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Letters to the Editor

by
19 June 2020

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Church and racism, Black Lives Matter and history

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — It is right that bishops have admitted to racism in the Church of England (News, 12 June). Their apologies, however, ring hollow and continue 40 years of platitudes. It has become a ritual, shamelessly repeated. Something racist happens in public life which bishops cannot ignore, they express their regrets, a review takes place, and then nothing effective happens. In contrast, there are examples in the press of doctors’, teachers’, and police officers’ dismissal for racist behaviour. The bishops are comforting themselves with an emotion while taking no meaningful action. It is either incompetence or racism.

The statements made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Durham, and others deserve scrutiny to assess their real motives. Reference to “white privilege”, for example, can be used to assert white supremacy rather than repent of it. They use the phrase to their advantage because they can continue to believe and convince others that they are automatically suited to belonging to the white bishops’ club. They ignore the fact that BAME people are over-represented in most secular professional organisations and damagingly under-represented in senior positions in the Church of England.

Let us take Bishop Michael Hill as an example. In 2014, he preached at a Merchant Venturers’ Charter Day service in Bristol Cathedral and, despite his claims to have been misinterpreted, was heard to claim that Edward Colston had “lived a life of significance” and dismissed Colston’s links to the slave trade as “speculation”.

Then, recently, the Revd Alwyn Pereira’s experiences were reported in the press. It was revealed that, after being turned down for several appointments, he had found a note on his file written by Bishop Hill. It provides a clear example of personal racist behaviour which might never have come to light. In response, the current Bishop of Bristol stated that she would ensure that she would deal with institutional racism. This is a tactic often used by the Church of England to avoid owning up to and dealing with the pervasive personal racist behaviour in its midst.

Bishop Hill’s behaviour is not unique. When BAME clergy speak up about their experiences of racism in the C of E, they are likely to be silenced and ostracised. If some bishops dominate to preserve the status quo of white leadership, other white bishops need to challenge them, because no one else is in a position to do so. The C of E is not accountable to anyone independent of its leaders.

Banksy said it well when he posted a powerful painting about George Floyd and pointed out that “People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. This faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t — no one will let them in the apartment upstairs.”

He concluded the post by writing: “This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.”

Banksy understands the reality of racism more than our spiritual leaders do.

VASANTHA GNANADOSS
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

 

From Mrs Margaret Stevens

Sir, — What is the Church of England doing in response to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement? The Anglican Church carries a huge burden of guilt and responsibility for the suffering of billions of BAME people over the past few centuries.

As a white Anglican, I have been overwhelmed by this guilt many times throughout my adult life (I am now 75), but have rarely known what to do with it, especially as it is not just a personal sin, but also a national and institutional sin shared by people of my race. I believe that we can really move forward and eradicate racism in our country only if the corporate Church first addresses the issues and its involvement.

Through meaningful public acts, we must demonstrate repentance of, and reparation for, the sins of dehumanisation and oppression which BAME people have suffered at our hands as a result of:

(1) the slave trade and denying black people equal rights even after the abolition of slavery;

(2) the colonisation of many countries, forcibly taking away people’s lands and rights, contributing to deep-rooted problems and conflicts even in present times;

(3) the arrogance and racism of many missionaries sent out by the Church;

(4) our treatment of the “Windrush generation” when they arrived, not only making them feel unwelcome, but often telling them that they must not come to “our” churches again; and

(5) our failure to challenge successive UK governments about bias against BAME people.

The Church should be leading the nation in the process. This will take time and resources to result in real transformation. Many will need support on the journey as the personal and shared suffering, pain, and guilt go back generations. There is also the need for the healing of our history (facing up to it honestly), the healing of lands and nations, and of generations and races, as well as individual healing.

We must not miss this opportunity to lead and act with humility.

MARGARET STEVENS
(Lay Canon)
25 Ravensthorpe Drive
Loughborough LE11 4PU

 

From the Revd Smitha Prasadam

Sir, — In Denmark, where I minister, every shop, clinic, and public institution has a sign saying: “STOP — if you have Covid-19 symptoms.” What if we plastered every church, chaplaincy, PCC, synod, committee, board, and guild with 8:46? “STOP — if you have any racist attitude, behaviour, or tendency. There is no room for it here.”

I refuse to believe that God who calls each one by name and continues to call insistently is pleased that five BAME suffragan bishops are to do the work of the rest of the (white) House of Bishops. Or that only one BAME dean is capable of leadership in a cathedral. Or that the appointment (now retirement) of one BAME diocesan/archbishop is enough to satisfy the hopes of every BAME Anglican.

Thirty years ago, the General Synod’s report Seeds of Hope promised much to address racism and advocate change.

A second, premature report, The Passing Winter, offered a hope beyond the reality. Complacency became the norm once a smattering of poorly funded, mainly part-time, positions were created for minority-ethnic advisory posts. Most fizzled without funds or fervour. The Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice inaugurated Racial Justice Sunday, and yet, in this its 25th year, who could honestly say that it registered on their church’s radar?

Unless those with real power to change structures act with immediate zeal, we will still be talking about this 30 years from now.

SMITHA PRASADAM
Bishop in Europe’s BAME Adviser
Churchillparken 6
Copenhagen 1263, Denmark

 

From the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland

Sir, — In view of the justifiable anger over the tragic and horrendous death of George Floyd which is being expressed in this country, the time is surely right to establish a Museum of the British Slave Trade.

It would necessarily include the leading perpetrators, the owners of slave ships, the plantation owners, the brutality of slave traders, sea cap­tains and colonial slave masters, polit­icians, MPs and churchmen who justified the trade, British people who bought, owned, and kept household slaves and oppon­ents of the slave trade such as Wesley, Wilberforce, the Clapham Sect, William Knibb, and the Quakers.

NIGEL SCOTLAND
8 The Rowans, Woodmancote
Cheltenham, Glos. GL52 RL

 

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — We all have multiple identities and at this time when identity can be so divisive we all need to build our relationships with those whose dominant identity is different from ours.

I am old, white, and male. I was appointed to my first job by Dr Kurt Hahn, who had in 1932 been imprisoned by Hitler for publicly challenging his thugs. I am also a rusty historian and know of Churchill’s record at the time of the Bengal famine and his reference to Indians as nasty people with a nasty religion. But I also remember being a 12-year-old living under the flight path into RAF Kenley in August 1940. We and millions more were caused to feel ridiculously assured of final victory by the voice of that one man on the wireless night after night, when all the world thought we were finished. His voice saved the world from a horrible evil.

If we are fortunate enough to have friends who are Christian and Muslim, black, Asian and white, Conservative and Labour, this is the time to strengthen and reach out, not to demonise and cut off.

The Church failed very badly over the Windrush challenge; so, by the time the Pakistani arrivals brought a second challenge, of religious pluralism as well as colour, secular multiculturalism was so dominant that the Church, especially the Established Church, had little to say, and few were listening.

Now we have a second chance. The gospel of Jesus, not the remnant of Constantinian religious power, is the promise of the time when “the leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations”, of all our brothers and sisters.

There are strong parallels today here and in Europe with the Germany of the 1920s. A bewildered nation in multiple crises sought rather blindly for decisive leadership. The Church to which it would have looked for guidance in an earlier age was bogged down in intellectual debate (“the historicity of Jesus Christ”, etc.) and awaited its costly rebirth, shared with Jews and communists, in great suffering.

We now are in urgent need of clear and strong national Christian leadership. Dr Sentamu could have 20 good years still. Or who will step forward?

JOHN RAY
2 Birchfield, Hook
Goole DN14 5 NJ

 

From the Revd Huw Thomas

Sir, — The statues topple (News, 12 June), but, as a Church, we need to remember: we were slave-owners. At our Codrington Plantation, our Church branded and “owned” slaves: four in ten died within three years of their arrival there.

I understand that post-abolition we were compensated in 1833 for loss of slave labour to the tune of £8823 8s. 9d. So, while many have responded to the call-out that Black Lives Matter, might we put our £8823 8s. 9d. where our hashtags are?

We owe £8823 8s. 9d. in reparations: using an average inflation figure of 2.6 per cent p.a. from 1833, I calculate that to be £1,058,109.88. Where and how to send such funds would require careful listening, and in no way would this be recompense for our slave-owning; but this payment is long overdue.

HUW THOMAS
140 Abbeyfield Road
Pitsmoor, Sheffield S4 7AY

 

From the Revd Peter Macleod-Miller

Sir, — Statues and monuments are records of the journey of our collective conscience. Those images now raising popular disapproval have stood silently in public view, but now they roar questions that are not easily gagged. They have the potential to open public debate and real political action.

Failed relationships often elicit justified emotional responses that rarely address the real problem. It would be a political gift for mobs to remove these uncomfortable signposts to the future. The anachronisms, inequalities, and inadequacies expressed in our sacred books have resulted in interpretations, greater understandings, social action, and more books rather than book-burnings.

A civilised society should expect greater efforts toward indigenous recognition and immediate answers to the human-rights abuses and institutional bias against our first peoples rather than allow the moment to knocked from the public platform or disappear in a puff of vandalism.

Tearing down images of those associated with historical injustice may result in ripping down the question mark but not answering the question.

PETER MACLEOD-MILLER
PO Box 682, Albury
NSW 2640, Australia

 

From the Revd Martin Sewell

Sir, — We need our public intellectuals, our church leaders, and our media to exercise special care over the phrase “Black lives matter,” differentiating it, where appropriate, from Black Lives Matter. They are not the same thing.

The one speaks from within an inclusive tradition of valuing each of those for whom Jesus sacrificed his life, with special care for the excluded and the oppressed. That is a very different thing from supporting Black Lives Matter, an organisation with revolutionary aims, its own unaccountable structures, leadership, funding, and strategies that arises out of the Marxist school of philosophy. Political correctness was conceived as an alternative to Christian values, not an expression of them. I strongly advise that Christians Google Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals the better to understand.

Christians are called to be “as wise as serpents, as gentle as doves”; we are not called to be the “useful idiots” of which Lenin spoke.

MARTIN SEWELL
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend
Kent DA11 7PB

 

From Mr Richard Morrison

Sir, — You report (News, 12 June) that the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK were “overwhelmingly peaceful, although some clashes with the police were reported in London”. In fact, 62 police officers were injured in those “overwhelmingly peaceful” protests. Also circulating on social media was a startling video of two police officers, one female, being set upon by people in east London while others merely looked on, or filmed the attack on their phones.

My son is a serving Metropolitan Police officer. His working life has been spent on very difficult estates in Brent and Southwark, building up relationships in the community, listening to people, trying to stop teenagers from killing each other, and dealing with the consequences of immense social problems that have nothing to do with policing. His work is heartbreaking, frequently dangerous, and usually thankless.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tells us, apparently on Jesus’s authority, to “be angry about injustice”. The trouble is that an invitation to be angry can easily be interpreted as a licence to be violent. Honest, fair-minded police officers — and there are many of them — then find themselves being beaten up with the apparent tacit approval of the Church.

RICHARD MORRISON
88a Willesden Lane
London NW6 7TA

 

From the Revd Dr David L. Gosling

Sir, — The support of the Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, for the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston (News, 12 June) is commendable, but needs to be complemented by a recommendation of what should replace it. I would suggest as an example a statue of Ram Mohan Roy, described in India as the father of modern India, who is buried in a Bristol graveyard.

The culpability of the Church of England in the slave trade goes very deep, and it must never be forgotten that when Wilberforce’s anti-slavery Bill eventually went through Parliament, every bishop in the House of Lords voted against it.

DAVID L. GOSLING
2 St Luke’s Mews
Cambridge CB4 3DF

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