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The self-flagellating CofE’s inexplicable obsession with race

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LAST week in TCW, Ann Bradshaw asked if the Church of England is trying to cancel Christianity. Surely the faith stands ‘for everything woke hates’, she says, yet don’t the bishops appear ‘desperate to be considered woke’?.

That’s certainly the impression you’d get from the latest on the race relations front. The Telegraph reports that the Archdeacon of Hackney, Elizabeth Adekunle, met last week with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to discuss how to combat racism within the CofE. 

It’s fair to say that the CofE has become somewhat preoccupied with race of late, and not just since the death of George Floyd in May. 

The General Synod voted back in February to apologise for ‘the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless black, Asian and minority ethnic Anglicans’ and to commit the Church to increase the ‘participation and representation of lay and ordained BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Anglicans throughout church life’. 

At the time Welby declared: ‘When we look at our own church, we are still deeply institutionally racist.’ However, unlike the Metropolitan Police for whom such an indictment came via a highly controversial report, there has been no such report documenting what this ‘institutional racism’ consists in for the CofE.

Books such as We Need to Talk About Race by Ben Lindsay and Ghost Ship by A D A France-Williams have become almost required reading for clergy as they respond to local and national initiatives on addressing what Justin Welby in June called ‘systemic racism’ and ‘the ongoing evil of white supremacy’ .

The Bishops of Coventry, Warwick and Worcester ‘took the knee’ in support of the neo-Marxist organisation Black Lives Matter, which alongside ‘Antifa’ and others has played a leading part in the ongoing violence in America that has devastated many lives and communities. 

Self-flagellation is back in fashion in the national church, with the national adviser on race and ethnicity, Dr Elizabeth Henry, stating: ‘The white-majority Church is not fit for purpose in relation to tackling, addressing, speaking to, and being a serious part of the elimination of racism in society, sadly, because the Established Church is part of the problem. Clergy are educated in a Western-centric theology, not a world-centric theology.’ 

As so often, baffled spectators are left asking what this great wickedness that the Church of England is supposedly complicit in consists of. Ms Adekunle alleges in an interview with BBC Radio 4 that black clergy face ‘injustices’ and discrimination within the church, and as a result are increasingly likely to quit, though no evidence in support of these claims is produced or pointed to.

She continues: ‘I think that we are already seeing a lack of desire of black people wanting to join the church over frustration among black clergy about the injustices they face and a lack of understanding of racial issues – and that’s not just the church, I think that’s been reflected time and time again.’

Evidence please, Ms Adekunle? The Telegraph’s reporter even gets in on the action, noting that ‘just’ 7.8 per cent of those beginning clergy training in 2019 identified themselves as from BAME backgrounds.

In fact though, as the Guardian points out, this 7.8 per cent represents a doubling of the ethnic minority proportion since 2016. So where is the evidence of ‘institutional racism’ here?

It is also important to take into account the demographics of regular churchgoers, from which clergy are drawn, and to bear in mind that many people from ethnic minorities are members of other religions and denominations, so are most unlikely to join the ranks of Anglican clergy.

As is typical with Left-wing activism, though, no amount of movement in the desired direction is ever enough. Justin Welby says racism ‘must be eradicated’ in society, as though that is possible, and as though all things now labelled racism (typically unequal outcomes between races) are the fault of society (especially white society) which can and must be addressed.

Then come the veiled threats. ‘And what I think will happen,’ Ms Adenkule adds, ‘is what has happened in the US, where we have already seen small numbers of civil disobedience in society. We have seen that a little bit in Bristol and London … and we will see more of that civil disobedience in our societies in London and further afield if we are not willing and able to address the injustices in our society and that includes the church. People are frustrated and angry, and they are in a position now to want to voice those opinions.’

This is redolent of the Left-wing Washington Post’s irresponsible editorial last week, on the US presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, summed up on Twitter as: ‘The election will likely spark violence – and a constitutional crisis. In every scenario except a Biden landslide, our simulation ended catastrophically.’ In other words, endorse our beliefs or face more riots.

Note also the casual sleight of hand from Ms Adekunle in describing the three months of rioting, looting and killing across the US and further afield as ‘small numbers of civil disobedience’. If that’s a small number, I’d hate to see it when they really get going.

And why are the Left never expected to condemn their violent extremists, when the Right are rightly quick to distance themselves from those who treat violence as part of the political process? Joe Biden can barely manage to do so now, even as his poll ratings begin to slide. 

Responding to the archdeacon’s comments, a spokesman for Lambeth Palace said: ‘As the Archbishop said at February’s General Synod, there is much work to be done across the Church of England to tackle a legacy of racism which affects us to this day. This morning’s meeting with black clergy offered the chance for him to listen and engage.

‘This week the Rev Canon Dr Chigor Chike has begun work as the Church of England’s interim National Adviser for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. The new Archbishops’ Racism Action Commission will be starting work in earnest in early 2021 to work towards significant cultural and structural change within the Church of England.’

Significant cultural and structural change, yet still no published evidence of what these supposed problems are or their real levels of prevalence or impact.

The root complaint seems to be that there are not enough black and ethnic minority leaders in the Church. But this begs the question of how many there are supposed to be.

And if there are disparities (however defined), it leaves unexplored the underlying causes of them, and to what extent they are amenable to remedy without leading to other problems, such as those arising from trying to use quotas or different standards for different races.

It is hard to believe that an organisation as institutionally Left-wing and woke as the Church of England really suffers from systemic racism. But if it does, it hardly seems wise for it to take a step further down the road of ‘significant cultural and structural change’ until it has a proper report setting out the precise problems it is trying to address with all the evidence that supports its conclusions and recommendations. Without that, it is hard to see how it has any chance of bringing along sceptics and doubters, or doing more harm than good.

More generally, the Church needs to consider the impact that all this obsessing about race has on its standing in the country at large, as opposed to among BBC fans and Guardian readers.

Most people in this country reject racism, but they would not endorse the fashionable tenets of critical race theory that see British institutions and culture as pervaded by white supremacy and systemic racism and in need of a radical overhaul on racial lines.

This kind of divisive thinking puts many people off – ‘white’ people who do not want to be hectored about wrongthink all the time merely because they believe in being colour blind, and people from ethnic minorities who resent being pigeonholed as oppressed and aggrieved.

The BBC, another of our national institutions that has succumbed to wokethink, has recently been waking up to the reality that the way of woke is deeply unpopular and threatens its standing and funding.

The Church of England urgently needs a similar awakening, something to jolt it into stepping back from its current trajectory and reflecting on whether its present priorities aren’t taking it into a very deep hole. Right now, and I’m sad to say it, it’s hard to see what that will be.

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Jeffrey Williams
Jeffrey Williams is a journalist and writer.

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