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Church leaders join the voices against racism

12 June 2020

Time to ‘own up to’ and ‘repent’ of white privilege, say bishops

Diocese of Leicester

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, and colleagues, “take the knee”, outside Leicester Cathedral, on Tuesday

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, and colleagues, “take the knee”, outside Leicester Cathedral, on Tuesday

ARCHBISHOPS and bishops of the Church of England, rallying to the support of the Black Lives Matter movement, have said that it is time to “own up to” and “repent” of white privilege, within the Church as in other parts of society.

The new mood was sparked by protests in the United States at the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minnesota, two weeks ago. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who was found in an initial autopsy to have knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, made his first court appearance on Tuesday, charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Demonstrations led by the campaign group Black Lives Matter have spread around the globe. In cities across the UK, thousands of people have defied social-distancing measures to call for racial justice. The UK protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, although some clashes with the police were reported in London.

On Tuesday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a video posted on social media: “I am struck by the effects of the last few days again and again and again, and I’ve been listening to those who have been talking about it from within their own experience of injustice as people who have come to this country. It’s horrifying.

“Yet I am aware, too, that the Church has its own failings, and I come back to the fact that in the New Testament, Jesus says: ‘Be angry about injustice. Repent of injustice.’ That means going the other way, taking action against injustice. . .

“It must never involve the creation of more injustice, by seeking to damage other people. But I feel within me again today that great call of Jesus that we are as a Church to be those who set our own house in order and who acknowledge our own historic errors and failings. As a person, I acknowledge that I come from privilege and a place of power as a white person in this country.”

Several bishops have gone further to express their support of the demonstrations on social media, in articles, or by organising their own smaller demonstrations. Many have agreed with Episcopalian bishops in the US who said that Mr Floyd’s death highlighted “deep racial injustices” in society (News, 5 June).

Writing on the Church Times website this week, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that it was time to own up to and “repent” of white privilege. “I have never been able to eradicate entirely in my mind those thoughts and feelings of a gentle and quiet superiority. . . This includes the quiet assertion that we in the UK are not as bad as ‘they’ in the USA are when it comes to this matter of racism. I hate it when these thoughts emerge. I rail against them. . .

“But, unless I, and all who have experienced this same quiet privilege recognise it, own up to it, repent of it, and commit ourselves to change, then this current fresh awakening of the reality of racism and the need for change that is both structural and personal will pass as those that have come before have passed.”

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow; the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth; and the Bishop of Warwick, the Rt Revd John Stroyan, were among the bishops and clergy to “take the knee” for eight minutes and 46 seconds on Monday in support of the protests.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, who retired on Monday, said last week that he would have taken part in a mass demonstration in his diocese if he had not been shielding.

PAWorkers take down a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay, in east London, on Tuesday

As of Monday, for the first time in more than 25 years, there is no black, Asian, or minority-ethnic (BAME) diocesan bishop serving the Church of England. The latest ministry statistics (2018, published in 2019) show that just 3.9 per cent of the 7700 clergy in the C of E are from BAME backgrounds. This figure has increased by a fraction of a per cent since 2012. Of the 330 ordinands beginning training in 2018, 7.9 per cent identified as BAME.

Last week, one candidate for ordination, Augustine Tanner-Ihm, posted on Twitter and Facebook an email that he had received from a diocesan director of ordinands, rejecting his application for a title post in the diocese because of the demographic of the parish.

It reads: “We are not confident that there is a sufficient ‘match’ between you and the particular requirements of the post. Firstly, the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working class, where you might feel uncomfortable. . .”

Mr Tanner-Ihm, who is a Theology Slam finalist, told the Church Times Podcast this week: “I was adopted later in life; my parents are white, my brothers are white. . . The community I grew up in outside of Chicago is mostly white working class. I lived in Liverpool, white working class; and part of east London which was white working class. . . So actually, if it [the email] was saying ‘you’re going to be with middle-class black people’ that actually would be a cultural difference of experience.

“If anyone is looking for ordination in the Church of England and they’re BAME, then you understand you’re probably going to be at an all-white parish, because the majority of the country is white. So I found it really weird that that was even brought up.”

Catherine Nancekievill, who worked for the Archbishops’ Council from 2015 until January 2020, mainly as Head of Discipleship and Vocation, said of the exchange: “The racism was blatant, but to pile on the injustice, Augustine had been one of the Ministry Division’s great advocates for BAME vocations.”

Writing on the Church Times website this week, she said: “I heard many stories of racism and bias while I worked in the Ministry Division. People didn’t want to speak out publicly or raise a grievance. There’s no formal appeals procedure for a BAP result [Bishops’ Advisory Panel on who can go forward for ordination training]. . . You can complain, but, first, there is a risk that you will be labelled as a trouble-maker.”

The chair of the Anglican Minority Ethnic Network (AMEN), Canon Chigor Chike, said on Tuesday: “As has been admitted, systemic racism exists in the Church of England. So, just like the protesters in America and around the world are pointing out, the time has also come for Church of England, especially the Bishops, to stop talking and start acting if they really want to see change.”

He suggested that each bishop question when the last appointment of a minority-ethnic person on the staff team was made, or when BAME persons were included on an interview panel. “If it is not OK to have an all-male interview panel these days, why does anyone think it is OK to have an all-white panel?”

The Ministry Division figures were unsurprising, he said. “Systemic problems exist in the selection, training, and ministry of Church of England clergy. . . How do people feel when they gather in various committees and bodies of the Church of England and there are only white people in the room? They should not feel comfortable, and the Bishops in particular should have a plan to change that. . . The time has come to see action, not more words.”

The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, who chairs the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, agreed that “urgent and immediate action” was needed to address under-representation at all levels in the Church. He also suggested that “a massive escalation of BAME senior leaders” and “modules about Black History including the impact of the evils of slavery” in all training institutions was needed.

“We need a national programme of re-education about slavery which encourages racism as the lives of Black people were and still are, regarded as cheap and commodified. We need to see a national roll-out of a Programme of Race Awareness Training in every diocese at both clerical and parochial level [and] ensure that racist stereotyping is outlawed in all selection and appointment processes regarding ordinands and other appointments.”

PAPolice escort George Floyd’s hearse from his funeral in the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, to a cemetery in the city, on Tuesday. Read more at churchtimes.co.uk

A new book, Ghost Ship: Institutional racism and the Church of England, by A. D. A. Frances, is due to be published by SCM Press at the end of next month. The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who has supported peaceful protests in her own city and the toppling of a statue of the slave merchant Edward Colston, wrote on Twitter that she would be recommending the book to clergy.

The Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Rob Wickham, writes on the Church Times website: “We could remain silent and see this as someone else’s problem (the black-majority Church possibly). We could put our heads in the sand, as the implications of the events of the past few weeks are too horrendous to bear. We may feel threatened that we might say something wrong and prefer a cushion of silence.

“But silence is colluding with the structural racism that has been (again) revealed. It is only right for white clergy to speak out, especially if we are amplifying the voices of those personally affected, using our privilege to enable the stories of others to be told.”

The Anglican mission agency USPG has published an open letter in support of the BLM movement. “Racism, whether it leads to murderous violence or manifest itself in everyday acts of discrimination and prejudice is abhorrent, offensive in the sight of God and a denial of our common humanity.

“As leaders of Anglican mission agencies who work in partnership with churches in the UK and throughout the wider Anglican Communion, we stand in solidarity with the expression that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Whilst we reject violence of any kind, through our work we re-commit ourselves to speak out and stand up against every form of racism.”

It continues: “We acknowledge the pervasive and systemic reality of racism within ourselves, our communities and the structures of British society. We recognise that this racism has deep historical roots, which shape our institutions, the practices of our communities and the attitudes of individuals and societies. The appalling treatment of members of the Windrush generation in recent years is just one monstrous example.”

Read more on the story in our comment section and in Andrew Brown’s press column

Listen to the full interview with Augustine Tanner-Ihm on the Church Times Podcast

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