Undermining Racism: Reflections on the ‘black lives matter’ crisis
The churches are in the wrong, not because they haven’t obeyed the politically correct agenda, but because they haven’t obeyed their own foundation charter.
Tom Wright, June 8 2020
Three memories crowd in upon me as I contemplate the horror both of George Floyd’s callous murder and of the rage of angry mobs, in America and elsewhere. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4 1968, I was in Toronto. The next day I stood with tens of thousands in a big downtown square, singing ‘We Shall Overcome’. That had become the anthem of those who, like King, desperately wanted to end racial discrimination but desperately wanted it to happen peacefully. We all really believed that King’s death would stir consciences and that lasting change would come about. Half a century later, it seems we were wrong.
Seven years later I was a delegate at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Nairobi. We sat in the vast hall in alphabetical order of countries, so the UK was immediately in front of the USA, and we got used to one American after another getting up to tell the world at some length how guilty they were of racism, imperialism, and lots of other isms. We didn’t use the phrase ‘virtue-signalling’ back then, but that’s what was going on. Well, that was forty-five years ago. All that confession but no amendment of life. (And, I hasten to add, I have seen the same over the years in Britain: grand resolutions and no real change.)
Much more recently, third, I was at a conference in America talking about Paul’s vision for the church in which there was ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female’. I was stopped in my tracks by a sympathetic but sharp-minded critic, an African American woman theologian whose own book on Paul I much appreciated. ‘You need to remember,’ she said to me, ‘that when you talk about being “all one in Christ Jesus”, what people like me hear – whether you mean it like that or not – is that “you are all now welcome to become honorary white males”.’ Ouch.
Where do we start? How do we read the Bible at this time and how do we put it into practice?
The Original Vision
Let me be blunt. It simply won’t do merely to say ‘Racism is sinful and we must get rid of it.’ The churches worldwide have known that for a long time and it’s had little effect. Nor will it do, of course, to say ‘Oh, those protesting mobs are mostly communists or anarchists.’ Yes, of course: as with other protest movements, there will be a diversity of political ideologies involved, and some factions will take advantage of the situation to pursue their own, often violent, causes. Jesus faced exactly the same problem: God’s new world, he said, is breaking in, and the men of violence are trying to break in on the act (Matthew 11.12). In the 1960s, the Black Power leaders said that Martin Luther King was just a wimp, with all this talk of non-violence, even as the white supremacists were trying to say that King was just a communist agitator. The presence of violent revolutionaries trying to get in on the act didn’t mean that Jesus, or King, were wrong; just that life is always more complicated than the shallow either/or analyses would suggest. But my point is that it will not be enough for us to go on saying solemnly how wicked racism is and how we won’t tolerate it.
There’s a double danger in just repeating the ethical imperative ‘not to be racist’. First, it makes it sound as though we are taking our ethical instructions from the more radical, or even ‘woke’, factions in our society, and are scrambling to get on board with a prevailing secular agenda. When the church tries to be politically correct it just looks pathetic, like wet clergy in the 60s trying to be ‘with it’ by quoting the Beatles. Woe betide us if we go that route – all sorts of other things will come down that channel, at least half of which we ought to reject. Some will even say that if the church wants to be relevant, or indeed missional, in today’s world, we must fall into line with where that world is going. That was, of course, the argument of the Deutsche Christen in 1930s Germany. Have we learned nothing?
But, second, what we now call ‘racism’ is not simply, for Christians, a failure to obey one or other moral standard – e.g. that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. It is deeper even than that. It is a failure of vocation. The church of the anointed Jesus, the world’s true Lord, was designed from the start to be a worldwide family, God’s new model of human life. The church in our generation has struggled, not very successfully, to re-imagine and sometimes to put into practice something that was always in Christian DNA but which we have all but forgotten. The point of being part of Jesus’ people was never that we as individuals could ‘get to heaven’, perhaps associating with other, slightly different, people on the way, or perhaps not. The point was that we were and are supposed to be, in our personal and in our corporate lives, small working models of the ultimate new creation which God has promised to make and has launched decisively in raising Jesus the Anointed One from the dead. That has always been our glorious vocation. Rejecting racism and embracing the diversity of Jesus’ family ought to be as obvious as praying the Lord’s Prayer, celebrating the Eucharist, or reading the four Gospels. It isn’t just an extra ‘rule’ we’re supposed to keep. It is constitutive of who we are.
The irony of the present situation, then, is this. The churches have, by and large, forgotten that this was their vocation, and that racism was a denial of that vocation, so that the phrase ‘Christian racist’ ought to be heard as a devastating oxymoron. Paul in Colossians 3.11 insists that in the Jesus-following family there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or not, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free. That’s what it means, he says, to put on the New Humanity, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator. This dream was regularly ignored in western churches in the modern period, but was then picked up in the secular Enlightenment. Today’s secular vision of a multicultural global society is at its best a Christian ideal detached from its Christian roots. The Christian churches, by and large, left out a big element in the understanding and application of their own central faith. The secular world has picked it up. This is typical of various cultural moves that have been made in the last two or three hundred years. God, one might reflect, doesn’t lack witnesses. If the church doesn’t speak up, others may do it instead. Sometimes, as Jesus warned, the children of this age are wiser than the children of light.
So, as Pope Benedict said when speaking prophetically to the United Nations in April 2008, the Human Rights discourse has become a way of trying to get the fruits of the Judaeo-Christian tradition while detaching oneself from the roots. And if you do that your discourse will collapse into a shrill shouting-match of competing special interests. And that, to return to an earlier point, is where we are now, with one side saying ‘You’re all racists’ and the other side saying ‘you’re all communists’. And unless we in the churches dig down deeper, below the shrill moralism, to our foundational vocation to be the new model of human life, pointing forwards to God’s eventual setting-right of all things, we will simply go round the track of saying ‘Oh dear, we’re all guilty’ but without seeing why. It’s like when someone goes to Confession, or to a pastoral counsellor, to confess that they regularly get drunk, and neither the Confessor nor the Counsellor nor the penitent faces up to the fact that living in an apartment over the pub may not be the smartest way to solve the problem.
So what is this new-humanity vocation I’ve been alluding to, and how come we have drifted so far away from it that we now see it only as a detached ethical imperative?
Paul’s vision of the church shines out in every letter he writes, but perhaps particularly in Ephesians. Actually, his famous doctrine of ‘Justification by faith’ is expounded only in two letters – Romans and Galatians – and mentioned briefly in the odd verse here and there elsewhere, but his vision of the united church across all the traditional boundary lines, particularly the ethnic ones (with ‘Jew and Greek’ as the central paradigm) is laid out emphatically in every single letter. Even in little Philemon, where the ‘slave or free’ point is pushed home with powerful pastoral gentleness. Actually the theological and practical climax of Romans, in chapters 14 and 15, is precisely on what we might call ‘fellowship by faith’, following directly as the necessary fleshing-out of justification by faith. He insists on the radical mutual welcome that must take place between Jesus-followers of different ethnic backgrounds and different cultural practices that go with those backgrounds. The whole point is ‘that you may with one heart and voice glorify the God and father of our lord, the anointed Jesus’ (15.6).
This is the large-scale application of the point made sharply and briefly in Galatians 2. Paul insists to Peter that uncircumcised Gentiles who have come to faith in Jesus crucified and risen are equal members of Jesus’ people along with believing Jews. They do not need to be circumcised, since their previous status as Gentile sinners, idolaters, has been erased by Jesus’ death, rescuing all his people from ‘the present evil age’.
But it is in Ephesians, as I said, where the picture is spelled out most fully. (The privileging of Romans and Galatians over Ephesians in the Protestant tradition is a symptom of our whole problem.) In chapter 1 Paul declares that God’s purpose always was to sum up all things in heaven and on earth in the Messiah. Please note, this stands solidly over against the normal western Christian assumption that God’s purpose is to snatch believers away from ‘earth’ so that they could live with him in ‘heaven’ – something the New Testament never says. The last scene in the Bible (Revelation 21 and 22) is not about saved souls going up to heaven but about the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth. God’s plan always was to renew the whole creation, and for himself to come and dwell with humans in that new world.
Part of the intricacy of biblical theology is the installation, within the present world, of advance signposts of what God wants to do in the ultimate future. The Tabernacle in the wilderness, and then the Temple in Jerusalem, were to be advance signs of that reality. And with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit, the plan has leaped forwards to the point where Jesus’ people – all of them together, without differentiation on ethnic lines or any other – constitute the new Temple in which God already lives by the Spirit. The church itself is supposed to be the new advance signpost. That is why, in the second chapter of Ephesians, the grand statement of sinners being justified by grace through faith in 2.1-10 leads directly into the statement of what this means in practice, in verses 11-22. God justifies sinners by grace through faith so that they may together constitute this advance sign of his ultimate new creation. Or, if you like, God is going to put all things right at the end; and in the present he puts sinners like us right (‘justification’) so that the company of justified sinners can become both a sign of, and an active agent within, those future purposes.
That is why, in Ephesians 3, Paul then declares that through the church the many-splendored wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. In other words, the very existence of this polychrome but united church – a phenomenon which Caesar would love to have been able to bring about but never could – is the sign to the watching world, and particularly to the watching powers of the world, that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. This is basic New Testament ecclesiology.
The church is not, then, simply a loose association of people who have all had similar spiritual experiences and so get together from time to time to encourage one another as they escape the world and look forward to going off somewhere else. The church is the new family of Jesus-followers, those who have died with him to their old spiritual allegiances (notice how Paul says to the Corinthians ‘when you were pagans’, in other words, which they are no longer) and discovered their new identity as Anointed people, Messiah-people. Their present flesh-and-blood existence as this extraordinary, even miraculous, single family is precisely the point, the sign and foretaste of God’s purpose for the whole world.
This family, in fact, is called to be a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, gender-blind in leadership, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, socially responsible fictive kinship group. The question of who your parents were, or the colour of your skin – not that skin colour mattered much in the already polychrome Mediterranean world of Paul’s day; that’s been our problem, not his – this family is to be a sign to the world that there is a different way to be human, not as a faint and fading aspiration but a strong and subversive signal of the way in which God’s new creation is a reality-in-waiting, challenging the world’s ways of organizing human life. Living in this way is not an optional extra for followers of Jesus, a kind of added hobby for those who want something different on top of their regular Bible Study or prayer meetings. It is part of the deal.
All this is obvious, I reckon, in the New Testament and early Christianity as a whole. It chimes completely with Jesus’ own emphases, particularly of course his so-called High Priestly prayer in John 17, shortly before his betrayal. ‘That they may all be one – so that the world may believe’: that was his prayer and it should be ours as well. Think what that means: Jesus is implying that if we fail here we are handing to unbelievers apparently good grounds for denying that he had been sent by God. Or think of Pentecost: many languages, a single message. That’s the point. Not the collapse of all languages into one hegemonic tongue but the multiple outflowings of the Spirit into all the world, creating a single polychrome and polyglot family.
Of course it wasn’t easy. The first real dispute in the early church was between two different groups of widows – the fact that the earliest church took responsibility for widows is itself a sign of what sort of a community it was – who reckoned that there was inequality in the way food was being distributed between the ‘Hebrews’ and the ‘Hellenists’, that is, Aramaic-speaking Jews and Greek-speaking Jews. Ethnic and linguistic distinctions were already proving a tricky point. And the apostles took decisive action, prayerfully appointing a group of appropriate people to sort it out.
That’s what we should expect if the church is really doing its job, acting as a signpost to the new creation from within the recalcitrant old world. We should expect challenges to the ideal of a single family, and we should expect to address them with wise, prayerful and decisive action to ensure the continuing unity. That’s what Paul was so anxious about all the way from Galatians 2 to Romans 15, with plenty in between. And this is why we find in the second century the Apologists having to explain to the Roman authorities that the family of Jesus-followers are at home everywhere and nowhere. They are the advance guard of God’s new creation. And, by the way, this affects everything, from economics to medicine to sexual behaviour to education to worship styles – you can’t pick and choose. New creation means new creation, across the board.
The Dangerous Distortions
So why did we get it so wrong? How has it got to the point where in the last few hundred years the apparently best educated Christian groups in the world – think of learned Germans in the nineteenth century or devout Afrikaaners in the twentieth, think of Britain and France with their rich cultural heritages, think of America . . . how has it come about that this imperative towards a polychrome unity has been so far sidelined that the great majority of would-be practicing Christians, instead of taking it for granted, flout it and regard anyone who argues for it as a dangerous subversive? How did we slide into racism without even realizing?
No doubt there are many answers to this, but I want to highlight two. The first one is a matter of the unintended consequences of right and proper actions. The second is more insidious.
First, then, after the homogeneity of mediaeval Latin Christianity, one of the great watchwords of the Protestant reformation was getting the scriptures and the liturgy into one’s own language. William Tyndale has always been one of my heroes on exactly this score. Ordinary Christians need to be able to read the Bible for themselves, rather than relying on what a supposedly learned hierarchy tell them it contains and means. And people need to be able to talk to God, individually and together, in their own native tongue, not in an ecclesial mumbo-jumbo which, again, may mean something to the priests but washes over everybody else and turns prayer into mere spell-mumbling magic.
So, in the sixteenth century, the aim was to get Bible translations and new liturgies in all the major European languages, and that has been extended worldwide ever since. Hallelujah . . . up to a point. Because nobody seems to have noticed that this was creating, almost at once, ethnically based churches, so that in a city like Tudor London there would be a Polish church, a German church, a French church, a Portuguese church, and so on. That has continued to this day. Emigrants have gone to the other side of the world and set up ecclesial structures to remind them of home, without saying to themselves ‘Now who else is worshipping Jesus in this city, and how can we make sure we are on the same page and praying together for our neighbourhood?’ This, by the way, seems to have been part of the problem in Rome which Paul is addressing in Romans 14 and 15.
The ethnic groups have quickly hardened into doctrinal divisions. We have German Lutherans and Dutch Calvinists and Scottish Presbyterians . . . and as usual muddled English Anglicans trying to pretend they didn’t really have any doctrine of their own but just believed whatever happened to be true . . . and then, far more insidious because visually identifiable, white churches and black churches, just as in some parts of the UK there were in the nineteenth century middle class Methodist churches and working class Methodist churches. The whole Protestant project, in fact, split into so many fragments that we can’t now keep track of them all, and nobody seems to have noticed that, despite their regular appeal to scripture, they were thereby ignoring one of scripture’s central injunctions. The racism, both casual and institutional, that we so deplore today is but one outworking of the much deeper failure of western Protestantism. (This doesn’t mean, by the way, that we should simply shrug our shoulders and go back to Latin liturgies for all. With God, the way is always forwards, not back.)
When this acceptance of division became the new norm – we have even given it a new fancy word, ‘denomination’, which ends in ‘ation’ and so sounds quite respectable, like ‘justification’ or ‘sanctification’ – it was easy for visibly ethnic divisions to fit into this pattern. Thus, at the very point where the church should have been a shining light of polychrome unity, the churches themselves were every bit as compromised as the surrounding culture. And then, when the secular ‘human rights’ project of the Enlightenment reached its present levels, it appears that the world around us was trying to achieve, without the benefit of the gospel or the Spirit, what we should have been doing all along. Whether or not we as individuals harbour secret racial prejudice, our structures have colluded with it; and, meanwhile, the Enlightenment has tried to engineer a new world of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. The failure of that project does not make the situation any less ironic.
I think, as I say, that this splitting into ethnic groups was an accident, an unintended consequence of something that should have been going on anyway, namely the communication of scripture and liturgy in local languages. But the second factor we have to note is deeper and I think more disastrous. This is the almost universal assumption in the western churches that the whole point of Christianity was to ‘go to heaven when you die’, so that how things get organized in church life becomes essentially secondary. This is the almost total victory of Platonism. (Plato, the fourth-century BC Greek philosopher, taught that the ultimate reality was the ‘Ideal’, non-material world.) As I have said many times, there were indeed people in the first century who thought that we humans have souls which are in exile from our true home in heaven and that we want to go back there when we can. But these people are Middle Platonists like Plutarch, not Christians like Paul or John.
The trouble is that the great Pauline emphasis on grace and faith rather than works of the law has been heard, over and again, within a Platonic echo-chamber. Many Protestants, including many evangelicals, have come to believe implicitly that God is more interested in the non-material world, and the invisible inner life of the individual, than in the material world and the actual and visible life of the church and its members. What’s more, Platonism has always gone hand in hand with an implicit cosmological hierarchy in which (for instance) men are ontologically superior to women. Many Christians in former generations really did believe, for various reasons, that black and indigenous peoples were actually less fully human than white people. All this has allowed many devout Christians to dismiss ‘social concerns’, including the problem of racism, as a secondary distraction: Oh, they say, that’s the ‘social gospel’, we don’t want that. So we easily tolerate problems at that level.
Well, yes, there was something called the ‘social gospel’ a hundred and more years ago. It was mostly led by theologians who were fed up with the prevailing and socially irresponsible Platonism. Sadly that movement did sometimes reduce Christian faith to a social agenda. That was understandable in terms of redressing a balance, but not in terms of finding the full – and biblical – vision of the church.
So, in our present day, many scholars (including myself) have been insisting that Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of the Jewish law was both about what we call ‘ultimate salvation’ (new creation, mind, not ‘going to heaven’) and about the coming together of Jews and Gentiles into the single family of Abraham; and that these two belonged tightly together. The reaction from nervous traditionalists in various quarters has been that to say this is to water down the gospel, to replace a glorious doctrine of salvation with mere instructions about ‘table manners’. This has then encouraged and solidified what is basically the secular retrieval of ancient Epicureanism: a ‘spiritual’ or divine world ‘up there’, completely divorced from ‘our’ world down here. If you’re a Platonist, as many evangelicals are, you can leap across this gulf. You can then say that the present world is not your concern. ‘This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.’ But this is not biblical theology or spirituality.
All this, by the way, makes a lot more sense – as did ancient Epicureanism and Platonism themselves – if you are well off, so that you live an untroubled life ‘down here’ (perhaps with obedient slaves to look after you!) and can think philosophically about ‘spiritual’ realities but without them challenging your daily life. However, it is noticeable that as soon as people become poor or disadvantaged they suddenly ‘discover’ all those bits of the Bible which have to do with justice and unity here and now, not just with a distant heavenly hope . . .
Paul would have been horrified at these modern distortions. Read Romans 14 and 15 one more time. The mutual welcome across ethnic and cultural boundaries is not a mere distant ‘implication’ of the gospel. It is the physical, tangible, visible sign of justification by faith itself.
The result has been the creation, and maintenance over many generations in some cases, of church fellowships where everyone looks just the same. In some parts of some countries this is of course inevitable. I grew up in a town in the far north of England where there simply weren’t any people who looked different – though there were other divisions, less visible. I suspect that the demographic division between the Anglican congregation to which I belonged and the Roman Catholic congregation at the other end of the town would have been clear to sociologists. But in today’s increasingly polychrome world it simply won’t do to shelter inside look-alike fellowships. Read Ephesians 3 or Colossians 3 again, and think how impoverished we have become in our self-enclosed enclaves. Think of Luther’s definition of sin: humans turned in upon themselves. And think of how many evils we have allowed to escape our notice.
So Where Are We Now?
The result of all this is that the Enlightenment project, of an increasingly egalitarian society, homogeneous in its aspirations and values despite its radical individualism, has simply stolen what should have been the Christian agenda and tried to implement it – but with none of the foundation that the gospel would have provided. Bringing together people from radically different backgrounds into a single society is very difficult. It’s hard enough if together you believe that Jesus has defeated the power of evil and that his Spirit is given to every believer for the profit of all. It’s impossible, frankly, if you don’t believe that, and the failure of the ambition in the two great Enlightenment projects, France and America, is clear evidence of that. So we are now in the situation where we all feel guilty because of racial tension and violence – and the further violence which is unleashed when, as in war, one evil opens the door to many others (riots, looting, mindless violence). But we do not have, as a society, the spiritual or indeed the philosophical means to handle it. As a church, we have those resources, if only we remember where to find them.
The situation is made more confusing because the Enlightenment project, though in some ways still in full swing and generating this idea of a multicultural unity, has itself been challenged from within by what we call postmodernity. Over against that homogeneous ‘solidarity’, postmodernism has insisted on the ‘difference’ between all identities, generating an ‘identity politics’ which we all know well and which produces aspirations, and then grievances when those aspirations are not met. This syndrome now bubbles up in every point of human life you can think of (and some you probably can’t).
All this then highlights ‘racism’ from the other end, as it were. Enlightenment modernism has wanted to eliminate racism because all people should be identical. Postmodernism wants to eliminate racism because all people are different, and should be valued and respected as such. These two conflicting analyses are, of course, lost to sight when slogans are shouted and the streets fill with violence. The ideological confusion seems to fuel the anger rather than checking it. Those who get hurt are often, of course, the most vulnerable.
All this needs to be thought through much more carefully in the light of what has been happening. A first Christian response might be that the Pauline vision of the church offers what neither modernism nor postmodernism can achieve: the differentiated unity in which the multiple human differences, refracted through the prism of the new life in the Anointed Jesus, form the coherent unity of the Body of Christ with its many members. That invites further exploration, of course, for which I have no space here. But it is enough for me to repeat the main thesis of this paper: it won’t do simply to wring our hands over racism. We must understand why it has emerged in the forms it has, and how the biblical gospel of Jesus, when allowed free rein, radically undermines it.
Let me just say three things in conclusion. These are urgent words for a difficult time.
First, the Christian ‘identity’ is to be a ‘Messiah’ person: ‘in Christ’. This means that one’s basic life-stance is of one who has ‘died’ to the past and come alive to the new world: ‘if anyone is in the Messiah,’ writes Paul, ‘– new creation!’ This is where the warning I mentioned earlier comes into play: how easy it is for a white male to tell everyone else that they must die to their previous ‘identities’, when that of the white male still appears privileged. (And how easy it is, recognising that, to indulge in more fruitless virtue-signalling!) But there is no way back from this, and the new identity is the basis of the true ecclesial fellowship which ought to be putting the world to shame. ‘I through the law died to the law that I might live to God; I am crucified with the Messiah, nevertheless I live, yet not I but the Messiah lives in me’. That is who we are, and that is what makes us the genuine, God-given brothers and sisters of all others of whom the same is true. And this is the reality which the Enlightenment secular project tries to attain but without the means to do so, like a moth trying to fly to the moon. Again, the irony: Christians ought to have seen racism coming and denounced it at an early stage. Both modernity and postmodernity want to eliminate it, for opposite reasons, but shouting louder doesn’t get it done.
Second, the present crisis highlights the need at every level for church leaders and ministers to get together across traditional boundaries, especially where ethnic difference is visible and obvious. It is vital to get to know one another, to pray together, to read scripture together, to find ways of doing together everything they possibly can, including sharing in worship, swapping pulpits and so on. The present crisis ought to drive a new wave of genuine and urgent ecumenical effort, not by little committees discussing technicalities but by real communities sharing a common life with the people down the street of whom they are vaguely aware but with whom they don’t seem to have that much in common. I know how hard this is. But the gospel and the scriptures leave us no choice.
Third, church leaders must find ways of getting together with community leaders – again, at every level and from every background – and finding out where there are real grievances to be addressed and where people are using those real grievances as a cover for advancing other agendas, including various forms of anarchy. In this process there will, of course, be penitence. But the penitence of Christians of all sorts will not be because we have failed to obey one of the dictates of the secular morality of our time (i.e. that we have been insufficiently ‘woke’). Our penitence will be that we have failed to live out our calling in the gospel as members of the Messiah’s body, as the community that ought to be functioning as a sign to the world (by its glad coming together of different classes and groups) that Jesus is Lord and that in him and by his Spirit God’s new creation has been launched, of which the church is the advance guard.
The church is, of course, a company of sinners. We pray every day ‘forgive us our trespasses’, and with good reason. And God’s forgiveness is mediated to us not least through the mutual welcome we offer to one another. (The truly extraordinary thing here is that black Christians will still gladly have fellowship with white Christians, despite everything.) We won’t get it right. We will make mistakes, as we have in the past. Some of those mistakes will be deep in our systems and cultures, and they must be rooted out. Even then, we will accidentally offend others, and we will ourselves sometimes feel offended. Jesus anticipated that. Forgive your brother or sister, he said, Seventy times seven. No, he didn’t mean you should keep score. Four hundred and ninety sounds like a Jubilee to me. That’s what we need right now. A glorious amnesty of mutual forgiveness. Not of sweeping it all under the carpet, either: what’s needed is clear-eyed recognition of the evil that has happened, and tearful-eyed repentance both for that evil and for the resentment which it has caused. And then forgiveness. Wiping the slate clean. All the virtue-signalling in the world can’t achieve that. But the gospel of Jesus can. It can pave the way to a fresh start. A sign to the world that the crucified and risen Jesus – the one who forgives, the one who puts things right at last – is its rightful Lord.