THE Church of England has begun to grapple earnestly with the problem of racism — but its structures are still not entirely free from its scourge.
Since the publication of the report From Lament to Action, more than two years ago (News, 23 April 2021), there have been initiatives in several dioceses which seek to tackle racial inequality.
Racial-justice teams or committees that have been constituted towards this end, in dioceses such as London and Chichester, are facilitating dialogue about bringing about interracial unity. As the title of the report suggests, however, it is not necessary only to lament past cruelties against people of colour, such as their trade and trafficking: decisive action is also needed to dismantle existing structures of white privilege and power.
Black History Month is a particularly apt occasion to ponder the image-bearing humanity of Stephen Lawrence, Christopher Alaneme, Paulette Wilson, Kelso Cochrane, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others, and consider how best to work towards achieving a racially just society.
Not being racist is desirable, but this alone will not do. To fight for racial justice is actively to oppose and disrupt the prevailing racist ideologies and the status quo of racial discrimination. Practical action is needed for reparation, reconciliation, and justice. Cultural and habitual change is not easy to bring about; to fight against racial stereotypes is a daunting task. It takes introspection, besides consciously making space for minority-ethnic groups in all structures of the Church.
THE formation of the national Racial Justice Unit provides an impetus for the fight against racial injustice (News, 26 August 2022). None the less, if racial inequality is to be made a thing of the past, the hearts of people in the Church need to be changed.
Racism is a failure of imagination. Educating people to imagine themselves in the place of people of other racial origins could lead to a change of hearts. Such empathy for other people’s situations has the potential to transform people’s thinking and enable them to realise that we are all brothers and sisters, in Christ, in “the wider family”. It is also essential to provide in-depth and robust education about racial justice for diocesan officials, parish clergy, and lay leaders.
The perpetrator and the victim do not view the phenomenon of racism through the same prism: their definitions vary. It is a sad reality that, in the past, the Church has tried to sanctify racism, so as to uphold and perpetuate white supremacy and racial inequality. Needless to say, what the Church did was utterly wrong. It cannot be denied any more that the Church has benefited directly and indirectly from racism. The Church has to repudiate its old notion of race-based superiority and inferiority, and replace it with a deep understanding of human relations. It is imperative that the Church should gain the moral authority to speak and act against racism.
The Church has to make racial justice a priority and deconstruct the past construction of racially unjust structures. Standing alongside minority-ethnic people is what matters; if it results in sharing spaces and opportunities, this is a very small price to pay for a noble cause. The bedrock conviction that every human being is made in the image of God should be the guiding principle. We stand to benefit from interpersonal relationships based on human dignity and their transformative power.
NOW is the time for white people intentionally to make friends among people of colour. Now is the time to give the marginalised communities their due space without any sort of discrimination in the Church and the wider society.
At decision-making bodies at national, diocesan and local levels, we must ask “Who is missing?” Wherever people of colour are missed, God’s glory is diminished. This should persuade us to enable more minority-ethnic people to take leadership positions in churches at all levels. People of colour can lead, too. The Committee for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns is the only national church body that is currently chaired by a person of colour. What about others?
The journey towards racial justice has begun, but there is still a very long way to go. From an eternal perspective, the triumph of racial justice is inevitable: it is foretold in the Revelation of St John that people of all nations and tribes will be living together — with no more tears — for eternity.
The objective of Black History Month is to realise that, despite different genealogies and descendants, we all share a common humanity. To realise this reality would be to get a glimpse of that vision in Revelation.
The Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari, the Racial Justice Officer for the diocese of Chichester, is the Interim Secretary of the Anglican Minority Ethnic Network (AMEN).