By Andrew Brown
Bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion are close to demanding reparations for colonialism and slavery from the Church Commissioners, who manage the Church of England’s £10bn assets.
The demand is contained in the Lambeth Conference “call” on human dignity, which is already controversial for its language on sexuality.
The first draft of the call (see our glossary for a definition of “call”) asked the bishops to reaffirm the Resolution I.10 condemning all homosexual activity, which was first passed in 1998 and has never been accepted by the relatively liberal churches of Britain and North America.
That section has now been rewritten after an explosion of protest from bishops in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, and Wales. It appears that the quotation was inserted after the members of the drafting committee had signed off on a rather different draft.
But nothing has changed in the subsequent section that demands the establishment of a committee to “establish and publish holistic theologies of redemptive action and reparation” and for the Archbishop of Canterbury to use his position on the Church Commissioners to ensure that their response to the church’s historic links to colonialism and slavery” are shaped by the views of this committee.
The proposed responses include identifying “criteria, communities, and programmes that would serve a communion-wide witness to redemptive action”.
The proposal was attacked by the Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, who said: “It seems beyond bizarre when we have active, live, issues right now — including, for example, the Church of Hong Kong’s backing of a government actively engaged in slavery right now — to be focused so much on the 18th century”.
The Rev Azariah France-Williams, author of Ghost Ship, about racism in the Church of England, supported the idea of a committee and theological work. But he could not see how it would work, when the Church of England was yet to get its own house in order over reparations for the diaspora in this country. He wished it well, but feared it would not get the space to flourish.
A spokesman for the commissioners said they would have no comment until after the conference was over, but pointed out that the Lambeth calls are purely advisory.
The commissioners have more than £10bn in assets under management but much of it is ringfenced for clergy pensions. They give about £300m a year to keep the Church of England going and are also funding the “strategic development funding”, an effort to revitalise the church by reproducing on a national scale the strategy and, it is hoped, the success, of Holy Trinity Brompton, the closest the Church of England has to a megachurch.