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Reform Church’s legal system to prevent further racial injustice, Boateng Commission urges

29 June 2022


Lord Boateng chairs one of the ACRJ’s meetings, in Lambeth Palace

Lord Boateng chairs one of the ACRJ’s meetings, in Lambeth Palace

THE Church’s legal system must be reformed, after a consistory court did not agree to the removal from a college chapel of a monument to a man who profited from the slave trade, the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission has said.

In a strongly worded report, which also expresses frustration at the “inexplicable” delay in establishing a racial-justice directorate for the Church of England, members of the Commission said that there must be greater ethnic diversity among the judges in the consistory courts, and diversity training and new guidance to prevent “continuing racial injustice”.

“This should include specific training on the theology of racial justice and the implications for ministry of monuments to slavery,” their report says.

“It would seem to many who have followed this case that it ended where such things often do, with those most affected by virtue of their ancestry being asked to continue to carry the burden of the grievous wrong done by slavery to those from whom they are descended.”

The Commission was established after a recommendation of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce in its report From Lament to Action, published last year (News, 21 April 2021). Lord Boating — who became the UK’s first black Cabinet minister when he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2002 — was appointed to chair the Commission (News, 8 October 2021), with a board of independent advisers to drive systematic change across the Church.

He and other commissioners observed the failure in the Consistory Court of the diocese of Ely of a petition by Jesus College, Cambridge, for a faculty that would have authorised the removal of a memorial to a college benefactor, Tobias Rustat (1608-94) (News, 25 March). This was despite support from the college’s Dean and the diocesan Bishop for moving the memorial elsewhere in the college.

Speaking on Tuesday, the day the Commission’s first report was published, Lord Boateng said: “There was no doubt in the minds of the Commission that the Bishop and Dean were right in presenting this in terms of an obstacle that the memorial presented to being a safe and inclusive space for those who are descendants of slavery, or those who are deeply offended by the harm done by Christians who were actively involved in the slave trade.”

Lord Boateng said that the Church had to ensure that the courts “faciliate just outcomes which have racial justice at their heart, and that the balance is right between heritage conservation and worship and evangelism in what are wholly sacred places, places where people come to Christ”.

“What the Master of Jesus College went through, no one should have to go through today,” he said.

He also spoke of his frustration at the lack of progress in establishing the Racial Justice Directorate for the Church, which, he said, “hampers” work that is “critical for the Church of England”.

The Directorate was essential for embedding racial justice at every level of the changes that were taking place in the Church and its governance, he said.

In his foreword to the report, he wrote that the delay was the last in the long line of failures by the Church to implement recommendations. “I have been struck by how much the Church of England’s institutions today, despite many statements of good intent, are seemingly unable to deliver on commitments made. The most striking example of this is the continuing delay in establishing the Racial Justice Directorate itself.

“We are at a loss to understand the reasons for this, as the resources have been identified and the reporting lines agreed. This has clearly had an adverse impact on delivery of the commitments made in the Church’s response to From Lament to Action.”

CHURCH OF ENGLANDLord Boateng chairs one of the ACRJ’s meetings, in Lambeth Palace

A Lambeth Palace spokeswoman said that some progress with the Directorate had been made since the Commission submitted its report to the Archbishops last month.

The Commission welcomed the £20 million set aside to support racial-justice work. Lord Boateng said that it was essential that parishes, theological colleges, and other stakeholders should have access to funding for work to embed racial justice in their communities

Dioceses should be able to access funding, however, only when they had drawn up “credible” strategies to address racial justice.

“In the absence of such evidence of intent, no funding should be accessible by, or through. a diocese which is unable to satisfy this minimal requirement,” his foreword says.

The report set out suggestions to combat the “sense of deep hurt and of pain” felt by many, including “the hurt of those who have experienced and are still experiencing racial injustice at the hands of the Church of England”.

Included are suggestions for a national memorial to the victims of slavery, and changes to liturgy. The Commission also warns that the Church will not be exempt from the issue of reparation and redress for not only failing to call out the evil of slavery, but also benefiting from it.

“Despite the presence of some individuals who spoke out against the trade in human lives, the Church of England did not as an institution call out the evil nature of what was happening.

“Instead, the Church and many of its clergy benefited from it. This history continues to cast a shadow over our lives today so, while it is not possible to change the past, it is right to do our best to mitigate its continuing effect on our communities.”

The Commission said it would also look in detail at the Church’s liturgy to ensure that diversity was “addressed liturgically at key moments of our national life”, such as Remembrance Sunday and other national occasions.

Lord Boateng said that he expected significant progress by the Commission’s second report, in six months’ time. It will publish two a year until the conclusion of its work in October 2024.

He said: “I am a person of hope now in my eighth decade, and I remember the role of the Church in the struggle against apartheid when people said it was hopeless . . . but it was the coming together of prayer and activism that brought about systemic change.

“Racial Justice not an optional extra but absolute imperative which goes to the very heart of our faith.”

Welcoming the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it “identifies the difficult and long path to eradicating the pain and injustice felt by so many, but provides us with hope that, through the Commission’s work, these issues will be addressed”.

The Archbishop of York said: “We are encouraged to see the work of the Commission in challenging current practice and stimulating culture change in the Church of England. It is important for us to engage with these ideas and continue to build both support and action.”

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