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Anointed to act: an interview with Rev Dr Carver Anderson

We speak with Rev Dr Carver Anderson about how churches can practically engage with the upcoming general election.

Written by Tearfund | 12 Jun 2024

Houses of Parliament

Credit: Ugur Akdemir/Unsplash

Rev Dr Anderson’s life of influence is full of stories and wisdom that urge Christians to ‘put their mark somewhere’. He spoke with us about a variety of social issues, from community safety to climate change and the importance of accountability beyond polling day.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you’re working to engage Black Majority Churches with voting?

My name is Rev Dr Carver Anderson. I’m the co-founder of the Bringing Hope Charity, which is now 20 years old. It's an organisation that deals with the engagement and support of individuals, families and communities associated with serious violence at the most critical levels. We engage with faith networks, government bodies, the statutory sector, with the community, and other individuals or systems related to our mission.

My involvement, as a pastor and Black Majority Church leader, is always to say to our constituencies, ‘you need to respond’. But, to respond within a democratic society means you have to put your voice, put your mark, somewhere to indicate what you are for or against.

Some of the people that we vote for may not have everything that we want. However, they may have 60 per cent and we can go with that 60 per cent to be advocates of what we are trying to champion, address or bring an intervention to.

When voting, I’ve had to go with the candidates that most closely align with my values, theology, perspectives and what I want a solution for. It's important for me to give that basis for my consciousness about politics.

How did you get involved in politics at the community and national levels?

I’ll be 66 years old next birthday and from when I was a young adult I started voting. The issue that I have been engaging with is the criminal justice system – crime, serious violence, and community safety issues.

I’m not up for any political office but I’m engaged with politicians across several political parties. I have been involved with four home secretaries’ round tables related to community safety concerns. I’ve sat next to Theresa May and John Reid, for example. I’ve gone to politician’s surgeries to raise concerns and I’ve written to politicians. I use, within the democratic process, whatever machinery is there to raise an issue or concern. However, there are times I get really frustrated because it becomes a talking shop and political ping-pong.

Tell me more about that. How do you navigate the frustration and decide that it's worth continuing to work on this issue?

Sometimes, I get really angry and I want to scream and shout. But then I think, ‘Okay Carver, you have a sense of thought, theology, reflection, hope, faith. So let's move back and start rooting your response in the example that Yeshua (Jesus) gave. In Luke 4:18, Yeshua said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because I’m anointed…” and then goes on to declare that he is anointed to engage with issues such as poverty, oppression, and people in prison. So, I have to go to my Christian faith and theology of the spirit, of the anointing, of humility, of prophetic utterances, then re-enter the space and bring truth to it.

I have courage not to be intimidated by any ideology, philosophy, or political posturing. It’s like David said in Psalm 27, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?’ For me, that means also in the political arena. So I have to read and ask questions, interrogate and be open. I also have allies that I can talk to.

Are there any issues that Black Majority Churches in the UK commonly care about?

I think there are a few issues: health, wellbeing of our seniors, immigration laws. There's a criminal justice issue where young, Black men are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. They are dying at the hands of each other at times. I’ve had to bury some of these young men over the years and it's heart-rending!

There is also the issue of unemployment. There are intergenerational concerns – we need to think about the future, about passing on the baton of leadership. People are now asking what the church is doing about these key issues. We need to look at what they are, pray, plan and strategise. We need to look theologically at what the Bible says about those issues. We need to develop an activism plan to do something to resolve them.

For Tearfund, the climate crisis must be at the forefront of this general election. 70 per cent of the UK public have said that climate and environment policies are important and will influence how they vote in the next election. Why do you think it's important for African and Caribbean Christians to engage with climate issues, both generally and for this upcoming election?

Climate change for some Black Majority Churches is new on the agenda. I know that air pollution directly contributed to the death of a young person in London in 2013  and high levels of pollution in other places in the UK contribute to the death of thousands of others. This needs to be a conscious conversation. The Bible says that God has given us dominion to look after and care for creation, not to have the place littered up or full of smog, so we need to consider bringing a counter-narrative and challenge to anything that results in that.

We should be paying attention to whatever political manifesto or intention that talks about climate change. I expect that most parties will be talking about that now. We can call out behaviour that is in contradiction to the welfare and wellbeing of us as human beings living on this planet.

Given the importance and urgency of these issues, how can the UK church work together across denominations to address these issues, including churches that don’t consider themselves Black Majority Churches?

Working across denominations requires that we have a common purpose, but there needs to be a critical conversation because there’s a trust issue in some of this. Even between Black Majority Church denominations we can sometimes become very territorial. I think the generation below me is challenging this culture and calling us to address the core issues.

The National Church Leaders Forum (NCLF), for example, is trying to bring some new thoughts for churches to collaborate around through their manifesto. There need to be advocates who can start to champion this more, on a consistent basis. It's a challenge but we need to have an intergenerational conversation about what we agree on together.

What would you say has been the most meaningful or memorable impact you’ve had as an activist?

There was a time I went to see an MP. I had a sense that I had to go and see this MP about the issues that the charity deals with. I brought a copy of the report that I authored a year prior, highlighting the urgency of the issue. Within a week of me seeing this MP, someone got brutally murdered; a 16 year old, just near to that constituency office. Whilst it was a very painful period in supporting the family during their bereavement, it's important to note that the MP wrote a letter of condolence to the family. Further, he raised the issue regarding serious violence in parliament after reading the report.

The report had 24 recommendations and at least 23 have been activated. That is not usual. So, it is not a report that sat on the shelf; it developed hands and feet and became part of our activism. The report had a key role in shaping the development of the West Midlands Violence Reduction Partnership. Those are memorable moments for me.

I love the intentionality of completing the report. I think it’s very easy to respond in the moment when the anger is present, but the buzz dies down quickly. To continue after that and get to the end is very important.

It’s crucial, and I think it’s important to be accountable for the recommendations that we make so that they don’t get lost. So many reports have emerged over the years, from the Lammy Review to the Bloom Review and Scarman report. People sometimes don’t follow through on the recommendations so that decades later on, some recommendations are still on the shelf. That is never right.

Accountability seems to be the key word there. Often we think about institutional memory but we should also think about ‘community memory’ – taking time to consider how we ensure that we share knowledge and continue to respond. What are your thoughts on this?

What is important is to have advocates that don’t stop seeking the welfare of the community, like having prophets and prophetesses in the broader sense of the word. We can say that, as advocates, we will not stop. We will look at all of the recommendations that state leaders are to do something about, for example, neighbourhoods, and we will ask those responsible why the action has not yet been implemented or why sufficient progress hasn’t been made.

When you said prophets, it made me think of how churches and individuals often store and rehearse the prophetic words that have been spoken about them. We have practices for remembering and I wonder how we could use those same practices with policies, recommendations or legislation as they relate to our country.

I think that’s a very good point. I think we detach. We are disconnected from the prophetic narrative and the social-political narratives. But for me, theologically, there is an inter-connectivity regarding our faith, theology, and what's happening within our community.

Can you expand on that? What do you think is the connection between our faith, theology and the injustices we see around us?

Everyone that comes to our church, they’re from a community somewhere, and there's something that’s impacting them. African spirituality almost connects everything for me, so when I pray, I pray for politicians, for the community, and for individuals. However, I then consider how I need to speak into that issue in the natural realm.

We can sometimes hyper-spiritualise the issue. We bind and loose it, but don’t do anything to go into the storms, as it were. Imagine if local churches came together and said, we’ve had enough of crime and violence and we’re now joining with the 15–30 churches to organise a petition that we’ll take to the MPs or Councillors in our respective areas. If you’re not a politician then articulate from where you are, in truth, and be informed about what you’re talking about. It’s important that we don’t shy away.

If you could build a vision of how a church can engage its congregation with the election, what would it look like?

It would look like firstly, having a theology of not just voting, but a theology of hope. I would then bring that theology and look at scriptures about politics and the Luke 4:18 narrative, which says to do something. I would then create an atmosphere of theological, political worshipfulness.

I think that the Lord is pleased when we take on this responsibility together. It would be intergenerational. I would talk to the young people and get the seniors club talking. I would have politicians coming in, not just to talk about politics but also to talk about what love and compassion do when they are active.

I think it's important to have conversations. I would have a Sunday where there wouldn’t be any sermons. Instead, we’d have discussion groups around the room, just talking, rooted in theology, rooted in hope. One group could be talking about compassion and politics, another talking about love and politics, one talking about youth, crime and politics, one talking about responsibility. I’d just turn the service on its head and get the energy going. And beforehand, I’d set a preamble so people feel comfortable, with a lead up for a few weeks. That would excite me.

As we wrap up, is there any encouragement or final words you’d like to share?

For young people specifically, I’d encourage them to be advocates of change. Do not give up. Step into your agency, and at the same time study what you’re seeing and experiencing in your space. Research: go on google, interrogate, come together. Let’s be champions of your future so that you co-produce what is right for you as young people.

And for us all, I’d share what Jesus said in Luke 4:18: Allow the spirit of the Lord to be upon us, let the anointing allow us to be advocates of change, of hope, of agency, that would empower the next generation to be prophetic voices and active voices in communities.

Rev Dr Carver Anderson is an executive director and co-founder of the charity Bringing Hope, based in Birmingham, UK. Bringing Hope works to support individuals and families impacted by crime and serious violence, including perpetrators and victims. He was previously National Director for Youth and Education at the New Testament Church of God, and is now a facilitator in the denomination's Leadership Training Centre. Carver is a practical theologian, social scientist, qualified social worker, and self-described advocate of justice, hope and shalom.

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Written by  Tearfund

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