THE final words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe,” were those with which the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, began his presidential address. The Church was under a gospel imperative to oppose racism in all its forms and challenge white hegemony, he said.
“Racism is a sin and like all sin it must be confronted with a call to repentance, and with the healing, reconciling promise of the gospel.”
It was sobering and shameful for the Church of England to be confronted by its own institutional racism in the recent BBC Panorama documentary (News, 23 April), the Archbishop said. He thanked those who had taken part in the programme for their “honesty and clarity” and re-emphasised that non-disclosure agreements should be used to protect victims only, not the reputation of the institution.
The Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce had reported days after the programme was broadcast. Its recommendations included that the Synod co-opt ethnic-minority members observers in the House of Bishops.
“There is racism in the Church of England and it must be confronted, but no longer by words. We have to become the change we long to see,” the Archbishop said. Apologies must be accompanied by swift action. As a white man, he had much still to learn, he confessed. “In this watershed moment, the week when George Floyd’s killer was brought to justice, we must commit to change.”
This was not the Church being pulled along by culture or politics, but a movement of the Spirit, recommitting the Church to its gospel imperative.