Church of England must act now to end racism or people will leave

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By Ruth Peacock

The Church of England’s anti-racism taskforce is proposing 47 actions to change “a culture which tolerates racism”.

Its report, published today, builds on 25 reports during 36 years, which seem to have had little effect. It says: “A failure to act now will be seen as another indication, potentially a last straw for many, that the church is not serious about racial sin”.

Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the church was still deeply institutionally racist and the church apologised for its decades-long failure towards BAME people.

Today, he and the Archbishop of York welcomed the report saying they hope to be “the generation to halt this cycle of inaction”. They said: ” We have seen, time and time again, people being bullied, overlooked, undermined and excluded from the life of the church, from the family of God. It breaks our hearts, and we are truly sorry.”

The proposals include changes in five areas of church life: participation, education, training and mentoring, young people and structures and governance.

The church will require shortlists for senior clergy roles to include at least one BAME candidate; annual reporting on recruitment; mandatory training throughout the church in anti-racism practice; and the creation of full-time racial justice officers in every diocese.

At present there is one BAME diocesan bishop out of 42; five out of 111 other bishops; and nine BAME people holding senior rank as deans, archdeacons and other senior staff. The goal is to increase representation in all levels of governance to 15 per cent by 2030.

In a press briefing to launch the report, the Rev Sonia Barron, who co-chairs the anti-racism taskforce, said: “The culture within the Church of England is one that tolerates certain kinds of racism. And it’s therefore essential that that culture changes … This includes taking action to embed practices which challenge racism and actively seek to change the policies, behaviours, and the beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas, and taking steps to eliminate racism at the individual, institutional and structural levels.”

Each proposal has a timetable for delivery and details of who is responsible to ensure action is taken.

The archbishops have promised five immediate actions, including co-opting 10 minority ethnic candidates onto the General Synod for the 2021-26 sessions; inviting ethnic minority clergy observers to attend the House of Bishops meetings until there are six appointed bishops; create a racial justice directorate for a five-year period, to implement the recommendations of the taskforce and the commission; replace the Committee for Minority Ethnic Concerns with a new committee to oversee the work of the racial justice directorate.

The fifth action is to establish immediately a racial justice commission, chaired by the Rev Dr Joel Edwards, who will hold the archbishops to account. Its work will include handling issues around history, monuments and legacies from the slave trade.

Neil Warwick, Archdeacon of Bristol, told the briefing that the church wanted all buildings to be welcoming and safe, with nothing upsetting. The taskforce recognised that this required more time, thought and consideration than it had time to deliver.

In a press briefing, the taskforce was asked how much these changes would cost and were told this is a matter for the archbishops.

The Rev Arun Arora, who chairs the anti-racist taskforce, said: “We’ve had conversations with the archbishops. There are envelope figures around the additional cost. In addition to the racial justice officers, there would also be the cost of the directorate. There may be some costs around training. The archbishops are clear that it’s for them to find the money.”

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