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Lord Boateng: Church’s racial-justice progress is slow, despite accusations of haste

27 February 2023

Max Colson/Church of England

The chair of the commission, Lord Boateng, addresses the C of E’s National Education Conference last month

The chair of the commission, Lord Boateng, addresses the C of E’s National Education Conference last month

THE second biannual report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice was published last Thursday, setting out progress made and a roadmap for further work.

The Commission began its work last year in line with the recommendations of a report — From Lament to Action — by the Anti-Racism Taskforce (News, 22 April 2021).

Its first report, published last summer, criticised the Church of England’s legal system, and the “inexplicable” delay in establishing a racial-justice directorate (News, 29 June 2022).

In a foreword to the new report, the chair of the Commission, Lord Boateng, wrote that, although some progress had been made, with the appointment of the Revd Guy Hewitt as the first director of the unit (News, 26 August 2022), it was “still not yet fully up and running”, and that this had “impacted negatively upon our own work and on the progress made across the Church of England in delivering on the recommendations of From Lament to Action.”

Lord Boateng praised the work of Dr Sanjee Perera, who resigned as the Archbishops’ Adviser for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns in August, ahead of Mr Hewitt’s appointment (News, 11 August 2022).

In her letter of resignation, which she made public, Dr Perera wrote that “it has not always been an easy task amidst significant changes within the NCIs [national church institutions], and the introduction of the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission, which has been increasingly directive of my work and strategy and demanding of my time in a secretarial capacity.”

In the foreword, Lord Boateng responded to online criticism of the commission that suggested that it was moving too fast, saying that some of the criticism was “expressed undoubtedly in a medium of communication which is a gift to the poisonous and hateful.

“How fortunate in some ways that the Reformation relied on the printing press rather than Twitter and social media,” he wrote.

 

THE new report details that, in November, the commission met representatives from the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller (RGT) community, and heard testimony of how the Church had failed them; stories included clergy’s refusing to baptise children or adults, and to conduct funerals.

The commission also heard, however, about efforts to address these issues. In 2019, the General Synod passed a resolution — introduced by the current Archbishop of York, who was Bishop of Chelmsford at the time — which called on church leaders to condemn discrimination against RGT communities, and for each diocese to appoint chaplains to these communities (News, 1 March 2019).

The commissioners report that there are now at least 12 chaplains working with RGT communities; that work is being done to create “sanctuaries/safe spaces on church land”; and that there are “the first attempts to create traveller theologies”.

On the theology workstream being undertaken, the commissioners report three focus points of its current reflections: the “nature and purpose” of reparations; work on racial justice being undertaken elsewhere in the Anglican Communion; and the consistory-court case that denied permission for the removal of a statue of Tobias Rustat from the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge (News, 23 March 2022).

Further areas that the commission hopes to examine in the coming two years include the call for racial justice, memory, accountability, appointments, and governance.

The report welcomes the Church Commissioners’ decision to set up a £100-million impact investment fund to benefit communities affected by the transatlantic slave trade (News, 10 January).

The report states: “The Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice welcomes the progress that has been made and commends the Church Commissioners for engaging constructively and thoughtfully with this issue. The Church of England is the first institution to accept its role in the slave trade, and the work undertaken sets a gold standard for other institutions in undertaking similar work on the connections between their wealth and the slave trade. It represents a major change in tone by the Church.”

The report says, however, that “there is much further work to be done,” and sets various requirements for the way that the investment fund should operate, including that it “must not be led from the United Kingdom”, and “resources must be used for the poorest communities and be focused on sustainable creation of wealth, jobs and opportunity.”

The commission also emphasises the importance of transparency, and warns that the investment fund should not be considered “a full and final settling of accounts”.

On the approach to church buildings, the report details engagement with the Church Buildings Council (CBC) and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE), two independent bodies with statutory positions in respect of church properties.

The commission says that it is “not convinced that the current guidance strikes the right balance between protecting heritage and the interests of worshipping communities, especially those of GMH [Global Majority Heritage].”

The Archbishops’ Commission reports that both the CBC and the CFCE are seeking to increase diversity among their membership, and that this will be monitored over the coming years.

 

FOLLOWING a call in From Lament to Action, the commission details areas in which liturgy might be transformed to engage with racial justice.

The report identifies a number of areas in which this “could bear fruit”: identifying the extent to which liturgies from other Provinces in the Anglican Communion could be used in the Church of England; centring racial justice in liturgy; and “celebrating liturgically” the lives of people of GMH, including in the context of Remembrance events.

The report also states a need for reform to clergy discipline, in particularly the handling of complaints of racism.

The fact that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is currently being replaced (News, 15 July 2022) does not, the report notes, “mesh well with the commission’s work”, although reform of the process is recognised as an opportunity to embed procedures for responding to allegations of racism.

“Consideration should be given to producing documentation which set out in relation to race the kinds of expectations people can rightly have of clergy at all levels, the kinds of behaviour that might contravene those expectations and appropriately lead to complaints,” the report says.

The report welcomes research on the well-being of GMH clergy, funded by the Clergy Support Trust and published in October last year as part of the Living Ministry project (News, 21 October 2022).

The study, based on interviews with members of clergy with GMH heritage, found that the Church of England remains a hostile place for many non-white clerics.

“The commission will reflect where further it can shed light on the experiences of GMH clergy and what more needs to be done in parishes and dioceses to enable GMH clergy to grow successfully in their ministry,” the report says.

Later in the report, the commission reiterates a call for all dioceses to put in place a racial-justice strategy, and expects this to be achieved by 2023. “Racial-justice work must not be seen as an add-on to the work of dioceses, but central to the mission of the Church of England at a local level,” the report says.

The commission welcomed the Archbishops’ pledge to spend £20 million on racial-justice work over the next three years (News, 11 May 2022).

The report adds, however, that: “The commission would be greatly concerned if the Archbishops’ Council’s strategy was to distribute the resources through dioceses alone. There is a wide range of bodies in the Church of England that can deliver the changes needed, and the commission is concerned that a top-down strategy through the dioceses is unlikely to lead to the money being spent most effectively.”

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