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Artillery Row

What does the Anti-Racism report mean for the Church?

The Church of England cannot afford to kowtow to all of the demands made by the Church’s Anti-Racism Taskforce

Anglican churchmen once had a distinguished history of standing up for worship without a colour-bar, whether in 1950s England or 1960s South Africa. No longer. A new report published yesterday by the Anti-Racism Taskforce set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, entitled From Lament to Action, is undoubtedly very well-meaning. But read between the lines, and you will see that the Taskforce has been railroaded into pushing for a permanently racialised church to be run by a bureaucratic hierarchy categorised by skin colour.

This is a serious charge. But, sadly, the next few paragraphs bear it out. Take a look at some of the recommendations.

All appointments from Archdeacon upwards are to shortlist at least one non-white candidate

The Church’s governing body, the General Synod, must (it is said) co-opt ten UKME/GME voting members (UKME/GMH is Taskforce-speak for UK Minority Ethnic/Global Majority Heritage: or, in plain English, non-white). Racial data collection throughout the church must become the norm, with “prefer not to say” frowned on. Anyone involved in appointing clergy, from humble parish representatives upwards, is to be required to engage in an “anti-racism learning programme”. All appointments from Archdeacon upwards are to involve the shortlisting of at least one candidate who is non-white; all Bishops’ Councils must have at least three non-white members; and even parochial church councils are to set a target of being 15 per cent non-white.

It goes on. Theological colleges are to be ordered to celebrate Black History Month, require all ordinands to study co-called Black Theology, and ensure reading lists have enough materials written by non-white authors. C of E schools need assemblies about racial justice and more non-white teachers. Nationally, there must be such exciting things as a “global majority youth forum to reflect on issues of identity, anti-racism, racial justice and a celebration of diversity”. Church bureaucrats must be given mandatory unconscious bias training, and a compulsory anti-racism learning programme must be imposed on all church officers, down to clergy and churchwardens.

And, as if you hadn’t divined this already, there must of course be a new and presumably well-paid bureaucracy to run all this. We need, it is said, a full-time central Racial Justice Directorate of at least three people, and a full-time Racial Justice Officer in every diocese. Do the maths: with 42 dioceses, this means 45 extra people plus support, paid for by the man in the pew.

And don’t imagine the process has finished yet. The good work must continue. The Church must appoint a Racial Justice Commission to deal with (you guessed it) statues, colonial legacies, and the need for a friendlier liturgy to those who would rather not “abandon their own cultural heritage”. And, just in case you thought the theology of the Anglican Church was — well — sacred, it must also take steps to offer “alternative theological paradigms which facilitate diversity, inclusion and equity”.

It’s difficult to know where to start with all this. The expense is as good a place as any. For a church busy downsizing clergy, it can’t afford the (at least) £2.5 million per year needed to maintain the 45 extra bureaucrats demanded in this report. For reference, that’s the cost of paying and housing something like 40 or 50 priests; and this is before you even start on the expense of all the extra anti-racism training, reverse mentoring, and other incidental expenses.

It is not only the expense. Much of the report is couched, perhaps tellingly, in urban management jargon, with frequent reference to “pipe-line supply” as regards appointments and “senior leadership teams” within the institution; not to mention the need to “use data to inform accountability by owners of individual recruitment process”.

But, as anyone who has tried to run a church outside major cities knows, many of the ideas in the report are placed not so much in heaven as in cloud-cuckoo-land. Ensuring 15 per cent non-white membership of parochial church councils is a pipedream: it’s difficult enough to cajole anybody onto such committees, let alone observe racial quotas. Churchwardens already fuming at hours spent in chilly church halls being lectured about safeguarding and then told to take anti-racist training are likely to give up and resign.

And the justification for all this? It’s all very well for the Taskforce to reiterate the mantra that black people, or members of other minority races, feel unwelcome in the church. But that’s not the experience in many parishes. Open and deliberate racial prejudice exists in Britain, but is not pervasive; and with congregations worried about declining numbers, any would-be additional worshipper is likely to be welcomed with open arms. The prospect of his being turned away or snubbed because of his race is today vanishingly small.

Again, the obligatory reference to pervasive institutional racism — accepted as a given — rings rather false. Not only did the sceptical authors of the Sewell Report find the evidence for it far from compelling, but even if Sir William Macpherson was right to detect the presence of this phenomenon in the Metropolitan Police in 1999, it is not easy to see why this should necessarily carry over into the Anglican Church in 2021.

For that matter, the attitude to race in the report is interesting. It is noticeable that even though the idea of a monolithic category of BAME people is increasingly seen as discredited, the Taskforce lumps together everyone in the UKME/GME category. It’s as if all they see is white vs non-white, and they somehow regard differences between, say, West Indians, Africans, and South Indians as somehow less significant.

There are also some other interesting underlying assumptions. For instance, the idea that a Jamaican worshipper will feel more welcome if he sees more Nigerian or Indian priests or bishops is not only implausible; it also quietly assumes that non-white people are somehow particularly interested not only in the content of the sermon, but the colour of the person giving it.

The Church should be representative of the body of Christ; not the makeup of humans who comprise it

All of this begs the question: how far are the suggestions in this report actually Christian? The authors play a lot on the concept of “racial sin”: indeed, at one point they use the phrase to refer to the killing of Stephen Lawrence, something that most of us, mindful of Cain and Abel, would simply have called murder. Now, granted that there can be racial sins — deliberately reserving the sacraments only for whites might be one example — but does this really apply to not taking every step to remove disparities between racial groups, or for that matter, failing to require (as at one point the authors advocate) racial quotas for bishops? It seems unlikely.

True, as the Taskforce points out, St Paul made it clear that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But the good Apostle would, one suspects, have been rather surprised to be told that by saying this he was calling for racial equity Robin di Angelo-style throughout Galatia, or for slave and Gentile quotas in the appointment of overseers of the Galatian church to ensure that it faithfully reflected Galatian society. The church is meant to be a representative; we know this. But it is a representative of the perfect body of Christ; not the makeup of the sinful body of humans who comprise it.

In short, the Taskforce seems guilty of doing what Edward Norman, in his excellent 1978 Reith Lectures about the “political Christ”, warned us against. It is insisting that we transpose to the Church, in our pride, values that are effectively secular and human. Faced with this, one might talk of rendering certain things to Caesar, and certain others to God. But, as pointed out by Dr Norman in those very same lectures, there are some far more apposite words from Jesus. “My kingdom,” he said, “is not of this world.” Those who genuinely wish the Church of England well could do worse than ponder that statement.

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