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Diversity in C of E can only be addressed if black clergy stand up to it, says Bishop

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England will only become truly diverse if black clergy within the institution speak out.

That's according to Bishop Joe Aldred who formerly worked in Pentecostal and multicultural relations at Churches Together in England.

He was speaking after Lord Boateng, the head of the Archbishops' Racial Justice Commission accused the Church of England of being too white during a debate at this week’s General Synod. 

Speaking to Premier, Bishop Joe says although the Church of England is putting measures in place to try to increase the number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clergy, they won’t be effective unless those clergy push for change and are vocal from within the structure itself : 

“All the indications are that the Church of England have been trying to address racism. The question for me is whether the way the Church of England is going about it is likely to succeed.

“My fear is that historically, like much of the rest of society, the Church of England is trying to address the issue by trying to hold the feet of the church to the fire. I'm afraid no matter how long you hold the feet of the institution to the fire, it is not likely to be able to deliver what is required. What is needed is some activism that sees them as equal participants in this business of bringing about equality.

“Black people within the Church of England need to stand up as human beings – as Christians in their own right – not trying to somehow fit in with a white-ism that has its historic roots in slavery.

“What is needed is for the black people, particularly within the Church of England to stop pleading with the institution to change and to stand up to it and make it change.”

Bishop Joe says that too often, clergy from minority backgrounds become subsumed into the existing structure of the Church of England and feel unable to speak out. He believes the Church of England should look to the Pentecostal churches as an example of how to address the issue :   

“They set up alternative structures, which have now become respected partners from a position of strength, independence and self-determination. The black Christians within the Church of England need to follow the lesson from that model, instead of the rather supplicant model of pleading with your favour and saying ‘please be nice to me.’

“The model of the black churches is a very good model for the church to adopt. The black people within it virtually need to create a church within the church.” 

A former Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu was born in Uganda and retired in 2020. Bishop Joe says that even he was unable to create enough change within the structure of the church :

“Sometimes before you accede to that office, or that position, you think life is simple there, that you'll be able to bring about changes when you get there, but then you realise that the view from the cockpit is very different.  I think that's what all post holders have found, who've tried to work within the institution trying to handle the issue of racial justice. 

“We have to take seriously the idea that all humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, that all of us are of equal worth and so it is not for me to be pleading with you. ‘Please give me a seat at the table.’ It is for me to take the seat at the table as a fellow equal human being. I'm afraid there's too much pleading with the system with the structure and not enough offering viable alternatives. “

Responding to the debate at General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Reverend Justin Welby acknowledged that practices must change in order to create a more ethnically diverse church.

He also said that more BAME candidates should be recognised :   

“I have sat through so many occasions where people have said: ‘They are wonderful, but not here and not now.’ That’s got to change. Why not here? Why not now?”

General Synod continues until Friday 11 February.

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