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Anti-racism and the C of E: Now for the implementation

by
30 April 2021

Jonathan Jong welcomes From Lament to Action, but questions some details

youtube/church of england

A scene from a video promoting the Anti-Racism Taskforce’s report, From Lament to Action

A scene from a video promoting the Anti-Racism Taskforce’s report, From Lament to Action

THE Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce’s report, From Lament to Action (News, 23 April), was as thoughtful, powerful, and urgent as I had hoped and prayed. As I share the Taskforce’s goals, I shall focus here on its main recommendations for increasing ethnic diversity and representation in the Church of England.

The Taskforce pays special attention to diversity among senior church leaders, including bishops, archdeacons, deans, and canons. For example, it calls for 30 per cent of Strategic Leadership Development Programme (SLDP) cohorts to be from minority-ethic (ME) backgrounds, and for shortlists for senior clergy appointments to include at least one ME candidate.

This emphasis on senior posts is understandable, but, I believe, misguided. ME clergy make up about 4.5 per cent of bishops and 3.7 per cent of deans and archdeacons. This is far below the estimated 15 per cent of ME churchgoers, but matches closely the overall proportion of ME stipendiary clergy: 3.8 per cent.

It is not only senior clergy who are unrepresentative of churchgoers, but clergy in general. The fact that nine per cent of current ordinands are from ME backgrounds is encouraging. ME curates, however, seem to transition into incumbencies at a lower rate than white curates: for example, 4.9 per cent of curates were from ME backgrounds in 2012, but only 3.2 per cent of incumbents were in 2016.

It is not clear why this is, but it demands investigation, especially in light of the racism experienced by ordinands and junior clergy such as Jarel Robinson-Brown (News, 12 February), Augustine Tanner-Ihm (News, 26 June 2020), the Revd Peterson Feital (News, 23 April), and the Revd Michelle Delves.

Social-psychological research provides an additional impetus to prioritising diversity among parish clergy. While it is by no means a panacea, personal contact and co-operation with people from ME backgrounds is one of the most effective means of reducing racism. It is important that ME clergy are seen regularly in local communities and form meaningful and long-lasting pastoral and personal relationships with people from all backgrounds.

 

THE scarcity of ME clergy also presents challenges to fulfilling the proposed quotas.

Consider the two proposals mentioned above, regarding SLDP cohorts and shortlists for senior appointments. Each SLDP cohort comprises about 60 individuals, of which 20 should be ME clergy, the report says; and approximately 30 senior leaders are appointed each year in the Church, for each of which one person on the shortlist should be ME. This makes a total of 50 positions to which the C of E’s 240 ME stipendiary clergy will either be appointed or for which they’ll be shortlisted. This will make them very busy indeed, especially if they are also going to be co-opted on to the General Synod, cathedral Chapters, and various other posts.

As an alternative to mandatory quotas, I propose new consultative requirements in appointments processes. The Taskforce calls for a new Racial Justice Directorate and the reimagination of the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. One of these should serve as a consultative body, whose responsibility is to be well informed about ME clergy.

Senior-appointments committees should consult this body, which may recommend specific candidates to be invited to apply; other appointments committees — e.g., for incumbencies — should notify the body of vacancies, which may make recommendations as appropriate.

This process fills gaps in knowledge, but also addresses an issue that we have encountered in efforts towards gender diversity: some of us are, for cultural reasons, reluctant to put ourselves forward for senior positions, viewing it as distasteful self-promotion.

The Taskforce also recommends full-time racial-justice officers (RJOs) for every diocese, who can play an important part in my proposed consultative process, especially in keeping the national body informed. I wonder, however, whether diversity officers with a broader remit — including ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic background — would be more effective at addressing intersectional concerns. I understand the risk that some elements of diversity might be neglected, but robust accountability processes can mitigate this.

My other concern about RJOs is that, in some less diverse parts of the country, this presents yet another burden on ME Anglicans. Furthermore, I am eager that we should not be typecast into diocesan “diversity” positions: this perpetuates the status quo, in which the only ME diocesan staff members tend to occupy such positions, instead of being appointed as diocesan directors of ordinands or directors for mission, etc.

 

THE risk of burdening ME Anglicans is also present in the proposals regarding anti-racism training. The situation to avoid is the recent one with unconscious-bias training (UBT). The C of E has spent a great deal of money and time — often the time of ME Anglicans — on designing and implementing UBT. The trouble is that UBTs typically improve neither participants’ behaviour nor outcomes for minorities.

Social-scientific research suggests that effective training programmes are those that target specific behaviour and skills: we need to be clear about what they are intended to achieve, and thoughtful about how we can evaluate them.

The Taskforce is certainly aware of the importance of evaluation, and of data more broadly: it recommends the auditing of various Church of England institutions and the continued monitoring of progress. The public availability of data is especially important, as it allows us to keep the Church accountable. Improved data collection is both onerous and unlikely to make headlines, however. I fear that this crucial element of the Taskforce’s proposals will be neglected for more superficial and media-friendly actions, and pray that this will not be not so.

 

The Revd Dr Jonathan Jong is an assistant professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, and a non-stipendiary priest in Chichester diocese.

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