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Welby defends Commissioners’ £100-million post-slavery investment fund

22 March 2024

Times Radio

THE amount of money that parishes will receive over the next decade will far exceed that given to mitigate the long-term consequences of the Church Commissioners’ connection with the transatlantic slave trade, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In an interview with Times Radio Breakfast on Thursday, Archbishop Welby was asked by the host, Stig Abell, how he would respond to parishioners who say: “We all accept that slavery is an ill, but we think that money should be spent on churches, on parishes, on making the Church of England flourish, not by retrospectively looking to do something for the past.”

The Archbishop replied: “I say that everything you’ve just said is an inaccurate quote. . . We have said, and I have supported, that, over the next ten years . . . the Church Commissioners . . . will commit £100 million — not £1 billion, that’s from an independent report that recommended it be £1 billion, and we haven’t accepted that.” (He was referring to a report produced by an independent oversight group, which includes an ambition for the fund to grow tenfold, reaching £1 billion (News, 8 March).)

He said that the £100 million represented “one per cent of the total funds they [the Commissioners] have in a permanent endowment originally set up by Queen Anne. And we’re going to put £10 million a year into that, which is 0.1 per cent.”

Over the same period, he said, the Commissioners would “put over £3 billion into parishes. So it is a tiny, tiny proportion.”

To say that the fund aimed to make reparations for slavery was “nonsense”, he said. “It’s about impact investment in areas where we have money that is essentially the result of slavery, and that needs to be used to recognise that transatlantic chattel slavery was a sin, was the wrong thing to do, and we need to use a tiny proportion of the money to help those areas and people buy investment for the future. And by the way, in terms of people coming to faith in Christ, in the last year, our congregations went up five per cent.”

Archbishop Welby also responded to reports that the diocese of Birmingham is advertising a post for an “Anti-Racism Practice Officer (Deconstructing Whiteness)”, to work across six dioceses in the West Midlands.

He said that when he saw the advert, “I rang up the person in charge of that area and said ‘What on earth does this [‘deconstructing whiteness] mean? Why on earth have you put it in?. . . Can we please do these things in English?” He compared it to the kind of language used in the BBC comedy series W1A, about television executives who are fond of using corporate jargon.

“What the person’s job is, across six [dioceses] . . . is to make sure that those from ethnic-minority backgrounds who apply for jobs in the Church of England have a level playing field.”

He described “deconstructing whiteness” as “a technical term. . . It’s like saying: ‘We want someone to do an epistemological analysis of our annual reports.’ I mean, no one would know what we were talking about.”

The Bishop of Birmingham, Dr Michael Volland, wrote in a statement on Friday that the phrase “deconstructing whiteness” “has nothing to do with knocking or demeaning people who have white skin. ‘Whiteness’ refers to a way of thinking about the world in which being white is seen as ‘normal’ and everything else is different. This member of the team will help us to imagine a world in which, whatever the colour of a person’s skin, all are seen as ‘normal’ and are welcomed, included, and given access to opportunities in every sphere of life”.

Archbishop Welby was also asked about the Church of England’s approach to asylum-seekers, and whether there had been “covert conversion of asylum-seekers on demand in order to get them in the country”.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli-Francis Dehqani, told MPs this month that there was no evidence of a “conveyer belt” of asylum-seekers cynically converting to Christianity to expedite their applications (News, 15 March).

Archbishop Welby also said that he had not seen evidence, “and we wrote to the Home Office, and they said they had no evidence to show us”.

Asked whether priests might vouch for an asylum-seeker’s conversion simply to enable them to claim asylum, the Archbishop said: “I’m sure they haven’t done that. We take baptism in the Church of England very seriously. . . There is a period of reception, there is a period of training and investigation.

“For instance, the parish in Durham diocese, which was accused of putting people through baptism on an industrial scale [News, 16 February], the ‘industrial scale’ turned out to be seven people [baptised] by one vicar, who was the one who complained, and a total of 13 people in ten years. If that is an industrial scale, we’ve got a fairly small idea of industrial production.”

Read more on this story in this week’s Letters

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