From Lament to Action
Church of England

From Lament To Action: the report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce

The Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce have published their report ‘From Lament to Action‘, which proposes a raft of changes designed to bring about a change of culture in the life of the Church of England. “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.

The proposals include:

An expectation that shortlists for jobs in the Church will include at least one appointable UKME candidate – and for more senior roles, right up to bishops, specific requirements to ensure this happens.

New approaches to shortlisting and interviewing which place a duty on the employer to improve participation on an “action or explain” basis rather than relying on “bland encouragements” for under-represented groups to apply.

Recruitment bodies including the Crown Nominations Commission, which nominates diocesan bishops, to provide “valid, publishable reasons” for failure to include UKME candidates on shortlists.

The General Synod co-opting 10 UKME candidates (five clergy and five laity) for its next five-year term, which begins this year.

The House of Bishops inviting UKME clergy to become participant observers until there are at least six UKME bishops in the House.

30% of new intakes on the Strategic Leadership Development Programme – a scheme to support clergy identified as having potential for taking on wider responsibilities – should come from UKME backgrounds, approximately 20 people from a group of 60. The figure is twice the estimated proportion of those who worship in the Church of England to begin tackling the current imbalance in the Church’s leadership by building up potential supply.

The appointment of full-time Racial Justice Officers (RJOs) in every diocese – for a five-year term, funded centrally, alongside a new Racial Justice Directorate, within the National Church Institutions, to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce and the Commission.

There is much that could be said about this in a lengthy theological blogpost, but sometimes (very, very occasionally) Twitter offers a thread of insight and golden wisdom. This, from the Rev’d Marcus Walker, Rector at Great St Bartholomew’s in London:

A moving, powerful, and important report from the CofE about race today. Much to take in and reflect on and debate. My initial takes:

1. Although not named as such in the report, a large number of the recommendations seem to want to deal with the myopia in the English Church about Christians from the rest of the world, especially beyond Europe. This is hugely welcome and could & should be a source of real pride.

Things like using liturgies from around the Communion, celebrating non-white saints (ancient & modern) from here & abroad, more placements & exchanges elsewhere in the Communion, a “global majority” youth forum? Amazing ideas. Warms the heart of this child of the Communion!

2. The specifics around the global majority youth forum, though, highlights my biggest concern with the report: its conflation of the interests of non-white people with a particular brand of left-wing politics & theology – arguably of *Western* left-wing politics & theology.

So the youth forum would discuss “identity, anti-racism, racial justice and a celebration of diversity”. That may be what they want to discuss. But 4 years working at the Anglican Centre in Rome, bringing educational visits to Rome from around the Communion, suggests they may not.

The youth we hosted from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana – some ordinands, some priests, some lay – were far, far, more interested in talking about God and the Bible, and not through the identity lenses of the West.

3. Which beings me to the matter that was discussed on here, with great passion and emotion but also respect (I hope) a few weeks ago: the inclusion of a mandatory module on Black Theology (which the report says may alternatively be a module on “global perspectives”).

There seems to be a conflation between Black TheologyTM and the theologies of people who are Black (or, rather, not White). Where one is a contentious offshoot of Marxist Liberation Theology, and something properly to be debated in the academy, the other is essential knowledge.

The shrinking of the curriculum at theological college has stripped future priests of much of the theology of those not from Western Europe, which is greatly to be deplored. (How many have properly studied Athanasius, Augustine, the Cappadocians?).

Ensuring that people from beyond the European-American theological axis are studied- both in the foundational period of theological thinking and today- is vital. Black TheologyTM is a huge part of the latter. But so are many African & Asian theologians who are not of that school.

To conclude this section: the solution proposed only goes part of the way: we should do more, think wider, and not try to pigeon-hole people of colour into one theology (important though that theology is in contemporary academic debate.)

4. Finally quotas. I am not a fan of quotas in politics or society and am therefore not going to be a fan of quotas in the church. I commend this excellent article by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman from September:

In short, Labour have clumped all their ethnic minority MPs into 1 faction whereas the Tories have an intellectually diverse spread of minority MPs and a far greater number in high office substantially because they haven’t used quotas and haven’t presumed they all think the same.

In conclusion: much that is good in this report & much to lament; let’s move forward by not pigeon-holing all minorities into one school of theology; and let’s celebrate the wonderful diversity of Christianity – modern & ancient – without privileging one modern school of thought.

(I also realise this is a hugely contentious topic and one of great emotional sensitivity, and that there is a great danger that I have charged in here with both feet in my mouth. If so, and I have caused offence, my apologies.)

Thank you, Fr Marcus, for your ministry to the Church and the nation.