From Lament to Action: Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce calls for urgent changes to culture of Church of England
The Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce has today published its report From Lament to Action proposing a suite of changes to begin bringing about a change of culture in the life of the Church of England.
It issues a warning to the Archbishops that a failure to act could be a “last straw” for many people of UK Minority Ethnic (UKME) or Global Majority Heritage (GMH) backgrounds with “devastating effects” on the future of the Church.
The report sets out 47 specific actions for different arms of the Church of England to implement across five priority areas: participation, governance, training, education and young people.
Without these changes the Church risks denying and disregarding the gifts of a significant part of the nation, the Taskforce makes clear.
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The full report is available here.
The text of the Archbishops’ statement in response to Anti-Racism Taskforce Report is here.
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“This is the culture change that is required if the Church is to live up to its mandate of being a body where all the gifts of all its people flourish to the full, for the benefit of the church as a whole, the nation of England and the greater glory of God,” they say.
They add: “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-strong group was set up in autumn 2020 with a double remit:
“In our work as the Taskforce, we have considered 25 reports from the mid-80s onwards with a total of more than 160 recommendations,” the taskforce explains.
“Since then, the Church of England has considered motion after motion, debate after debate, yet we still find ourselves in the position where – throughout our life as a church – the flourishing of UKME/GMH Anglicans is hard to discern.”
The taskforce’s work is rooted in Christian theology, they emphasise, flowing “not from identity politics but from our identity in Christ”.
The report accepts the definition of ‘Institutional Racism’ adopted by the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence – covering processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination – as applying to the Church of England [see notes] and speaks of racism as a “sin” requiring repentance.
“We share together the understanding that racism is a sin,” they say.
“Racial sin disfigures God’s image in each one of us. Racial sin dehumanises people by taking away their fundamental God-given human dignity.
“Wherever racial sin flourishes systematically, either in society or in our church, we must challenge it together. We must repent of racial sin, turn away from racism and be reconciled, so that we may all experience the love of God.”
The report highlights the lack of people from UK minority ethnic backgrounds in senior leadership in the Church, noting that the new Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, will be the only UKME or GMH diocesan (senior) bishop in the Church of England. There are four suffragan bishops from a UKME/GMH background.
“In terms of participation, the most senior level of leadership in the Church of England reveals an alarmingly retrograde trend,” it notes.
“In terms of ethnic diversity amongst diocesan bishops, when the new Bishop of Chelmsford takes up office later this year the Church of England will be back where it was 27 years ago.
“The total number of UKME/GMH bishops can together be counted on one hand (five out of 111). The number of UKME/GMH deans, archdeacons, and senior staff in the National Church Institutions only adds up to a further nine people.
“There are no UKME/GMH Diocesan Secretaries [the most senior staff role in each diocese] or Principals of Theological Educational Institutions at all.”
The report is clear that addressing the underlying issues of systemic racism is a “missional imperative” for the Church.
“Disregarding a significant part of the population, and thus denying the gifts they bring for the service of the Church, must not continue,” the taskforce warns.
The proposals include:
Meanwhile the report suggests a range of work for the new Racial Justice Commission including considering how complaints of discrimination and racism could be handled in the future and how churches should respond to historic monuments and buildings of “contested heritage” such as links to slavery. (See notes for a full list)
Rather than attempting to erase the past or rewrite history, the report calls for a “healthy revision of memory and history in a way that will provide scope for education and formation”.
It also recommends that the new Commission should examine broad questions of how parish life itself could become more inclusive.
“One of the barriers to inclusion or continued participation in the Church of England for those from UKME/GMH and other backgrounds has been the challenge of ‘cultural assimilation’ into the Church, where there is perceived to be little or no room for cultural expression outside of a predominant culture which is predominantly white and middle class,” it explains.