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Peer critical of Commissioners’ fund

22 March 2024


Lord Sewell

Lord Sewell

THE Church Commissioners’ decision to create an impact-investment fund to mitigate long-term consequences of the connection that they have identified with the transatlantic slave trade (News, 13 January 2023) was criticised by the Government’s former equality tsar, Lord Sewell of Sanderstead.

In an interview with The Times on Saturday, Lord Sewell, a Conservative peer, said: “We need to have a conversation with the Archbishop [of Canterbury] and ask what he is doing. It would be so much better to focus on bringing people back to a time when the Church was packed.

“They need to repair their base but they are doing something political, for show, giving away this cash. It’s a strangely materialistic way for a spiritual organisation to work, almost like bribery. The Church needs to rethink its purpose and stop using the race element as a mechanism to solve their own uncertainty in the world.”

Lord Sewell chaired the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Its report, published in 2021, denied that Britain was any longer a country “where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities” (News, 9 April 2021). The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, described the report’s conclusions as “deeply disturbing”.

The Commissioners, who have pledged £100 million towards the impact-investment fund, have expressed hopes that others will join their efforts to “repair the breach” of the transatlantic slave trade, and build their impact-investment fund to £1 billion (News, 8 March).

Responding to Lord Sewell’s comments, a spokesperson for the Commissioners said: “The legacy of the evil of African chattel enslavement still affects the lives of millions of people in the world today — and we have rightly apologised for the role we played in this horrific wrong.

“As part of its response, the Church Commissioners have committed £100 million to establish the Fund for Healing, Repair and Justice. To put this £100 million commitment in context, over the same period the Church Commissioners will be providing £3.6 billion of funding to support the mission and ministry of the Church of England.

“We believe that, by addressing our past transparently, particularly this part of our past, the Church and its teachings will be more relevant to more people. We see our response as an important missional activity that will support the work and ministry of the Church of England.”

A church spokesperson has also responded to criticism in the media of a recommendation in a recent report by the oversight group to the Church Commissioners on African chattel enslavement. The report called for the C of E “to apologise publicly for denying that Black Africans are made in the image of God and for seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems”.

The spokesperson said: “This recommendation addresses complex matters of history and theology, and can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but we do not believe it calls for the Church of England to apologise for spreading the Christian gospel around the world.

“However, we need to be transparent that appalling abuses took place in the past, supposedly in God’s name, which have absolutely nothing in common with the gospel of God’s love. For 2000 years, Christians have sought to share the gospel around the world, as Jesus commissioned his disciples to do, and will continue to do so.”

Read more on this story in Comment and Press

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