With a heavy heart I must return once more to the subject of the Church of England. I recognise that is not a subject for everybody, and occasionally someone implies that it should not be a subject for me. But I am concerned about the fate of the national church because as the new religion heaves ever clearer into view, I realise that I prefer the old religion to the new one. I would rather attempts to influence the country’s morals were preached from a pulpit than through group stampede on Twitter.
And though we haven’t heard much from actual pulpits for more than a year, the church hierarchy has not slumbered. It has been busying itself with the question of anti-racism. Last year the church set up a ‘taskforce’ whose resulting report (‘From Lament to Action: Report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce’) is due before the Archbishops’ Council next week. Happily, a copy found its way into my hands first.
As the report notes, the C of E has covered this terrain before. During a discussion on racism in the General Synod in February last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: ‘I am sorry and ashamed. I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure. There is no doubt when we look at our own Church that we are still deeply institutionally racist.’ An original and originally worded insight.
The Archbishops’ taskforce seeks to build on this position. As it notes, much happened in the months after the Archbishop’s admission of racism. In May last year George Floyd was killed by a policeman in Minnesota. The C of E report describes Floyd as ‘a 46-year-old practising Christian, who worked to mentor young people and oppose gun violence’, which is certainly a generous interpretation of Floyd’s varied career. It is anyway the only generous interpretation in the report, which warns fantastically elsewhere of racism ‘whispered in our pews’, as though the Church of England was the KKK at prayer. When talking of the ‘institutional racism’ that is allegedly so rife in the church, the report insists: ‘The time for lament at such treatment is over… the time for action has now come.’
What is that action? Well, the remnant of Anglican style that remains means that this call for action consists of identifying a set of ‘workstreams’ that will in turn report to a commission. These streams covering every aspect of the church will publish a final report on 22 April, or ‘Stephen Lawrence Day’, in recognition of ‘the continuing impact of institutional racism both within the society and the Church’.
It is very big on quotas. Henceforth there should be ‘One UKME (UK Minority Ethnic) clergy elected from each region’. Something called ‘programme cohorts’ should have a minimum of 30 per cent UKME participation ‘in order to build up pipeline supply’. And in that happy bureaucratese at which the C of E excels, the church should develop an ‘online module for anti--racist learning programme’. All shortlists will include ‘at least one appointable UKME candidate’ and where this does not occur, the ‘recruiter’ should provide ‘valid, publishable reasons for failure’.
As everybody knows, for things to change you must address the question of education and so the report recommends that all C of E primary and secondary schools should work ‘to develop a broad RE curriculum with specific reference to the promotion of racial justice’. They must all mark ‘Black History Month, celebrate diverse saints and models (modern Anglican Saints/Martyrs)’.
And the church’s theology too must change. The curriculum for ordinands must include participation in ‘an introductory Black Theology module’. They must ‘diversify the curriculum’, ‘produce a workable plan for increasing racial diversity’ and ‘formally adopt Racial Justice Sunday in February of each year’. All this will be overseen by the creation of a ‘Racial Justice Unit’, to be funded in these cash-strapped times ‘for a five-year fixed-term basis in the first instance’.
As though there is a vast ‘pipeline’ of people wishing to enter the C of E, those who make it through must be forced to examine ‘the underlying theological assumptions that shapes racial justice such as Eurocentrism, Christendom and White normativity’. The report stresses the need to ‘decolonise Theology, Ecclesiology and possibly examine official teachings of the Church that follows prejudicial theological value system’.
After this year of absence from our national life, the C of E proposal for going forward is to go backwards once again to the issue of slavery. It must again ‘acknowledge, repent and take decisive action to address the shameful history and legacy of the Church of England’s involvement in the historic transatlantic slave trade’. The reason is that all now stands in a different perspective. ‘The BLM movement and in particular the dumping of the Colston statue in Bristol docks shed new light and brought needed urgency to the C of E’s consideration of its own contested heritage.’ The report makes it clear that the church is going to have to bring down monuments and statues that disturb the modern mind, for ‘Our churches should be welcoming spaces for all and we must deal with any part of the church building that may cause pain or offence’. I would give the crucifixes two years, max.
In conclusion, the church itself must change. One ‘barrier to inclusion’ for people from ‘UKME backgrounds’ has been the challenge of ‘cultural assimilation’ into the church, ‘where there is perceived to be little or no room for cultural expression outside of a normative culture which is predominantly white, middle class’. Apparently there is an ‘expectation upon UKME communities to abandon their own cultural heritage and current expression in favour of traditional host approaches’. And so, the Archbishops’ report concludes, it would seem to be easier all round if the host chose to abandon its own heritage, working alongside ‘BLM and other interest groups’ to facilitate change.
While reading this intellectually and morally degraded pap, I think over all the congregations I have seen in my life, in this country and around the world: from Nigeria to Iraq, America to Australia. And I reflect, not for the first time, that the institution being described is not remotely the institution that I know. And that the tragedy for those of us who were fond of the old religion is that its leadership is intent on nothing but making it a simulacrum of the new one.