HOW didn’t we guess till the Archbishop of Canterbury told us? The Church of England is ‘deeply, institutionally’ racist, according to the Most Rev Justin Welby.
I wonder how all the curates, vicars, bishops, lay preachers, Sunday school teachers, vergers, churchwardens and other active members of the C of E’s congregations felt about his smearing of their collective character?
But the mood of self-flagellation is in the air. His Grace’s delayed but intense bout of anguish and remorse at the General Synod last week was prompted by a motion, which the church’s national assembly backed unanimously, to ‘lament’ and apologise for both conscious and unconscious racism in the church since the arrival of the Windrush generation in the UK.
Justin Welby must have been taking lessons on arch wokeness from Joaquin Phoenix when he was named Best Actor, appropriately for Joker, at the Baftas a couple of weeks ago.
Welby was quite dramatic. ‘I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure,’ he said. ‘I’m ashamed of our lack of witness to Christ. I’m ashamed of my lack of urgent voice to the church . . . It’s shaming as well as shocking.’
He had advantages as a white, straight, educated man, he said, adding: ‘I’m not ashamed of those advantages; I’m ashamed of not knowing I had them. And I think that’s where we probably need to start.’
All that was missing were the props – a hair shirt and a lash.
Welby’s outburst prompted political commentator Darren Grimes to tweet this:
He makes a good point about the fashion for white privilege confessionals. An upsetting story about the racism experienced by the family of Doreen Browne, who had been barred from a London Anglican church in 1961 ‘due to the plain fact of the colour of their black skin’, put Welby ‘almost beyond words’.
‘There is no doubt,’ he asserted, that ‘when we look at our own Church we are still deeply institutionally racist’.
Whatever the sins of the past, it is quite a leap to make this charge of the present, 60 years later. It is more than a pity that the Archbishop saw no need to validate his claim, and simply assumed it. The fact is that no evidence has been produced as yet that the C of E does have any special problem with racism, and certainly not ‘deep institutional’ racism. There is no official church report either setting it out, or its extent or the recommendations of what should be done. Such a report does not exist.
‘Institutional racism’ was defined in the 1999 Macpherson report on the Metropolitan Police as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin’. This does not describe the present-day C of E, which typically provides an exemplary service to people of all backgrounds.
Despite this, the church’s ‘hostile environment’ must be transformed into a ‘hospitable, welcoming one’, Welby announced, without specifying which churches exactly he had in mind. They are not any that I know.
My own experience of the Church of England across a variety of contexts over several decades has been one of people of all different backgrounds living side by side as disciples of Christ. There has been no exclusion at all that I have seen or been aware of, and indeed it has felt at times like a foretaste of heaven, where ‘saints from every tribe and language and people and nation’ unite in worship of the One. I have seen not one sign of a deep institutional racism.
Nonetheless, Welby called for ‘radical and decisive’ action to put an end to it. This is to include new ‘basic rules’ such as having ethnic minorities represented on appointment panels. ‘It doesn’t work when long lists are simply one colour,’ he said.
Whatever the problem is, or isn’t, then, the solution is to be some form of racial diversity targets or quotas, which is a bad idea for a number of reasons.
It achieves the opposite of what is intended in terms of ending racial discrimination and improving race relations, as it involves relating to people in racial terms and treating people differently on the basis of race – which by any normal understanding is racist, divisive and unfair, as well as deeply condescending
Relating to people as individuals and brothers and sisters in Christ, not being concerned with racial distinctions, is surely what the Archbishop of Woke should be focusing on.
But no. Research on the impact of historic racism in the church in terms of members lost and church closures is the order of the day. These are massive counterfactuals that will be impossible to quantify but the pursuit of which is almost bound to fan the flames of racial grievances – and all quite unnecessarily.
Should the presence of ethnically-based churches or the supposed ‘under-representation’ of ethnic minorities in the C of E be taken as evidence of the church’s failure in this regard? No. There is no reason to assume racism explains either different patterns of attendance or why churches sometimes form along ethnic lines. Many factors are involved: people naturally form communities according to things they hold in common, including ethnic and cultural heritage. Christians should and do aim for unity across racial divisions, but this doesn’t require all churches to have exactly the same ethnic mix.
Besides which, the C of E is already training lots of ethnic minority clergy. In 2018, around 8 per cent of new clergy recruits were from ethnic minorities, well above the reported ethnic proportion of C of E ‘core congregation’, which at last count (in 2007) stood at 4.7 per cent. How is this ‘institutionally racist’?
The C of E has some major challenges ahead in the coming years, many of its own making. Institutional racism is not one of them. Welby does a grave disservice to his Church and its standing in the community to suggest, without evidence, that it does.