Taskforce proposals aim to end ‘rut of inaction’ over Church of England racism

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (Steve Parsons/PA)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Media)
0:01am, Thu 22 Apr 2021
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A failure to tackle racism in the Church of England could be the “last straw for many, that the Church is not serious about racial sin”, a taskforce has warned.

The Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce has made 47 proposals to tackle institutional racism and improve diversity in an attempt to end a “rut of inaction” spanning several decades.

These include the requirement that shortlists for senior clergy should include at least one appointable minority ethnic candidate by September, with an expectation this occurs for all other jobs in the Church.

It is also calling for annual reporting on recruitment so bodies must provide “action or explain”, mandatory training in all dioceses to embed anti-racism practice and for full-time racial justice officers to be employed in every diocese for a five-year term.

It wants to see a plan drawn up to increase representation of minority ethnic people to at least 15% at all levels of governance by 2030 – reflecting the proportion of minority ethnic worshippers.

Currently, there are just five minority ethnic bishops and nine deans, archdeacons, and senior staff.

We hope our report is more than simply a remedial list of actions, it goes back to this being a potential to outdo the promises of the past, and not simply a list of remedial box ticking

All the proposals have a timetable for action and details of which part of the Church is responsible for delivery.

The report authors write: “Decades of inaction carry consequences and this inaction must be owned by the whole Church.

“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.”

The nine-member taskforce was set up in autumn 2020 after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told the General Synod there was “no doubt” the Church of England was still “deeply institutionally racist”.

It considered more than 20 reports and 160 recommendations made to the Church from the mid-80s, and grouped its proposals into key areas where it said “action had fallen short”.

Rev Arun Arora, a Vicar in the Diocese of Durham and taskforce co-chair, said he hopes the report will “be a watershed moment in the church’s journey towards racial justice”.

He added: “We hope our report is more than simply a remedial list of actions, it goes back to this being a potential to outdo the promises of the past, and not simply a list of remedial box ticking.”

Co-chair Rev Sonia Barron, from Lincoln diocese, said current culture in the church “tolerates certain kinds of racism, and it’s therefore essential that that culture changes”.

She added: “There’s now a genuine sense of urgency I think, and a need for action, and we cannot let this moment pass.”

In a statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury Mr Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said they would implement five of the recommendations “immediately”.

These include establishing a racial justice commission and a racial justice directorate to implement the taskforce’s recommendations, and encouraging the General Synod to co-opt ten ethnic minority candidates to serve as members between 2021-26.

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.”

Members of the taskforce said “envelope figures” for the cost of their proposals have been calculated but declined to share them.

The taskforce also identified seven areas of work for the Church’s new racial justice commission, including slavery, history and memory, and complaints handling.

The slavery work area includes assessing the cataloguing of monuments and buildings related to the slave trade or paid for through its profits.

The report notes that deciding what to do with these monuments is not easy, as while “history should not be hidden, we also do not want to unconditionally celebrate or commemorate people” linked to the slave trade.

Ven Neil Warwick, Archdeacon of Bristol, said there could be multiple options after auditing: “There can be education and explanation, which says that this is part of history, we don’t want to cover it up, we want to explain it, and we want to educate.

“We want also (to) repent of the past where these things happened.

“Then I think there could even be spurs for social action in the now. We saw this happen in the past – what might we do about modern slavery now as a community and as a church?”

Also on Thursday, the Board of Deputies published the report of its Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, following a 10-month investigation.

The commission was launched to learn more about the experiences of black Jews, Jews of colour and Sephardi, Mizrahi and Yemenite Jews.

Its report considered 17 areas of life and makes 119 recommendations, including for Jewish schools to ensure that their secular curriculum engages with black history, enslavement and the legacy of colonialism.

It is also calling for improved training for teachers and youth leaders on tackling racist incidents, and for a code of conduct for discourse on social media.

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said: “The exclusion of even a single person because of the colour of their skin is a collective failure for which we must all take responsibility.

“Where good practice exists, let us celebrate it and where failings are identified, let us be earnest and persistent, leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to resolve them.”

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