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New book provides insider account of alleged institutional racism in Church of England

by Premier Journalist

A new book by an ordained minister has sought to shed light on the ways in which institutional racism still grips the Church of England.

C of E minister Rev Azariah France-Williams' 'Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England' provides an insider account into the experience of black and brown clergy and seeks to unearth many of the ways in which racism is perpetuated in the Church, and offers some advice on how the CofE can restructure and rethink its approach to racial justice. 

In a recent discussion hosted by the Religion Media Centre, Rev France-Williams talked further about the critical issues that his book seeks to raise, particularly in light of the ongoing protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States and the racial inequality that has been exposed by the coronavirus. 

He said: "In the pandemic, we realised that black and brown people disproportionately were dying of the coronavirus...and when George Floyd was murdered, we were already gathering. We were already organised about the Coronavirus, so after the George Floyd murder, we were able to continue that sense of organisation, that sense of anger, that agency, that claiming of the agenda that black lives do matter began to happen.

"I had thought this book was going to be like a boulder. I was going to have to push up the hill and then shout from the top of the hill, 'Hey, everybody have a look at this'. But instead, I had so many people helping me to push this boulder, this book, up the hill."

France-Williams said that although he had received an overwhelmingly positive response from people since the release of the book, one clergyman wrote to him expressing their concern that he was "denigrating the church" he loves. He insists, however, that this is far from the truth. "I wrote this book because I love the church."

"People are saying it's a tough read. People are saying it's it's eye-opening. But I hope that through using stories, by giving my own first-hand account as well as giving some of the history, which we so often forget, people can recognise that this is something to be engaged with. Whether or not you agree, hopefully it'll get you thinking and provoke good conversation."

France-Williams talked more specifically about an experience in one church where he felt he was being used for a campaign on mental health that church leaders sought to "sell into the black majority churches."

"I went along with it," he explained. "But I also felt used in the number of posters and pamphlets and booklets that I turned up in, maybe from slightly different angles to maybe give a sense that there were more black was ridiculous. And so you are part of the presentation, but not part of the production and it can be very extractive of who you are." 

France-Williams does not "name and shame" specific churches or individuals who he felt had exhibited racist attitudes in the book, instead choosing to use aliases. 

"I had to go back to the drawing board and reimagine these stories as metaphors, as archetypal...and as models of ministry instead of particular people," he explained. "And actually, I think that made it a better book." 

You can watch the full discussion below:


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