IT HAS been a good week for “sin”. We don’t hear much of it nowadays in the discourse of the Church of England, but “sin”, along with “shame”, have been regularly invoked as the Church responds to last week’s report from the Anti-Racism Taskforce (News, 23 April). The Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared at the start of his interview with Harry Farley on Sunday (Radio 4), must set an example by repenting of its sin.
Unlike the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which, on its release last month, was greeted with considerable indignation (News, 9 April), the Taskforce publication has been accepted with the cries of lamentation required by its title. In his interview earlier in Sunday with the Revd Sonia Barron, who co-chairs the Taskforce, William Crawley suggested that there might be some “pushback” against the report, but dressed up this proxy dissent in a question so woolly that Ms Barron had to ask for it to be repeated.
In contrast, the Farley interview told us much about how Archbishop Welby understands the exercise of power. You are not the Pope, Farley reminded him; nor are you a CEO. “Do you have the weight of the Church behind you?” Farley had mentioned, by this point, both the racism and the recent C of E safeguarding reports, and the question was, by implication, about how these reports’ recommendations were to be put into action.
The Archbishop acknowledged that there were those in the Church — a minority — who took a different view. He did not, however, explain what the nature of this different view might be. A different view on what constitutes racism and abuse? A different view on how to respond to the challenges set out in the reports? Or the view that racism and abuse are acceptable behaviour?
By the manner in which he continued, one assumed that he meant the last of these. “Racist behaviour is a red line; safeguarding and abuse is a red line. If you either commit or tolerate either of these . . . you’ve stepped over the line and there will be . . . really serious consequences.”
That the Archbishop’s response to “pushback” should so swiftly shift gear into a denunciation of abuse and racism per se reveals something of the way in which opposition is dealt with in an institution that lacks an obvious command-and-control structure. “Shame” there may indeed be — but directed at those with the temerity to question a report that deserves the respect of being scrutinised fairly and critically.
Since this was said to be the last interview the Archbishop will give before a sabbatical, you may want to listen in full on BBC Sounds, beginning at approximately 36.40. One further moment of interest came in response to Farley’s question how the Church would pay for the racial-justice officers and other management that compliance with the Taskforce recommendations would entail.
“I don’t know,” the Archbishop replied, admitting that the Church was, indeed, strapped for cash. But he managed to talk himself round. “The money will come, and we will prioritise.” Oh, that all budget decisions were quite so simple!