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Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice: Progress is ‘glacial’

01 March 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The chair of the Commission, Lord Boateng, listens to a debate on racial justice. The Bishop of Dover is on his right

The chair of the Commission, Lord Boateng, listens to a debate on racial justice. The Bishop of Dover is on his right

THAT the Church of England needs “an inclusive theology which recognises the contribution of diverse origins and diversity in liturgy” is the key finding in the latest report from the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice.

Chaired by Lord Boateng, the Commission released its fourth biannual report last week. It highlighted structural issues and persistent attitudes, among them “that racial justice will always be a secondary consideration to the theological lens through which everything and everyone is seen”, with particular reference to senior appointments.

He expressed concern over whether the Church of England was truly able and prepared for the challenges of becoming a more inclusive and diverse Church, along with the implications of this “for its professed mission”.

Dioceses and the national church institutions (NCIs) received criticism for their “secrecy and opaqueness” in their practices and processes. The report pushes for action on this “urgently, as it undermines the mission of the Church and not only in the field of racial justice”.

Data continues to be a problem, the Commission found. There was often a reluctance to share it, and, in many places, it did not exist. The picture, it asserted, was consistent in the NCIs, dioceses, and at parish level.

Affirming its position “that Christ came to save us all regardless of racial origin”, the 11-member Commission was clear that much work still needed to be done. The pace of change was described as “glacial”.

Out of 42 dioceses, two (five per cent) had done “little or no work on racial justice”, and 12 (29 per cent) only “have plans in place to work on racial justice”. Taken together, these 16 dioceses represented more than one third of the C of E with basic progress towards racial-justice objectives.

The first part of the report assesses progress on addressing the action points of From Lament to Action, the 2021 report that established the Commission. The second part considers “examples of good practice and other good news from across and beyond the Church of England”.

Matters celebrated include the appointment of Professor Anthony Reddie to the University of Oxford’s inaugural chair in Black Theology (News, 22 September 2023), work within theological colleges to diversify the Common Words curriculum, and initiatives to improve awareness of the lasting impact of the slave trade.

Lord Boateng, who was the UK’s first black Cabinet minister, concluded his introduction with the Ghanaian salutation Nyame Bekyere, meaning “God will hear and he will hear himself strong”.

Introducing the debate on the report in the General Synod at the weekend (News, 26 February), the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said that she was “in no doubt that the Church must continue to work at embedding racial justice in all its life and structures. Lip service will not do, neither will ticking boxes. . . We must allocate resources, both in the form of people, finance, and governance.”

Referring to the report’s publication, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I am very conscious of the need to act — more quickly than we have to date — to respond to the lack of global-majority heritage/UKME clergy in the senior ranks of the Church.”

The Commission’s previous report, published in the summer (News, 18 August 2023), contained theological reflection on contested global heritage and reparations. It has marked the halfway point of its three-year remit with the winter 2023-24 report, and will complete its mandated term in November 2024.

The motion carried by the Synod at the weekend requested a review at its sessions in February 2025 of “the progress made by Dioceses, the NCIs and other related institutions in implementing the recommendations in From Lament to Action”.

Read a report of the Synod debate here.

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