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From Lament to Action

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The Anti-Racism Taskforce report, published in the same week as a disturbing BBC Panorama report, makes 47 recommendations to achieve lasting change, and it is required reading for everyone. The Taskforce issued 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.

Amid rising concern about insufficient progress towards racial justice, equality, and inclusion within the Church of England, the House of Bishops agreed last year to the creation of an Archbishops’ Taskforce, which would lead to a Commission.

The Taskforce researched what had already been achieved. It identified 25 previous reports and 161 formal recommendations relating to racial justice in the past 36 years but struggled to discern the flourishing of UKME/GMH Anglicans as a result. As is clear from the title of the report, urgent action is required.

The Revd Karlene Kerr, Bishop’s Adviser for UK Minority Ethnic Affairs, responded: “I think the report is timely and very welcomed. I feel that it has blown the lid off the pot of denial which is racism in the Church. It’s more transparent, too often the victims of racism have been blamed and shamed, but now there is permission to speak out. It is no longer taboo, it is no longer the great unmentionable. We all have a duty to both speak out about racism and address it where it has occurred.

“People automatically assume racism equates to somebody calling someone from an ethnic minority the n-word or ‘go back to where you come from’, oftentimes it’s not as explicit as that. Often it is the assumption that people have and those negative assumptions manifest themselves in the way they speak to people and the way they treat them and their expectations of them.

“We are hoping that this truly is a watershed moment for the Church. We have to speak up, there is more transparency now and I would encourage people if they are feeling in any way demeaned, diminished, or abused to speak up – do not just accept it because then it remains hidden. Too often there has been victim-blaming; if anyone alleges racism they are often made to feel that they are rocking a very peaceful boat or they were looking for it or they have a chip on their soldier – which is a racist stereotype in itself. Paradoxically, Christianity itself is sometimes used as a weapon of silence because intrinsic to our faith is the principle of not judging, so if you allege racism you are made to feel that you are judging others therefore you are the baddie. No more.

“Now is the time for us all to listen to each other, to respect each other’s feelings, and to make a commitment to change for the wellbeing of all of us because racism demeans us all. It is a barrier to respect, it is a barrier to trust between individuals, it prevents healthy team functioning and it prevents healthy flourishing of the Church and is an anathema to the gospel.”

The Rt Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich said of the report: “It shows a history of inaction. I am very glad that The Anti-Racism Taskforce has done a piece of very urgent work and is saying that 47 different actions need to happen and I’m very committed to that.

“In all areas of the life of the Church we need to be taking very positive action because fundamentally, this is about every single person being made in the unique and wonderful image of God, treasured by God known by God by name and unless we are mirroring something of what God yearns for us all, the flourishing of every human being, we are in many ways diminished.

“I want to be very very clear racism is a sin. It has no place in our society or in the life of the Church and I want to do everything that I possibly can to create a culture and an atmosphere of welcome, of participation, of full involvement in governance and in education to provide role models for young UKME people to grow up in a much safer community for them. I want to do all that I can with every ounce of my being to live out this report so that we move from lamentation to action. There is this appetite for change. We need to seize this moment and move forward in a very positive way.”

The report has identified five priority areas in which the Church of England needs to make a notable and lasting change:

Ensuring the full participation of UKME/GMH Anglicans in the life of the Church of England through the use of co-opted powers in governance bodies, new requirements around appointments, and fundamental changes to data gathering, targets and reporting.

The Church of England plays a vital role in education. This priority area considers content and curriculum development, equipping teachers, tutors, and other educators with appropriate training, and making governing boards, teaching staff, and the student population more inclusive.

Training and mentoring
To achieve lasting change and to embed anti-racism practice at all levels, the Taskforce proposes mandatory facilitated learning programmes to embed anti-racism practice, nationally produced resources for all involved in discernment and formation processes.

Young people
This priority area seeks to create opportunities for UKME/GMH young people to participate within the Church both locally and systematically, while also seeking to see UKME/GMH young people at the heart of the congregation, which the Church of England historically has not done.

Structures and governance
The Taskforce recommends “consciously modifying the structures and governance of the Church of England to allow for the effective participation of UKME/GMH people at every level.” This includes amending governance practices, processes and behaviours from PCCs to General Synod.