On 19 April 2021, Simon Barrow, director of the theological think-tank Ekklesia, and Bishop John Perumbalath, Chair of Churches Refugee Network and trustee of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland joined a Church and Peace online conversation on “The Politics of Division” and the question whether the UK government was using an agenda of ‘white nationalism’ to divide communities.

The speakers were of the opinion that this is the case after a short introduction by Evelyn Shire, a Yorkshire Quaker who was part of the planning team for the event.

Simon Barrow elaborated on an emerging right-wing English and British nationalist agenda, predominantly supported by white people, using the excuse of “racial resentment” – the false belief that people of colour, immigrants, asylum seekers, are stealing our houses, jobs, benefits and so on. The aggressive hostile environment policy towards asylum seekers and others and the recent Sewell Report are two examples of the government agenda to divide and rule while creating a majority consensus (in England) around a white nationalist agenda.

Bishop John Perumbalath highlighted that nationalist governments share the rulers’ belief in their own superiority and their lack of concern for others who are “not like us”. This doctrine of superiority has played a huge part in British history and colonialism. Also Christianity has played a role in this and groups espousing white nationalism regularly and falsely speak about “our Christian roots”.

There is a growing commitment amongst civil society and faith groups towards the importance of racial justice for the healing of our nations and for the healing of the nations generally. While the government is trying to deliberately ignore this development, we need to recognise these issues, not pretend that we can look the other way and everything will disappear.

As faith communities, we tend to easily rush to reconciliation – the attempt immediately to seek to pacify conflict without addressing the root causes, issues of injustice. We were reminded of the transformational nature of Christianity in which the church itself is called to challenge society, and create a transformed community where racial, social and economic values are broken down – truly intercultural.

There was much lively discussion in breakout groups and in the plenary session. Our speakers this evening inspired and encouraged us to go forward to re-shape our worshipping communities, and the wider society.