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World News

Church of England criticised for not delivering on commitments to tackle institutional racism

by Donna Birrell

The head of the Archbishops' Commission for Racial Justice has strongly criticised the Church of England for not delivering on commitments made to tackle institutional racism. 

In his foreword to the first of six twice-yearly reports looking at the response of the Church to recommendations made in a report by the Racial Justice Taskforce in 2020, Lord Boateng wrote :

"I have been struck by how much the Church of England's institutions today, despite many statements of good intent, are seemingly unable to deliver on commitments made."

Lord Boateng said at least £20 million needs to be set aside to implement the 47 recommendations which were identified in the 2020 report 'From Lament to Action'. But he said he was "at a loss" to understand why a Racial Justice Directorate had still not been established as that was leading to a delay in delivering agreed commitments.    

Speaking of a sense of deep hurt and pain encountered during the process both for himself and for those who have experienced or who are still experiencing racial injustice within the Church of England, its institutions, and practices, he said:

"I wish I could say something that would make this hurt and pain less, I am afraid I cannot. This is a painful process, and necessarily so, in that the response to an examination of racism and the exposure of injustice is often one of denial and defensiveness or obscuration and delay. This must not go unchallenged.

"There is a need in these circumstances to speak truth unto power. The truth is that in many places the Church in terms of its institutions and buildings great and small is not a place where people of colour will find either their appearance or experience reflected." 

The report said  there is still no guarantee the Commission could gain "unfettered access" to all the relevant documents and that overstretched individuals were working in challenging circumstances where they felt vulnerable and unsupported. 

Lord Boateng went on to say that "not inconsiderable" funds agreed by the Church Commissioners to be spent on supporting social enterprises remain unspent. He called for urgent work to disburse the money effectively and with impact.

The Church has also been criticised for its response to the subject of monuments linked to slavery in places of Christian worship. 

The report said: "This is a source of great hurt to many, and, for some, an obstacle to the worship of the risen Christ…" But the report said the Church's response is "inadequate and incomplete."
The Church of England's ecclesiastical court process also comes under fire, with the report calling for it to be reformed: 

"The Consistory Court Process is itself wanting in a number of respects and is also prohibitively expensive. Steps need to be taken to reform and simplify it."

Commenting on the first report, Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said:  

"We strongly welcome the first report of the Commission on Racial Justice and the clear, independent scrutiny it provides. I am very grateful to Lord Boateng and his Commission members for the work they have done so far. This report identifies the difficult and long path to eradicating the pain and injustice felt by so many, but provides us with hope that through the Commission's work, these issues will be addressed."

Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York added:

"We are encouraged to see the work of the Commission in challenging current practice and stimulating culture change in the Church of England. It is important for us to engage with these ideas and continue to build both support and action. This reminds us that justice lies at the heart of the Gospels and it is our hope that the whole Church will be inspired to commit in earnest to this transformation."

The Commission will produce its next report at the end of this year with its final conclusions expected in October 2024.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: "We strongly welcome the first report of the Archbishops' Commission for Racial Justice and the clear, independent scrutiny it provides.

"I'm very grateful to Lord Boateng and his Commission members for the work they've done so far."

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