BBC Radio 4:John Bell - 14/05/2018


Not everyone finds it easy to pronounce or talk about the word “eunuch,” maybe because it's not in everyday parlance, as I discovered recently in an interesting discussion group.

We were talking about an incident in the New Testament concerning the apostle Philip who was asked to baptise a person desCRIbed as an Ethiopian eunuch.

Someone asked whether this was the first time a black person was mentioned in the Bible. Immediately a white woman said, 'There's no reason to believe that the Ethiopian was black.' At this an African American man sitting next to me said,

'Lady, please don't take away my colour.'

There was an awkward silence.

I don't believe that either the white woman or the black man were in conflict. But I do believe that both were articulating long-held subconscious cultural attitudes. She had been born in the USA at a time when disCRImination against blacks was both rife and socially condoned. He - much younger - had been told by his parents of how into the 1940s black men were publicly lynched or made eunuchs by castration watched by audiences of white people, some of whom would be people of faith. *

The experience of that conversation was in my mind when I read in the papers at the weekend how Tendayi Achiume, a United Nations special rapporteur, suggested that Brexit has contributed to a growth “in explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance.”**

This may or may not be true, but I suggest that rather than Britain becoming more racist, it may be that there are within us innate tribalisms and prejudices resulting from social conditioning which circumstances trigger into life. When, for example, I go to Germany, I am aware that comics I read in my childhood which demonised Germans evoke a prejudice I would rather not admit to. I am also aware that having been reared in the protestant West of Scotland, it took a long while to avoid myself bristling with suspicion when I found myself talking to a Roman Catholic.

I would imagine that when the Apostle Philip was confronted with someone from a different racial group asking for baptism, he may have felt deep apprehension. But recognising the eunuch's sincerity, and remembering the inclusiveness of God, he quelled his fears and did what was asked.

It's a beautiful example of how good faith can displace the option to disCRIminate.

Would that there were many more.

* Documented in 'The Cross and the Lynching Tree' by James H.Cone (Orbis Books)

** Achiume quoted on front page of Guardian 12th May 2018

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