surrounding it. I was inspired, and I know many of you could potentially be inspired as well.
Grant Harris is a reformed banker who has been the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for eleven years. Grant’s passionate about seeing people catch a glimpse of who they are in Christ and living out the difference that makes. He’s tried living according to the patterns of this world and found that those patterns came up short. He’s still a work-in-progress and always will be. You can contact Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.