Many of the people we met in Denver, a city in Colorado, USA, wondered (some aloud) why an Anglican minister was part of a delegation from Birmingham, England to think about Countering Violent Extremism. I have to say, I also wondered why on earth I had been asked to join a group of law enforcers, academics, educators and council officials for the week long exchange programme.
CVE is not my job or my area of expertise but building community is my passion. Building relationships of trust that bridge perceived barriers has been my job and my vocation for the last seven years.
We need experts to support people who have been radicalised, to stop criminal activities and intercept those planning atrocities but we all have a part to play in creating a culture in which hate has no traction. Prejudice, suspicion, fear and hatred come in many forms and drive people apart. While I was in Denver I found it shocking that many groups on a list of extremist organisations claimed to be Christian – some were White Supremacist groups, others specialised in vilifying LGBTI+ people, others were so vehemently pro-life they had become a threat.
I have not come across Christian hate groups in the UK but I am sure some exist and I know that the Christian Gospel has been misused over the centuries to justify violence and persecution. BAME people are still hugely under-represented in church leadership and our unwillingness to welcome people immigrants from the Caribbean into the Church of England continues to affect our relationships in this city. I believe that the Gospel compels us to examine our own prejudices, to see each person as sacred and to remove every obstacle which separates people from the love of God and from one another.
Supremacy on the streets of Charlottesville looked very ugly. Violent religious extremism on the streets of Barcelona wreaked senseless destruction. We need the experts but we also need people of passion: people who have the fire of the love of God burning in their guts; people who are inspired by Jesus to love all their neighbours and people who are compelled in the power of the Holy Spirit to risk relationship and build trust.