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Racism is ‘a gaping wound’ in the Church, says Lord Boateng

16 July 2021

‘Our mandate is to bind and heal’ says new chair of the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission 

Roger Harris/UK Parliament

Lord Boateng

Lord Boateng

RACISM is “a gaping wound” in the Church, Lord Boateng said last Friday, after his appointment as chair of the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission was announced at the General Synod.

The Commission, which will last for three years, will comprise “independent advisers to scrutinise the Church of England’s policies, practices and culture in relation to racial justice”, a statement from Church House said.

The post of chair had previously been accepted by the Revd Dr Joel Edwards, who died at the end of last month (News, 9 July; Obituary 16 July).

Lord Boateng, who is of Ghanaian and Scottish heritage, became the UK’s first black Cabinet minister when he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2002. He was British High Commissioner to South Africa between 2005 and 2009, and was introduced as a member of the House of Lords in 2010.

Lord Boateng said: “Racism is a gaping wound in the body of Christ’s church. Our mandate as a Commission is not only to bind but to heal.

“This is a grave responsibility and one which can only be taken up and guided by prayer. I assume this new role with that in the forefront of my mind and ask for your prayers at this critical time in the history of the Church.”

During a presentation to the Synod on the work of the Commission, last Friday, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “The Commission will be an independent body that is representative of complex interests and expertise within and beyond the Church. . .

“While the Commission’s deliberations are formed independently, it has been appointed in full consultation and with the support of the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council, by whose authority and mandate they will function.”

One of the co-chairs of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, the Revd Sonia Barron, told the Synod that 12 people “from across the Church of England and beyond” had been invited to sit on the Commission, of whom she was one, as a representative of the taskforce.

“The purpose of the Commission will be to set out a compelling agenda for change, driven by gospel principle,” she said. “The Commission is appointed for three years, with a mandate to hold the Church of England to account on the progress and commitment to anti-racism efforts, working collaboratively with the Racial Justice Directorate and other partners.”

The Commission’s work, she said, would be supported by a staff team led by the Archbishops’ Adviser on Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns, Dr Sanjee Perera, and would include a research co-ordinator and a communications officer.

The Commission would be formally launched this September, and reach its full term in September 2024, Ms Barron said. It would meet monthly, either by Zoom or in person, depending on national social-distancing guidelines, and would publish reports twice a year. These would be discussed by the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council.

In addition to the Commission’s monthly meetings, individual Commissioners would “promote particular streams of work, leading on areas according to their particular expertise, supporting evidence, gathering exercises and focus groups, media and public engagement events, and other appropriate efforts to enhance the policy and culture change for tackling racism in the Church of England”.

Ms Barron concluded: “We ask that you pray with us and for us. We hope you will be inspired by the Holy Spirit to be part of the solution as you support our work with your own gifts and encourage others to do the same.

“Synod, this Commission holds the convictions, hopes, and lamentations of many minority-ethnic brothers and sisters that are your family, that sit with you virtually today in this Synod, in your pews on a Sunday morning, and sometimes outside the doors of the church waiting to be welcomed in.”

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