Prudence Dailey – Is the Church of England really ‘institutionally racist’?

Is the Church of England really ‘institutionally racist’?
Just as the Government-appointed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (‘the Sewell Commission’) has published its report concluding that the United Kindgom is not fundamentally a racist country, the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce has asserted that the Church of England is, indeed, institutionally racist, and that urgent changes its culture are needed.
The Sewell Commission readily acknowledged that racism exists in Britain today, and it would be surprising if racism did not also manifest itself in the Church, since the Church is made up of people, and people are sinners. ‘Institutional racism’ is, however, much more than the aggregate of individual instances of prejudice within an institution, but entails bias embedded in its very structures. How likely it is, really (an observer might wonder), that the Church of England is more racist than the country at large?
While the Sewell Commission carefully considered the evidence on whether institutional racism existed in different contexts, the Archbishops’ Taskforce appears to have started from the assumption that the Church of England is institutionally racist, and then sought anecdotal support for this conclusion. If there is systematic evidence, it is yet to be revealed: when I asked the Archbishop of York during General Synod Question Time if it might be produced, he responded with yet more anecdote.
Of course, we ought not to dismiss the bitter experiences of those who have been on the receiving end racism in a church context. The danger is, though, that by seeing those experiences through a lens of Critical Race Theory—which divides the world into oppressed and oppressors along racial lines, and is not a Christian worldview—we will make things immeasurably worse.
Take the absurd suggestion by the Archbishops’ Taskforce that all shortlists for posts within the Church should contain ‘at least one appointable UKME [UK Minority Ethnic] applicant’, with a requirement of 30% for senior appointments. Approximately 16% of the population of England is of a minority ethnic background: a large proportion of those are members of other faiths, with no immediate interest in joining the Church of England; while of those who are Christian, a significant number have ties to other denominations (including the black-led Pentecostalist churches). Furthermore, the ethnic minority population is disproportionately working-class, a demographic which the Church of England has demonstrated particular difficulty in reaching. Those responsible for recruitment will therefore be forced to scrabble around trying to find ‘UKME’ applicants to interview in order to keep up appearances: not only is this disrespectful to the candidates concerned, whose time and effort will be wasted; but also it will inevitably raise suspicions in the minds of at least some of the interviewers that those who are not white are there only to make up the numbers (even where this is not, in fact, the case).
Psychologists recognise that the phenomenon of ‘in-group preference’ is hard-wired into the human psyche at a basic level. It seems likely that this is at the root of racial prejudice; but the good news is that our understanding of who constitutes the ‘in group’ is by no means fixed. If we shine the spotlight on questions of racial identity, whether we like it or not this will be reflected in which of our fellow men we perceive as being part of the ‘in-group’ and which in the ‘out-group’. It is no surprise that, since the rise of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests over the past year or so, there has reportedly been an increase in racial tensions overall.
It does not have to be this way. As Christians, we can and must learn to close our eyes to trivial differences in ethnicity, and recognise that our ‘in-group’ is the company of all the Baptised. Or, as St Paul put it, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).