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Priest asks EHRC for statutory review of racism in Church of England

29 September 2023

The Revd Awlyn Pereira

The Revd Awlyn Pereira

A PRIEST who uncovered a letter in which a bishop described him in racial stereotypes has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate racism in the Church of England.

The Revd Alwyn Pereira, now Vicar of St Michael the Archangel and the Ascension Aldershot, said on Tuesday that he had been prompted to take action by “the heart-wrenching stories of individuals who found themselves with no recourse to justice or remedy. The catalyst, I must say, lay in the increasing number of accounts echoing their pain and the eye-opening report from the Racial Justice Unit, which shed light on the Church’s inability to act with authority and power.”

In December 2021, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, a former Bishop of Bristol, received a formal rebuke under the Clergy Discipline Measure and was told to undergo unconscious-bias training after suggesting that Mr Pereira handled “issues of truth” differently because of his ethnic background (News, 5 February 2021). He was found to have perpetrated “racial stereotyping, whether intentional or not”.

The comments were made in a letter in 2016 in which Bishop Hill asked a senior cleric in the diocese to help Mr Pereira, who had struggled to find a post after serving a curacy. Bishop Hill wrote: “I think the only other thing I need to say, having worked very closely with people from the Indian sub-continent in my past, is that I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”

Mr Pereira was born in Kenya of Indo-Portuguese parents, and was educated mostly in England. He discovered the letter when he asked to see his file. This week, he said that the outcome of the CDM had led to his becoming “a focal point for other clergy, and even some members of congregations, who were open and vulnerable in disclosing their own unresolved, painful experiences of racism”. He attempted to seek legal redress at an employment tribunal in 2019, but was told that his application was out of time (News, 19 June 2020).

The reports by the Racial Justice Unit established last year (News, 24 August 2022) had meant that his confidence in progress had “dwindled”, he said (News, 3 March 2023), as few recommendations had yet been implemented.

The letter to the EHRC from his solicitors Leigh Day asks it to “conduct a statutory investigation into racism within the Church of England”, on the grounds of discrimination, harassment, and potential unlawful victimisation. Alongside that of Mr Pereira, it lists case studies of racism experienced by clergy and suggests that many clergy are “very cautious about making complaints”, partly owing to “an expectation that they will ‘turn the other cheek’ and remain uncomplaining in the face of oppression or persecution”.

It refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s description of the Church as “deeply institutionally racist” (News, 21 February 2020) and says that, despite this, the Church is “unwilling to take meaningful action when its members have committed racist behaviour”.

“The EHRC’s ability to make legally binding recommendations and agreements offers a glimmer of hope that, with their assistance, we can confront the issue and strive for justice, dignity, and true Christian love,” Mr Pereira said.

This week, the Revd Dr Sharon Prentis, deputy director of the Racial Justice Unit, said: “It is plainly unacceptable for anyone to be discouraged from taking up a position on the grounds of their race or background, especially in the Church.

“Our faith teaches that everyone is made in God’s image, and all are one in Christ. That means Christians must reject racism wherever it appears — including recognising and challenging our own unconscious biases and organisational practices which deny the Church the full glorious diversity God intends.”

The EHRC confirmed that it had received the letter from Mr Pereira’s solicitors. “The EHRC receives complaints each week about allegations of unlawful activity contrary to the Equality Act 2010,” a spokesperson said. “We consider each complaint carefully and take action where appropriate.”

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