There is a curious story in the Daily Mail which may not be wholly true, or it may not be true at all, but if it is true, even in part, it evidences a certain blindness borne of an obsession with skin colour which really shouldn’t be of any concern in the Church at all, let alone an obsession, for if ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus‘, then surely there is neither black nor white?
The article discloses that there is plan to ensure that all future Church of England bishops are “approved by a representative from black or minority groups”. The Mail explains that such a reform “will give a black or ethnic minority churchgoer an effective veto over who lands the most senior posts”.
The reform is one to be made to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), which nominates diocesan bishops to the Prime Minister, who forwards the names to the Queen: “The key proposal says a minority representative should join the commission as a non-voting member whenever a new diocesan bishop has to be chosen.”
In what utopian world of racial equality did the authors of this report not consider how it might appear to have a mandatory black, Asian or minority ethnic member of the CNC who may attend but not vote? Isn’t it rather patronising that a token person of colour must be included in deliberations? Isn’t it a little racist that this person of colour should be treated differently – with fewer rights – than other members of the CNC? Isn’t it, in fact, ecclesial apartheid?
“The individual must be listened to by other members”, the report insists, which is nice and Christian and courteous. But how will this be ensured? If the nominated person of colour is listened to but ignored, what is the point of their being there? If they are listened to and effectively wield a veto over the CNC’s choice, do they not then have greater rights than all the other CNC members.
And is that not also racist?
We are told that the CNC reform is necessary in order to “deal with the perception that it fails… to reflect adequately the diversity of the Church… in terms not only of theological opinion, but also gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and social background.”
This raises the question of why not also have non-voting co-opted members who are disabled, gay, young or working class? Why focus on race and ethnicity when diversity is so much more variable? Why focus on skin colour when human diversity is so much deeper? Given that we are talking about selecting diocesan bishops for the Established Church, which has statutory ministerial obligations to people of all faiths and none, why shouldn’t the CNC include non-voting co-opted members from other faiths (or none)?
The article is wrong to state: “Names of potential bishops go to the Prime Minister for final approval.” This has not been the case since Gordon Brown reduced No.10 to a postbox to the Queen. The CNC is now the committee which determines the ‘talent pool‘ from which bishops arise. An inevitable consequence of removing the role of the Prime Minister in episcopal appointments has been a diminution in the left-right political balance of the House (and College) of Bishops. Previously, as the Conservatives and Labour (or Liberals) held power, a steady stream of candidates put to No.10 and selected by alternating prime ministers provided a kind of socio-political via media among those who were finally recommended to the Supreme Governor. Now that this check on political balance has been removed, the CNC is free to mould the Established Church in its image.
The report concedes: “We recognise some will be unhappy with a proposal for a non-voting co-opted member.”
Yes, indeed, because it is patronising and racist.
If the objective of this reform is to improve the diversity of the Church of England “in terms not only of theological opinion, but also gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and social background”, why not have a mandatory non-voting co-opted conservative on the CNC? And why not give him or her an effective veto over the CNC’s nominations?
Wouldn’t it be easier simply to reverse Gordon Brown’s reform, and permit once again the diversity which is to be found in the rotating here-today-gone-tomorrow occupants of No.10 to permeate the choice of bishops? Isn’t that more likely to yield a Church of England leadership which better reflects the country it is serving? Isn’t that, at the very least, going to be less racist than including a token BAME member who “must be listened to”?