The Church of England is “institutionally racist”, a damning internal report has concluded. Ethnic minorities are being marginalised in parishes and black and Asian clergy have little chance of reaching the Church’s higher echelons, says the study, to be released this week.
It warns that too little has been done to tackle “institutional racism”—the phrase used to devastating effect by Sir William Macpherson, the former High Court judge, in his findings on the bungled police investigation into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The report, commissioned by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, is expected to spark a fierce debate at next month’s General Synod in York. Delegates will be asked to examine the clergy’s failure to “integrate and utilise” the gifts of ethnic minorities.
The report was drawn up by the 15-member Committee for Minority and Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC). The committee’s chairman, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said that the existence of racism in wider society was not an excuse for it within the Church.
“Parish clergy are part of the problem,” she said. “Whether consciously or unconsciously, they are not encouraging black people who are in their churches to come forward. Our report shows that there are some who are aware of the issue and are acting to improve the situation, but the Church is still a long way from reaching an acceptable level of equality.”
Apart from John Sentamu, who was promoted to Archbishop of York in 2005, no black or Asian bishops have been appointed in the past 10 years. The only other senior black or Asian clergy in the Church are the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and the Very Rev Roger Govinder, the Dean of Manchester.
Only 2.2 per cent of all clergy are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 7.9 per cent of the working population in the 2001 census, and 3.2 per cent of all Church of England members.
The report, Present and Participating—A Place at the Table, acknowledges that some dioceses have tried to tackle the problem, but says that the Church’s structures still alienate black and Asian people and that those who do attain senior positions sometimes face abuse.
Bishop Nazir-Ali was dubbed a “Paki papist” by an unnamed cleric when he was being considered as a potential successor to Dr George Carey at Canterbury, and Archbishop Sentamu received racist letters following his appointment as the second most senior figure in the Church hierarchy.
The Ugandan-born archbishop once claimed that the Church was dominated by a white elite that lacks “colour and spice” and had been slow to welcome black people.
Some Synod members, however, said the that report’s conclusions were unfair. Alison Ruoff, a lay member of London diocese, said: “The Church always seems to be apologising about something. Ethnic minority people need to want to play their part, but often they don’t want to. Just because they’ve got a different colour skin doesn’t mean that they should be in positions of leadership.”
Edward Armistead, another Synod member, said that it was “bunkum” to suggest that the Church’s structures discriminated against ethnic minorities. “You couldn’t get a broader organisation than the Church of England. I don’t think there’s a case to answer.”
The CMEAC members include Dean Govinder, Sonia Barron, the archbishops’ adviser on ethnic minority matters, and representatives of the Association for Black Clergy.