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Leader comment: Welcomed to the table at last?

23 April 2021

IT WAS fitting that the report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce was published yesterday (Thursday), the anniversary of the racist murder of the 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence in 1993. South London had its George Floyd moment 28 years before Minneapolis. It might have been better, though, to wait one more day, since St George’s Day, awkwardly wrested from White, right-wing nationalists, still needs help to settle more comfortably with England’s multiracial population. It will be a landmark when the Garter Knights and Ladies, who wear his emblem and now miss the Duke of Edinburgh from among their ranks, reflect that diversity more closely.

As for the taskforce and its proposals, it would be hard to imagine their being denied anything, were it not for the Church’s recent history of never quite getting round to making the significant changes that have been urged repeatedly in the past. Taking its lead from the introduction of women into the episcopate, the taskforce proposes that at least one minority-ethnic candidate be considered for every senior appointment from now on, or “valid, publishable reasons” provided for the failure to do so. The taskforce does not go beyond getting someone on the shortlist. We wonder, though, whether this is the final nail in the coffin of confidentiality in senior appointments. Those who fail to be appointed/nominated are entitled to feedback about why they were unsuccessful. The pooling of such observations would quickly reveal whether there is bias of any kind in the choices made. Taken together with the belated eschewing of Non-Disclosure Agreements, and the determination to publish the Church’s progress in meeting the targets set for it by the taskforce, there is a real prospect of a far greater transparency.

This is essential. The minority-ethnic clergy who were featured on Panorama on Monday night had a consistent story to tell: what the Revd Alwyn Pereira called a “shooing away” of complaints; Dr Elizabeth Henry reported that it was not “safe” to complain, since it would mark out the complainant as a troublemaker, however valid their grievance. For this reason, the extent of racism in the Church is simply not known. Because it has not been exposed to the light, the Church has been able to get away with inaction.

The Church must face its past — but also its future. We return to the words of the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, at the General Synod in February of last year: “If we are going to go forward, we are going to be a better Church when we embrace the gifts and the abilities that we all bring to the table. . . If it is excellence and vision that you are looking for, then minority-ethnic people will always be at the table.”

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