How should the Church respond to race?

Last week the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce published its report ‘From Lament to Action’ proposing a suite of changes to begin bringing about a change of culture in the life of the Church of England. A draft version of the report came to the Archbishops’ Council, so we knew the main proposals it would include. It is well produced, and offers a sense of urgent call to action, but not all have welcomed its approach, including minority ethnic members of the Church of England. The sense of urgency was reinforced by a Panorama programme last Monday, featuring members of the group who produced the report.

Calvin Robinson contests the assumption that the Church is ‘institutionally racist’:

The BBC’s latest Panorama was called ‘Is the Church racist?’. But the entire programme was produced around the assumption that the question had already been answered: yes, it is. This, of course, isn’t helped by the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury shares this assumption and has stated as much on public record at General Synod.

The problem is, the Church doesn’t really operate as a single institution. Each diocese has an incredible amount of autonomy. Bishops have responsibility for their diocese and the priests within them. So a few awful experiences shared by individuals throughout the documentary does not make the Church a racist institution.

The Church is made up of flawed individuals. We’re all fallen, after all. The issue the Church faces, however, isn’t institutional racism – it’s institutional incompetence. For instance, its complaints procedure isn’t just bad for issues of race, it’s bad in general. Any priest with experience of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) – or any experience with safeguarding concerns – will attest to how outdated and cumbersome the process is. In the Church, you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent, often with no idea who has filed a complaint about you. There is plenty of work to be done on improving things within the Church for all people, not just for ethnic minorities.

I think that part of the issue here is that the language of ‘institutional racism’ was coined by the so-called McPherson report, following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, on the culture of the Metropolitan Police—and the language has been reached for in part because of its shock value. But there are three major differences between a church and a police force. First, as Robinson points out, the C of E is not a single organisation. Secondly, churches have both members and leadership, and that leadership is divided into local and national. When people use the language of ‘institutional racism’, many people hear the accusation that members of local congregations are racist. Thirdly, the church has a theological foundation, quite distinct from its institutional identity, and the way that theological convictions are expressed in the institutional organisation can be complex; the police has no such foundation. To say that the church is ‘institutionally racist’ could be heard as implying its basic theology needs to change—and indeed that is what some people believe.

But Robinson also criticises the approach of the programme and the report for being out of touch with reality:

The truth is that the Church is already representative when it comes to the recruitment of ordinands: 7.8 per cent of ordinands beginning training for Holy Orders in 2019 were from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Bearing in mind that around 14 per cent of Britons are ethnic minorities and seven per cent of them are Asian and therefore largely Muslim and Hindu, the numbers in the Church line up very well with the general population. But apparently that’s not good enough for the CofE, which now wants to reach an unrealistic target of 30 per cent ethnic-minority ordinands. This is virtue-signalling of the highest order.

As for the leadership of the Church, there are indeed fewer ethnic-minority bishops. Of course, you have to reach a certain age before becoming a bishop, and if we look at what the social demographics of the UK were like 40 years ago, I think we would find the current numbers are quite reflective.

In any case, quotas are patronising and silly. Where does the Church expect to get these additional numbers from unless they plan on recruiting Muslims to become ordained priests? The Church could certainly do with working harder to convert more people. It would benefit from sharing the gospel more with other communities. There are relationships to nurture there, but that’s an argument for mission and evangelism, not recruitment.

‘From Lament to Action’ notes on p 12 that ‘At the time of writing (March 2021) the number of UKME/GMH bishops can together be counted on one hand (5 out of 111)’, but it doesn’t say what that ought to be. From the figures above, for there to be good representation, we might be hoping to see 8 or 9, a handful and a half.

Robinson is also concerned about method, and that was also the concern on reading the draft report of Joseph Diwakar. Joseph is of Indian heritage, and with the retirement of John Sentamu as the Archbishop of York, and turnover on the Archbishops’ Council, is currently its only UKME member. I quote his comments with permission:

My concerns about the approach of the report cover five areas:

1. Positive discrimination

Are the House of Bishops and Archbishops’ Council really satisfied that positive affirmative action is really the answer to the racism problem? Racism is an affliction of heart, mind and attitude. Positive discrimination only alters numbers and balance sheets. Moreover I fear that positive discrimination:

  • Lets us off the hook. Quotas remove the incentive to interrogate our own prejudices, which are the real problem. There is a risk that by reserving (for instance) two seats on the AC for BAME people, we allow ourselves to think that we have solved racism and not worry about how we appoint to the remaining however many seats.
  • Demeans the people of colour appointed. It makes an appointee, however gifted she is, into nothing more than her colour. It says to her “whatever your experience or expertise in x, y, z, we have primarily appointed you because we need a brown body on this committee. Otherwise, we might have chosen someone else.” I think this is something that is difficult for people who have never been thus reduced to a single characteristic to grasp.
  • Makes racism worse. Far from improving perceptions of diversity, I fear preferential treatment breeds resentment. This undermines not only the appointees themselves (“they’re only here because we needed a minority”) but also all other people of colour in senior positions, who become tarnished with the perception that they owe their position to their skin colour. I have told people about how brazen e.g. General Synod members were in suggesting that I owed my position on AC only to my race. (One told me, “I’d be in your position if I had a protected characteristic”).

2. Focus

Much of this report is concerned with high level appointments to national and diocesan committees and posts. This benefits ambitious BAME people who are interested in national governance (spoken as one myself) but I don’t see that much of it helps the average BAME Anglican ‘in the pew’. The report is best on things like offering a national mentoring scheme, which I think—though still to do with leadership—will offer much broader value.

3. Theological integrity

I am concerned that this paper treats complex, contested questions as though they have been definitively answered.

A lot of the recommendations revolve around offering, or insisting on, ‘anti-racism training’ just at the point at which much of the public sector is leaving such training behind, saying it is flawed and ineffective.

Action 4 in the ‘Education’ priority wants to make compulsory a module on ‘Black Theology’ for ordinands, but ‘Black Theology’ is not the theology of Black Christians, it is a narrow and quite hotly contested school of theology. Anthony Reddie, himself the foundational author of ‘Black Theology’, has written at length about how Black Theology is not representative of Black Christians or Black majority churches.

The same could be said of the ‘Theology’ priority outlined at the bottom of the paper. It speaks of gathering evidence of “theological prejudice, European and white normative frameworks in our theological foundations,” and so assumes that fundamental prejudices and normative frameworks are there, when this hasn’t been discussed or agreed by the bishops of anybody else in the leadership of the church. I would want further work, and a much wider conversation, on all of these things before devising actions on anything like this scale.

4. Lack of analysis

I was disappointed to see a paper with such a long list of recommendations without much analysis or explanation of their rationale. Why, for instance, has a quota of 15% been recommended for some bodies and 30% for others, when the proportion of certain groups of Anglicans (e.g. House of Clergy) who are UKME might be well below this?

5. Resourcing

I am particularly sensitive to this since I am currently dealing with ordinands who are having to uproot their families due to dioceses cutting curacies. I am quite surprised to see the paper calling for the creation of 41 centrally funded diocesan ‘racial justice officers’ at 0.5 FTE each and three full-time positions in Church House for a ‘Racial Justice Unit’. The irony isn’t lost of me that this unit will thus have nearly double the resource, in terms of hours, of the new Independent Safeguarding Board. I haven’t seen any analysis or workings out which show precisely what value this expensive new level of management will add to the ‘average’ BAME Anglican in a parish.

From Lament to Action notes that, over 36 years, the Church has produced 25 reports—which were dramatically presented to Stephen Cottrell, current Archbishop of York, in the Panorama programme—but little change has resulted. But given Joseph’s critique above, it seems that there is every danger that this report will join them. It was, in fact, surprising to see 30 full pages of recommendations come back from the task force, when the initial terms of reference was that the task force mainly existed to convene and establish the Commission on race, rather than to return broad recommendations of their own. If the rush to action has offered us ill-considered recommendations, then this is likely to be report number 26 in the pile. Raising the stakes on its implementation will not help this, but will only make the issue more divisive.

Some have criticised the report for buying into the values of Critical Race Theory, even though that idea is not mentioned anywhere. I think the reasons for that are the use of terms like ‘black’ and ‘white’, which fail to do justice to the complexity of ethnic diversity, the focus on Black Theology as the key to the educational issues, and, despite the short section on theology at the beginning, the treatment of the issues primarily as one that will be solved by affirmative organisational action, rather than through better theological, pastoral and personal understanding.

The reality is that racism is endemic to human experience; it is not simply a black and white issue:

What I learned during my teenage years was this: Turkish people didn’t like Greek people; black Caribbean people didn’t like black African people; Northerners didn’t like Southerners; people from North London didn’t like people from South London; and, of course, in the words of Tom Lehrer’s song ‘National Brotherhood Week’, ‘everyone hates the Jews’.

What I am struggling to understand at the moment is why white people are getting all the blame for racism. One thing all of us estate kids had in common was that we were at the bottom of the heap. We were the kids who got kicked out of school (I was expelled three times); the kids who got pregnant in our teens (my sister did at 17); the kids who left school with nothing. The white kids on the estate were no more privileged than us BAME kids. They had no more or no less power. Money and social class have always been the key determinants of success, not ethnicity.

And this is true in church communities as well, as illustrated by this moving reflection from an ethnically Indian pastor in Singapore:

“I don’t think our church is ready for an Indian senior pastor.” That was an unsolicited comment made to me one Sunday in church. I assumed that the person who was addressing me was thinking of what had been going on in the political world and decided to extrapolate it to our local church context. Whatever the reason, it certainly caught me off guard. I laughed it off, but afterwards I could not help feeling rather disturbed…

Growing up ethnically Singaporean, I had no reason to think that I did not belong – this is my country is it not? Yet at every stage of life, there have been occasions like the ones above. These were moments that made me feel as if I am not the same – moments that highlighted my difference and made me feel that as an other I was merely tolerated rather than embraced…

Strangely, when I lived in London for 10 years, I felt no such rejection. Perhaps it was because London was truly cosmopolitan, with no dominant race or ethnicity (you can hardly find an English person!). When we are all different, could it be that we all try harder? People were more sensitive to the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, races, languages and Christian traditions…

One Chinese New Year, surprise, surprise, I was rostered to do the preaching yet again (being the token non-Chinese pastor)! So, this time I took it upon myself to preach about race.

The Scripture text was from Ephesians 2 – with the angle of the sermon going along the lines that Christ has torn down every dividing wall in the church. Just as there should not be any Jew or Gentile, I remember my first draft concluded that we should be “race-blind” in church. We should all treat each other in the same way, as we are one in Christ.

However, upon further study, I wondered if that was really what the Bible was teaching? Are we all made to be same? That would not fit with my understanding of the Trinitarian God who made the world in all its beautiful diversity. I changed the conclusion.

It was not about feeling that you are no different from the crowd. It was about accepting that God has made each of us other – with different races and genders – different backgrounds, abilities and roles to play. The church is not a place to go greyscale, but the kingdom of God, even to eternity, was destined to be in brilliant colour. How this works out in practice… that I am still trying to discern.

I have previously noted the theological imperative behind the ethnic diversity of the people of God:

The central nature of ethnic diversity to the people of God is, finally, at the heart of the Book of Revelation. In Rev 7, the Israel of God, counted out as a disciplined army of priestly warriors, turns out to be ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language’. This fourfold phrase combines the four-fold phrase that we noted from Gen 10.20 and 10.31 with the language in Ex 19.5 that Israel will be God’s ‘treasured possession out of every nation’. But in the new covenant in Jesus, instead of being ‘out of every nation’ in the sense of separated as a distinct ethnic group, we are now ‘out of every nation’ in the sense of being drawn from every ethnic group. Ethnic inclusion and diversity is the hallmark of God’s redeemed people in Jesus.

And you can see in the pages of the New Testament the way that this was lived out by the first followers of Jesus:

The diversity in these two lists (Acts 13 and Romans 16) appears, on the surface at least, to be effortless. It is true that Luke has a programmatic interest in ethnographic diversity, starting his account as he does with the list of Jews from all over the diaspora who witness the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and hear Peter’s sermon. But in Acts 13, he lists the diversity of leaders in a quite factual way, and makes nothing much of it; there is no explanatory comment. This is just the way things were.

Similarly for Paul, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘diversity agenda’ at work in his list in Romans 16—even if ‘unity in diversity’ is a key issue for Paul as McKnight suggests. But the list hasn’t been engineered; there has been no attempt at positive discrimination for inclusion of different social or ethnic groups. This is just a list of those in Rome whom Paul knows and whose ministry he values. And it turns out to be very diverse. There are some hints at more monochromatic groups; I wonder whether the grouping of five slave names in verse 14 suggests a ‘slave’ house church. But for Paul, the unity of this diversity is without question.

A friend of mine in another denomination, that includes mixed-raced congregations in several cities in the UK, made this observation about the options for the church in addressing the issue:

There are several conflicting approaches, and it is important to explain the problems with the first two and why the Christian approach is different:

a. Colour Blindness: act as if race is not a factor, and it won’t be. This is often seen to be the Christian approach, because it sounds like the most non-judgmental option. (A classic recent example was the range of responses to the Meghan/Oprah interview; this is also the approach of many of our brothers and sisters in the US.) But although well-intentioned, it suffers from naivete about how historic and structural forces shape individuals, families, churches and societies, and therefore fails to address them except at an interpersonal level

b. Secular Antiracism: white people are not just historically advantaged (white privilege), but irreducibly racist (white guilt), even if they deny they are (white fragility). This racism is the basis of the modern West (white supremacy), and it works it concert with numerous other forms of privilege based on sex, gender, sexuality, ability, colour, fertility and so forth (intersectionality), all of which need to be upended

c. One New Humanity [Eph 2.15]: only in Christ can we find the repentance and pursuit of justice missing from (a), and the forgiveness and pursuit of unity missing from (b). There is plenty of truth in both approaches, but ultimately they understate the problem (sin), miss the solution (Christ), miss the context where racial unity is ultimately found (the church), and consequently fall short of offering genuine hope for reconciliation and justice.

My worry is that the report From Lament to Action leans too much in the direction of option (b), and a diocesan report written in its wake that I read yesterday pushes even more in this direction. We need to move to option (c), not least because addressing our theological understanding of this issue hasn’t so much been tried and find wanting—it simply hasn’t yet been tried in large parts of the Church of England.

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36 thoughts on “How should the Church respond to race?”

  1. (I presume “Stephen Cottrell, current Archbishop of Canterbury” is a typo – unless I have not been paying attention!)

      • Hm, interesting. As a fan of Psephizo I was intrigued by the polemic your blog took. Ok , so I was one of the contributors to the Panorama programme and I find myself in agreement with some of the points presented and those made by precise commentators you included. Calvin Robinson makes some solid points about the poly-institutional nature of the CofE (rather than mono-institute), our flawed nature and representation; and then exclaiming “yes” to some of the concerns raised in Joseph Diwakar’s comments, especially on the merits/benefits of representation in overcoming racism. My brain was whirring wondering as a UKME/GMH person posing the question to Diwakar ” but do you think a significant benefit of positive discrimination and representation is that it disrupts those subjective expectations of what people in those roles should look like ?” (I suspect a similar question could be asked about positive discrimination for the working classes). I puzzled as to why you specifically chose these ‘Spiked’ commentators, Misha Mansoor, who essentially rooted racism in personal individual conduct “ I say that it emanates from ‘bloody stupid ones’ of all colours and creeds? Hey, Misha, we know and recognise all the mini-Hitlers but what gave rise to the Hitlers and should we have it in the church?
        But I was fine ..I think the slight discomfort started to emerge with your observations as to why the suggestions around “Institutional Racism, IR” were problematic.
        1.What is ‘Institutional Racism’? Yes the language by Panorama was used for its shock value (it is attention grabbing media) but also as it was topical. The schedule was for Stephen Lawrence Day. Plus it is shocking being on the receiving end of racism.
        Firstly, the language around IR was coined not by Macpherson but by theologians, in the Report A Tree God Planted: Black People in British Methodism, (Walton, Heather, Robin Ward, and Mark Johnson. 1985) and subsequent Report, Faithful and Equal (Methodist Church,1987). It is a concept I have really had to unpack, including the ‘institutional’ nature of the CoE, especially in terms of legal definitions in my whistleblowing of racial injustice in the Diocese of Bristol , which were vindicated by relevant authorities in these matters.
        Theology is discovered in everyday practicalities and realities. “Welcome” to my journey of discovery, back in time to when our paths crossed at the same church. I met and got to know some lovely, Godly people and some of them would say to me ” We left London because of the blacks..but you are different.., have you got a shop?…your preaching is too passionate..too exuberant .I was called ‘Gungudin’ (as an endearment, not an offence) instead of my actual name.” Later on the journey as part of the testing process I was asked “It’s the Church of England, not Asia or Africa, it’s white, why do you want to be a priest in it?” [True and it was this century]
        They were not less Godly. This wasn’t a case of one or two unripe, codlingwormed apples but a significant many. Some condition(s) was preventing them from reaching their expected succulent ripeness, making them prone to an insect’s lifecycle, viz., something systemic, structural or environmental.
        What I experienced was disadvantage, unfavourable experiences and it was violent in form. Even back then I was exploring my vocation. God had called me. In your capacity as a mathematician, in that environment, do you think the probability of me fulfilling (or even starting my vocation) was the same as yours?
        We can all recognise the Misha Mansoor personal, individual, Hitleresque forms of racism but doesn’t the moral query demand to know the causes? Theologically, the question for me was where do these individuals, several members, Godly people derive the power to be violent in this way and why were they not confronted, viz., what ’empowers people to act like this’ ? A culture, idolatry, an ideology. Paul says “ were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…” (Eph 2:1-2)
        That’s the problem with the ideology and the culture it creates. Take your inclusion of Mixed or Dual Heritage Calvin Robinson. It is deplorable that he gets attacked as a ‘race traitor’ and a puppet. His courage is commendable. However, the irony is that for the very thing he claims to be an expert in, the fields of Education and Tech (but not sociology) an upholder of Conservative values against the Hard Left CALVIN ROBINSON: Believe me, there’s no racist like a hard-Left racist | Daily Mail Online he is conspicuously absent from debates about these subjects or Hard Left economics say to discuss with Gavin Williamson (especially after the Exam fiasco last year) or Kate Green or Oliver Dowden or Nicky Morgan or Ash Sarkar or Akala but brought on solely on BLM or matters to do with Racism. Why might that be? Any self-respecting media culturati should be able to spot that one – there is your evidence of racism at work, doing its creepy thing, would he get the same platform if he had physical features that were more pronounced white? One can easily be persuaded and dismiss the real injustices of the evil of racism by hiding the moral need for justice under the pejoratively used ‘woke, hard left, equality’.
        This ideology is difficult to grasp, even the High Court just last year, despite the 10 years of the Equality Act 2010 had to ask the question “er, what is racism?” – very disconcerting when it comes from High Court Judges – in the case of Essop v Home Office which looked at Indirect Discrimination (institutional, structural racism) in the Home Office promotions/exam systems. Lady Judge Hale (Baroness) in the Supreme Court had to ‘remind’ the HC Judges. I paraphrase : as disadvantage caused by a particular practice, system, perception without justification which requires employers/Managers/Leaders to take steps to eliminate the discrimination, regardless of why that practice causes the discrimination. This explanation was important in my own case where my applications for clergy posts were being resisted on the grounds of ‘cultural eccentricities’, my perceived culture: ” all people from the Indian Subcontinent have issues , in their communications , around clarity and truth..” We come back to that question of empowerment and ‘how/why people feel empowered to act this way and their colleagues, chaplains, employees, PAs not challenge them?”
        2. ‘The C of E is not a single organisation’ – not a single institution but a collection.
        As I found out as a self-litigant in Court. But it holds a unique place in this Nation and acts as if it is one: it is the bastion of the country’s morality, its Head is also the Head of the State and other States and it can influence law-making. Being a collection of institutions does not abnegate its moral duty. When you imagine the Church of England, what comes to mind? England’s green fields, cricket, Summer fetes, the Dog and Duck and there the Medieval church manned by a beaming middle aged, white vicar – it’s some kind of metonym – it ain’t a concrete block in Jaywick, coke can for a ball and drizzling It is this Theology that needs to change.
        Church Lament To Action is rightly hot on participation and representation, it was bold and the task force need to be congratulated. It makes heads turn and compels us to think. For me, it was lacking in changing culture. I found out, to prove racism, I had to adduce evidence of stereotyping, unconscious bias, psychology and causation in a way that generally did not apply in other types of discrimination claims. Why because like a Pandemic it was deeply endemic in our very culture and fabric and we are no where near herd immunity.
        Lament to Action is like a vaccination programme; we may need kneedowns and boosters in eradicating the immoral virus of racism.

  2. I wonder how Paul’s comments about the Cretans would fit in to all this:

    One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith
    Titus 1:12-13

    Rebuking along national lines seems to be his point if justified. I find this difficult to incorporate. My own personal feelings are racism can only be addressed if both sides recognise the golden rule, which would probably rule out positive discrimination.

    • David,

      It’s worth noting that, in Titus 1:12 – 13, the ‘prophet’ quoted by St. Paul is Epimenides of Cnossus (whom he also quotes in Acts. 17:28)

      The next verse of the poem makes clear the context of Epimenides denunciation:
      “ Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
      But you are not dead: you live and abide forever”.

      The ‘lie’ that Epimenides cites was the widespread Cretan belief that Zeus (which was the closest heathen Greeks came to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of God) was not immortal but annually reincarnated –

      Paul is simply warning of the danger that such widespread false beliefs among Cretans could infiltrate the church in Crete.

      • If you look at wikipedia on this (as I did this morning!):

        You will find that it is probably not the case that Epimenides himself was providing a paradox – although more modern philosophers have taken it as such, or at least as a starting point for paradoxes.

        The interesting point from the article is the full quotation (which, it has to be acknowledged is from a Syriac source):

        They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
        The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
        But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
        For in thee we live and move and have our being.

        I think we recognise the last line…

        • The appearance of both NT Epimenides bits with minimal padding in precisely the same quotation looks to me like a forger’s project (much like the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife) to achieve the necessary (an original setting for both) without too much tiresome verbiage. A bit like ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ – fit it all in in the smallest space. Whom does it refer to anyway? Is it not suspicious that precisely the quotations that people wanted to find should be discovered so late in the day? However I have not the slightest proof for that. If genuine, it bolsters my view that Luke wrote the Pastorals.

        • I’m inclined to plump for genuineness (and common provenance of Titus and the Acts Athens speech) on the basis of the (suspect but fairly widespread) tomb-of-Zeus-in-Crete tradition. This is what makes the quatrain hang together logically. It’s not at all improbable that a writer should remember only small portions, but remember those small portions in full. And also there are so few classical quotations in the NT. Looks like the same person returning to a favourite quotation in 2 completely disparate contexts. The link is his knowledge of the passage rather than anything linking Ac 17 and Titus.

        • Interesting too that the other Ac 17 quotation (from Aratus’s ‘Phainomena’) is likewise from a passage about Zeus, a passage which specifically (a) sees Zeus as somewhat equivalent to the universally recognised one God, just as Acts does; (b) notes the ubiquity of Zeus/one-God and of recognitions of Zeus/one-God as one walks the streets – once again, exactly the same point as Ac 17 makes. Zeus, and this understanding of Zeus, is the common theme that ties together the Epimenides and Aratus quotations, so there is coherence in the choice of these as a pair.

          This may possibly indicate that Luke had made some headway in formulating a universal concept of God that would be acceptable to the Gentiles, something very essential as the spread of the gospel became very much a Gentile matter. Not just Luke, but Paul too obviously.

  3. This is a great corrective, wide (maybe with pointers towards being comprehensive) in scope and with a coherence and cogency.

    For me, from a council estate, social class (in reality and in perception) was and continues to be central. Where friends were told by parents not to associate with those from council estates even if they attended the same school: where there’d be gang fights between people from different villages and pupils from different schools; where there’d be separation betwee protestant and Catholic: all within whiteness inhabited with a heart of darkness. There is a deep tribalism in fallen human nature.

    But now, in our zoom church group there are two mixed race marriages, different social groups, 5 nationalities and one West Ham supporter as we gather virtually to study scripture, worship God and banter and pray together and for each other. Marvellous. There are 11 of us, part only of an Anglican church.

    Without our unity and fellowship in Christ, we’d have little to nothing in common, not even a neighbourhood.

  4. The concerns about focus and resourcing are interesting, and ones I’ve not seen articulated elsewhere. The contrast in resourcing to the safeguarding structures seems particularly stark, to the point that it doesn’t actually sound true…

    I think you are right in your concerns in general though.

    On a related note, do you have anything to add about the proposed changes to the CNC? This strikes me as the perfect example of getting affirmative action wrong (if, indeed, these proposals are true?) and highlights all the points you raise in relation to point 1.

    I would link Cranmer, as it was he that put the story into my news feed, but actually on this issue the original Daily Mail article is probably a bit more balanced*:

    *yes, this is something I didn’t think I would be saying today.


    • ‘More balanced’??

      ‘Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, compared the CofE’s attitude to ethnic minorities with that of Nazi-era German churches to Jews.’

      Where did he say that…??

      • I didn’t say it was balanced. I said it was more balanced when looked at in comparison to Cranmer (which treated the story with it’s usual critical cynicism). Take issue with that if you will, but the DM was the primary source and they’re incapable of writing anything without copious amounts of sensationalism. I’m not aware of the ABC saying those things either, and doubt he said anything even approaching it.

        That wasn’t really the point I was making though.

        Is the article otherwise correct in it’s assertions about what the proposal entails?

        “All future Church of England bishops should be approved by a representative from black or minority groups, leaders have recommended. The reforms will give a black or ethnic minority churchgoer an effective veto over who lands the most senior posts.”

        “The key proposal says a minority representative should join the commission as a non-voting member whenever a new diocesan bishop has to be chosen. The individual must be listened to by other members.”

        And if so, what do you think about it given that it sounds rather patronising.

      • He said: ‘I have often wondered how the German church in the 1930s managed to ignore what happened to the Jews.

        ‘I think they didn’t really notice, they just took it as normal, and perhaps that’s what we have done in the way we have behaved since Windrush.’


        Which, I suppose, is also comparing current-day attitudes to BAME to Nazi-era attitudes to Jews, also. (As well as letting Nazi-supporting churches off the hook, rather.)

          • The Archbishop shouldn’t wonder about the German church & the Jews in the 1930s, he should read ‘Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb’ by Richard Gutteridge. As I recall two major mistakes by the German church were:
            1. To disregard the OT as crude, bloody, unsophisticated, material – unsuitable for sophisticated liberal Protestants.
            2. Acceding to Hitler’s demand a ‘Christian Jew’ was a contradiction in terms – therefore the gospel was not for people of every ethnicity, and the church should abandon Jewish Christians.

  5. Several points had been pressed by me and others for several years:

    (1) Indian and Chinese and African cultures doing better than average and better than indigenous.

    (2) White working class boys being marginalised, whereas what we want is equality.

    (3) West Indian lagging behind, where we find absent fathers.

    (4) Why are cultures that are doing better being lumped together with those that are doing worse? BAME is a meaningless term.

    (5) The common denominator is that the closer the families, the more likely the mum and dad to be at home, then the better the children will do.

    (6) That is not a ”conclusion”, since it has been known for decades, just not acted upon. We used to have a culture where most mums and dads were at home. So we know the solution, and a very obvious solution it is, but the old Adam doesn’t like it and sings lalala rather than be silent and think.

  6. One thing, is that report takes as its starting point that racism is the great sin of our time. I don’t think this is true. It is a worldview that is not the Biblical view. As a worldview it might be consistent, but it does not stand up to a fair measuring stick.

    One case that made headlines was the black curate who was given an ‘it’s-not-you-it’s-us’ rejection letter which included the possibility of his being uncomfortable by the white working-class monochromeness of the parish. This apparently shows the institutional racism. But imagine if it was suggested to a white curate that he would be uncomfortable with a majority-black church, now by changes the races it is the curate who is racist. Now, it is true that ‘stale pale males are always at fault’ is self-consistent, but it conflicts with the fairness, impartiality etc. that the Bible demands of us.

    But the self-righteous white middle-class just ‘know’ that it is the BAME who are the victims (even when stuff such as the cover-up of the inner-city grooming scandal are uncovered) rather than the white working-class. Might I be so bold to suggest that in a systematically prejudiced society that the ‘just knowing’ will be wrong. That the self-righteous white middle-class love for the BAME and antipathy for the white working-class suggests a continuation of the old loathing for “Tommy Atkins”, and anti-racism is only its latest guise.

    Welby often speaks of ‘we’ on this subject , but what has he actually done to resolve that – assuming he is sincere – that we might imitate?

    Scott Alexander has written really well on the subject of the out-group and the far-group here:

    One thing is that we do live in a fallen world where people sin. But we also live in a fallen world where the ground is hard. We live in a world where equity and equality conflict. A big example in the news recently was on the war graves commission, it respected different religious beliefs (equity) and thus there are fewer gravestones for the Africans and Indians (unequally), and thus sixty years later it is condemned. If where equality exists, the Church is to be hanged for lack of equity and where equity abounds, it is to be hanged for lack of equality then it is to be hanged. The conclusion is built into the method.

  7. I agree there are problems in addressing the issue as one of organisation of the church which you seek to address by imposing rules and quotas. However, don’t let that let us off the hook in dealing with the culture of the Church of England which is shaped by implicit norms derived from white Upper class male society.

    These allow for the sins of both personal and systemic racism to flourish at all levels in the church. Change will require repentance and a spiritual , cultural and social transformation informed by good Biblical theology and by high quality social research alongside careful and intentional listening to minority voices sharing their experiences and feelings.

    • But where did the ‘implicit norms derived from white Upper class male society’ come from? Is it perhaps possible that 1400 years of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the Church etc. has had impact? One unusual and very peculiar norm is the norm against slavery, is this something that has to be dealt with?

      One high quality piece of research written by minority voices was the recent Sewell race report. It did not seem to be listened to by those who normally lecture on listening (I don’t refer to you, Greg), as they seem more interested in selectively listen to only that which confirms their own prejudices.

      • “‘implicit norms derived from white Upper class male society’ come from? Is it perhaps possible that 1400 years of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the Church etc. has had impact?”

        1400 years of the Bible, the Holy Spirit did have an impact. As Christ described in John 3, some people responded to the light, while others merely paid lip service to it (John 3:19).

        The culture of the CofE became inextricably linked with and corrupted by the goals of white Upper class male society through the ‘civilising mission’ which provided the ‘moral’ impetus for imperial domination.

        The ‘Play the game’ episode of Jeremy Paxman’s Empire TV series powerfully presents this moral impetus:

    • Thanks, Greg, for an unheard, level-headed response. I try to give an even handed assessment in my blog Out of Maany, One People.

  8. ‘In the Church, you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent’

    I think that’s true pretty much throughout society, not just churches. The recent allegations against the actor Noel Clarke is a good example. It has been presumed he is guilty of the allegations made against him. Perhaps he is, only he and the women concerned really know, unless there are other reliable witnesses. But people should be wary of presumed guilt. There have been a number of cases where false allegations, including rape, have been made, and men’s lives have been badly affected or ruined despite their innocence.

    If he’s guilty then he deserves whatever justice demands. But let’s not presume guilt.


  9. I watched the programme, and whilst the individuals featured appeared to have been treated badly, it seemed primarily or solely by certain leaders in the church. In other words the church = leaders according to this programme. Rather telling. In contrast, the so-called laity were generally presented as very welcoming to black clergy.

    I would also ask the question, why when discussing racism, there is never or rarely any mention of racism of others, not just white people?


  10. Bishop Nazir Ali wrote a piece in the Spectator last week on this topic. He made some very good points.
    St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, outlawed the Synod of Westminster in 1102
    CMS was active in resettlement of captives rescued from slave ships by the Royal Navy
    The Clapham sect dedicated themselves to ending the slave trade
    He says why not stop actively seeking darkness, but look at light.
    He states thAt CRT conflates slavery and the slave trade with colonialism and the British Empire. They are not the same.
    His advice is that rather than importing identity politics into the church, we should be seeking to order our lives in the light of Christ, focussing on forgiveness and helping our neighbours.
    He also point out that church bureaucracy continues to mushroom, even as attendance and membership decline.
    It’s well worth a read.

  11. From the experience of friends and colleagues racism is alive and well in many parts of the Church of England – as are other forms of discrimination. If someone can signpost me to a part of this multifaceted organisation of which I am a part that is currently discrimination free please let me know. I have had my eyes opened over the last few years as to how discriminatory practice presents itself and how it impacts. From what I have seen it is definitely much worse in the church that in the NHS and higher education. Lack of accountability, transparency, consistency and openness in the C of E structures seems to enable this, and there is little, if any, scope for redress. In that discriminatory practice sidelines and silences the disempowered it is important as the body of Christ that we seek out and listen to the voices of those suffering oppressing and act justly. In have found books and colleagues helpful in this search for these voices .

    Books I have found helpful are:
    Ghost Ship by Azariah France Williams
    White Fragility by Robin Diangelo which I personally think is a must read for any white person commenting on racism.
    We need to talk about race – Ben Lindsay
    Chine McDonald was on the radio a couple of weeks ago and was excellent – her book God is not a white man is coming out soon and looks like it is worth a read.
    Lauren Winners excellent book on the Dangers of Christian Practice has a chapter on the diaries and prayers of white female slave owners.

  12. During the first lockdown I watched Youtube services from All Souls Langham Place. If we are looking for a template I would say their congregation is a starting point. There were contributors in music and word from all over the globe. It felt like being part of the world wide communion of saints.


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