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Letters to the Editor

by
26 June 2020

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Slavery and colonialism, the Churches and racism

From the Revd Duncan Dormor

Sir, — I am grateful to the Revd Huw Thomas (Letters, 19 June) for reminding the Church of England — and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) — of its utterly disgraceful history as the owner of a slave plantation, and for raising the important question of reparations, citing a debt of £8823 8s. 9d. (just over £1 million today). There are, however, real dangers of such a numeric approach to the complex issue of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters.

In the mid-19th century, S.P.G. made a grant of £85,000 and launched a fund that raised a further £80,000 (equivalent to more than £17 million today), which was spent in the Caribbean, much of it on educational infrastructure.

The debt cannot be “settled” by this or, indeed, any financial transaction.

The legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and our colonial history are deep and pervasive, as the Windrush scandal and Black Lives Matter campaign have made clear. As global Anglicans, we need a deep, sustained, and rigorous commitment to real conversation and interrogation — not just of our histories and institutions, but also of our theologies.

USPG today has a multi-cultural and diverse workforce, a Communion Wide Advisory Group which includes the current Principal of Codrington, the Revd Dr Michael Clarke, is intentionally cognisant of its past, and cherishes its relationships with the global partners in the Anglican Communion.

DUNCAN DORMOR
General Secretary
USPG
5 Trinity Street
London SE1 1DB

 

From the Revd Roger Bowen

Sir, — The Black Lives Matter movement requires not more discussions and resolutions, but action. It has not yet gone far enough to change anything. It should not be about simply giving the black and minority-ethnic (BAME) communities what we have withheld from them, or redressing injustice, or appointing more of them to bishoprics. It should be saying: “We need you. You alone can reform and revive our faith and our witness — and rejuvenate our moribund culture.”

The most startling feature of the Early Church was the way it crossed all racial and cultural barriers, thereby discovering from new peoples new ways of knowing Jesus. It must happen globally today if the Church is to live again.

In 1969, there were enough Ugandan theologians to staff Uganda’s main Anglican theological college, but the Principal insisted on including two Europeans on his staff, “because”, he said, “Christianity is a global faith and we need a global outlook”.

An African postgraduate student in the UK was offered a post as curate in an East Yorkshire, mainly white working-class, parish. Most parishioners made it very clear that they did not want him to conduct their marriages or funerals — until he started to do it, and he quickly became their preferred choice. But they could learn this only from experience.

Two distinguished African archbishops can tell of their disturbing youthful experiences of being humiliated by Europeans until they proved themselves to be game-changers on the world stage. But we had to learn this.

The questions therefore are: How many BAME tutors are there in our colleges and courses? How much inter-cultural experience is a specific part of our training? How excited are we to learn more of Jesus from our wider family? When will we see that Africans and Asians are our best evangelists? When will we ask BAME people to show us the shortcomings of our culture? How many parishes are asking for BAME clergy? What could they know of England who only England know?

We need you — I do, anyway!

ROGER BOWEN
26 Lingholme Close
Cambridge CB4 3HW

 

From the Revd James Hargreave

Sir, — The Revd Dr Nigel Scotland has suggested (Letters, 19 June) that “the time is right to establish a Museum of the British Slave Trade.” May I point out that there is already one located in the High Street, Hull. Our readers would, I am sure, appreciate a post-lockdown visit to Wilberforce House. The items that made the greatest impression on me as a 14-year-old were the model of a slave ship depicting human beings packed like sardines on the deck and in the hold, and a large oil painting of slaves being branded and a pair of iron shackles.

There are two fine statues of William Wilberforce in Hull, one in the garden of his home, and the other mounted on a column overlooking Queen’s Gardens, where last week a BLM gathering (peaceful) took place.

Just as I thought that Hull was untainted by the pollution of the slave trade, it was announced on BBC Look North that questions were being raised regarding the suitability of a plaque in memory of Zachariah Pearson in the park bearing his name. During the American Civil War, his ships broke the blockade of the slave-supporting Confederate states to bring cotton back to the mills in Britain.

Perhaps during this period of lockdown and in response to the tragic events in the United States, we as a nation have more time to reflect at greater depth on our own involvement in that horrendous trade.

JAMES HARGREAVE
1 The Avenue, Crescent Street,
Cottingham East Yorks HU16 5QT

 

From the Revd Dr John M. Chesworth

Sir, — Your correspondent, the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland, calls for the establishment of a national museum dedicated to slavery. It already exists. In 2007, the International Museum of Slavery was opened at the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Liverpool, having been the centre for the triangular slave trade, is the most appropriate location for this.

JOHN CHESWORTH
21 Oerley Way
Oswestry SY11 1TD

 

From Mr Adam Sedgwick

Sir, — Of the ten letters last week about the church and Black Lives Matter, only three made concrete proposals, none of which were to do with changing the Church, now. As an elderly, privileged white male, it shouldn’t be for the likes of me to say what should be done. But in the absence of concrete proposals from a more appropriate demographic, I have one observation, from which I deduce one line of action.

We don’t need another inquiry, report, or book. We have had these as far back as the eye can see, with another due next month. But, therefore, perhaps, a Cochrane-type review of past inquiries, reports, etc.? Or even just a list of their recommendations, identifying which have been implemented?

ADAM SEDGWICK
Downs House, The Downs
Stoke by Nayland
Suffolk CO6 4TQ

 

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — Margaret Stevens (Letters, 19 June) criticises British “colonisation of many countries, contributing to deep-rooted problems and conflicts even in present times”.

I have visited Kenya as part of a diocesan mission team and talked at some length with senior church leaders there. While they recognised many mistakes and injustices perpretated by the colonisers, they were also full of praise for the British. “We are so grateful to your nation,” they said repeatedly. “You brought us good laws, education, health, infrastructure, and above all the gospel, which has transformed African society for the better, particularly in the rooting out of the problems and conflicts caused by witch doctors and polygamy.”

They wanted to express their gratitude in the only way open to them, by giving gifts to us, the descendants of the colonialists and first missionaries, many of whom were recognised as godly and self-sacrificing men and women with a great love for all Africans, and not arrogant and racist. So lavish were their gifts that as a team we had to buy an extra suitcase to bring them home.

In the current maelstrom of emotional debate about racism, we do need to heed Jesus’ warning: “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgement” (John 7.24).

ANDREW DOW
17 Brownlow Drive
Stratford-upon-Avon
CV37 9QS

 

Sir, — I was shocked, appalled, and disappointed to discover that the racist rejection of K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm (Comment, 19 June) for a curacy was this diocese (St Albans), but, sadly, I was not that surprised.

I am sure that the racism was not malicious, although that makes it no more acceptable. The statement issued by the diocese on 17 June refers to a “poor choice of words”, as if it were just the words that were the problem. The problem is that the colour of Mr Tanner-Ihm’s skin and the colour of the parishioners’ skins were clearly considered as a part of the decision-making process and that, four months later, after it has been plastered over the media, that is clearly still not appreciated.

An unqualified apology has apparently been given, but where is the fruit in keeping with repentance? This diocese is rolling out “unconscious bias training”, which, we are told, the person concerned had already attended. It made no difference, because I suspect this was very conscious, very deliberate, and very considered bias.

The paternalism of this diocese predates all the existing senior clergy and seems to be systemic and corrupting. Many ordinary clergy accept it because it is all they have known, and because senior clergy are “nice”, “decent” people in normal interactions, and because they have “never had a problem with them”.

A full review of why, after this racism was disclosed, it was clearly not taken seriously needs to take place, and all those involved need to be held fully accountable. If such a review does not also consider all forms of prejudice and discrimination in this diocese and tackle the underlying attitudes prevalent, then there will continue to be victims whose “face does not fit” in certain contexts.

I hope and pray that Mr Tanner-Ihm finds a curacy in a better diocese than this one, and in a diocese that nurtures and values the prophetic gift that he clearly has.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

From the Rt Revd Dr Oliver Simon

Sir, — The Revd Alwyn Pereira exercised his right under data-protection legislation to read his personal file, the so-called “blue” file.

There he discovered the observations of his diocesan bishop. Subsequently, Bishop Mike Hill has acknowledged his use of “stereotypes which were unacceptable and offensive” (News, 19 June).

These files came into being when diocesan bishops felt the need to retain and record data about their clergy without any accountability for the integrity of what was being conserved. They tell us as much about the stereotypes that the senior clergy espouse as about the subject to which the file refers. In some instances, the material is toxic in reputational terms both for the individual and for the institution.

It is time for this way of monitoring people to be reviewed. If there is any reason to maintain these files, then the very least that should be done is for the contents to be disclosed regularly to the person to whom the file applies. The stereotypes might then be identified and serious misrepresentation redressed.

OLIVER SIMON
Colcombe Mill Cottage
Colyton EX24 6EU

 

From Mr Chaka Artwell

Sir, — The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has launched the Windrush cross-government working group, with Home Office-appointed African-skinned clergy as representative of England’s African-skinned subjects, whose task will be to hold Government, the Home Office, and civil servants to account for illegally exiling English subjects of Caribbean heritage in 2018. This behaviour from the Home Secretary is classic paternalist racism.

Our African Caribbean-administered Churches have spectacularly failed to bring forth any figure like Dr Martin Luther King or overtly use their leadership to challenge or oppose or offer the leadership that is so lacking among our African-skinned communities. They have not criticised, challenged, or strongly opposed the litany of colour disparity from Labour and the Conservative government.

I call on the co-chair, Bishop Webley; Bishop Joe Aldred from Churches Together in England; Paulette Simpson, Executive Director of The Voice; Blondel Cluff, Chief Executive of the West India Committee, and Kunle Olulode, Director of Voice4Change England, to give public account of themselves and how they intend to hold the Home Office, civil servants, and the Houses of Parliament to account.

It is a form of paternalistic racism to appoint people to represent England’s African-skinned subjects if the representatives failed to seek the consent of those whom they have been appointed to represent. Our African-skinned Churches are a compliant conservative Establishment that has failed to protect their traditional interpretation of the Messiah’s gospel message to be relevant to the majority of England’s African-skinned youth.

CHAKA ARTWELL
Secretary, Oxford African Caribbean Conversation
12 Cranley Road, Barton
Oxford OX3 8BW

 

From Mr Steve Vince
Sir, — Nowhere in Domenica Pecoraro and the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold’s admirable cri de coeur on behalf of the cross-Channel refugees (Comment, 19 June) is it mentioned that they are all trying to get to this country from France. What can possibly be happening to them in France to make them desper­­ate enough to undergo such mortal peril to get to such an (apparently) hostile and racist country as Britain?

STEVE VINCE
13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton
West Midlands WV2 4NQ

 

Christ Church, Oxford, and C of E safeguarding

From the Bishop of Huddersfield

Sir, — In response to your report “C of E is ‘being used’ in campaign against Dean of Christ Church” (News, 19 June), I would like to point out that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the College and the Dean.

When a referral is made alleging that a senior member of the clergy has not fulfilled his or her safeguarding responsibilities, the NST has a duty to consider the management of any safeguarding risk. In this case, an independent safeguarding person has been asked to investigate and report back.

As I am sure your readers would agree, the Church must take all safeguarding issues very seriously, and all this is being done in accordance with the House of Bishops guidelines. For reference, the Dean of Christ Church is a “Church officer” within the definition contained in the House of Bishops practice guidance.

There is no agenda behind this and we hope that with the cooperation of all concerned this matter can be concluded quickly.

JONATHAN HUDDERSFIELD
Lead bishop for safeguarding
Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

 

From the Rt Revd Richard Llewellin

Sir, — While it makes good sense to suspend a bishop or priest from active ministry while a complaint against her or him is being investigated regarding an alleged abuse, I completely fail to understand why a similar suspension is imposed on such a person whose only possible fault is that she or he has failed in some way to act decisively regarding an alleged abuser.

Is there a bishop alive who has never made such a mistake? And how does such a mistake adversely affect their present ministry? This is safeguarding gone mad. Of course, if the cleric is found to have made a serious error of judgement, that is the moment to issue a reprimand or other appropriate penalty.

RICHARD LLEWELLIN
(formerly Bishop at Lambeth)
15a The Precincts
Canterbury
Kent CT1 2EL

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