Civitas have published a new report: Rotting from the Head: Radical progressive activism and the Church of England. ‘Radical progressive activism’ is a slippery concept, not least because not all progressives would term their activism ‘radical’, and not all radicals would identify as ‘progressive’, but the focus of this report is on racism arising from ‘Black Lives Matter; the “climate emergency”, and unconscious bias training, which as Tom Harris says in his Foreword, is “symptomatic of institutional capture”. He writes as a Trustee of the Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust, which made this research possible, and concludes:
The result is a Church losing its ability to minister at local level because it is making expensive appointments at diocesan level while closing local parish churches and making vicars redundant. The focus on racism sits awkwardly with its apparent silence on things which a truly caring Christian Church might be expected to care deeply about. The breakdown of family life and absent fathers which disproportionately affects Caribbean Heritage families in the UK or the knife crime crisis which results in so many deaths of young black people in urban Britain. A Church informed by its Gospel mission rather than by Marxist ideology would surely not behave this way.
You can hear quite a few clergy spluttering over their cornflakes reading that. But those who do might like to consider a bit of unconscious bias training, because this paper’s thesis is essentially that the Church’s of England’s head has become detached from its body, perhaps nowhere recently better evidenced than in the 2016 EU Referendum, when the entire Anglican institutional machinery preached ‘Remain’, but the pews overwhelmingly voted ‘Leave’. Maybe this should come as no surprise when just 6% of Anglican clergy voted Conservative in the 2019 General election; and the Bishop of Burnley observes that the CofE’s agenda is set by academia, moneyed elites, and sections of the secular media.
So when the secular media is obsessing about race and racism and the climate emergency and the need for white people to wake up to their privilege and submit themselves to unconscious bias training for deliverance from the evil, it permeates the pulpits, and supplants the gospel of Christ. Indeed, the politics of radical progressive activism becomes the new established religion, and if you demur, you are a heretic – bigoted, xenophobic, racist, selfish, rich, and almost certainly Tory and therefore evil.
This religious politics is secular: by its fruit you shall know it, and that fruit is division, sectarianism, distraction and an unremitting focus on individual self-identity and virtue-signalling self-righteousness over peace and reconciliation. It sounds and feels unequivocally Christian and righteous to preach about economic disparity, social injustice and political grievances, but when there is no mention of sin and repentance and the promise of salvation, it is simply progressive political activism – radical or incremental.
The Civitas research found that 83% of all Church of England dioceses appoint clergy who have promoted racial justice activist claims and/or expressed concerns for institutional or systemic racism; and 87.2% of clergy-based racial justice activist claims – including the alleging of systemic or institutional racism – occurred within the first six months of the UK racial justice campaigns in May 2020, following the national Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.
Of course, to be prophetic in their ministries, priests should be discerning and forthtelling the mind of Christ in any situation, but the evidence suggests that the Anglican discernment of the mind of Christ is overwhelmingly captivated by ultra-progressive views; that unconscious bias training will have a greater reach with people than the gospel of Christ, and will therefore increase participation rates with it “radical inclusion”. This, they write, “risks leading the Church towards a different path in which its main preoccupation is with HR managers, diversity officers or extending anti-racism bureaucracy rather than fulfilling its real purpose as a place of worship”.
The whole report merits reading, and it ought to reach right to the top, but its message is stark:
What has happened to the Church of England in the past year reflects the direction other British institutions are currently travelling towards. As institutions have declined in their authority, there is increasing anxiety within them to be justified.
This decline has run in tandem with a wider vacation of public life, meaning only a small number of activists are providing a path in defining the role and purpose of such institutions. Thus, ideologically, institutions like the Church are increasingly taking on the mantras of ultra-progressivism, such as the notion of ‘systemic racism’ or alarmist calls for a ‘climate emergency’.
These ideas are reinforced by new policies to achieve structural change via a growing bureaucracy, recruitment shortlists or quotas and rewriting education curriculums. That has, in turn, impacted the spirit and ideals of the Church’s mission.
And there’s the rub: without a vision, the people perish. What, exactly, is the mission of the Church of England when faithful parishioners get more of a compassionate hearing from the letters page of the Telegraph than they get from their clergy?
Thank God for Civitas and the Nigel Vinson Charitable Trust, eh?