On the Church of England and Critical Race Theory | Fr Daniel French

Sometimes a draft document can be more revealing than a final report and cast light on the inner workings of an organisation. This is just the case with a leaked draft of the Church of England report from the Archbishop’s Anti-Racism task force ‘From Lament to Action’. The seventy one page published report came out last Thursday on Stephen Lawerence Day but has clearly been toned down of its Critical Race Theory (CRT) terminology. For me it begs the question as to which of the two texts is nearer to the mind of the fourteen strong task force? Knowing the answer to that helps vicars like me anxious to know the overall theological future direction of our Church.

In the draft we are promised a future Anglican commission to:

“Review the foundations and principle theological frameworks that entrenched racial prejudice and white normativity across the church traditions and its doctrinal teaching.”

Yet in the final report ‘white normativity’ was removed. Elsewhere negative references to ‘Eurocentrism’ and ‘Christendom,’ also disappear.

The first draft had little reference to Jesus whereas this is corrected in the second. Also out of the final text is the call to engage and work with a number of controversial public bodies like the We Are Bristol Historic Commission and Sadiq Khan’s commission on the dismantling of statues. More controversially the call to partner with Black Live Matter (BLM) is also mysteriously gone. The draft had a telling footnote:

“The task force recognise liaison with the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK may present challenges as they are not structured like a conventional not-for-profit organisation. However, we fully acknowledge the fresh impetus and awareness BLM brought to racial justice in the UK and worldwide.”

The team could surely not be ignorant of the BLM vision to disrupt the nuclear family, abolish prisons, get rid of the police, remove national borders, and dismantle capitalism?

My uneasiness is that this task force may have removed contentious material as a deliberate media spin to avoid a backlash. Did they get the jitters and want to keep the Daily Mail at bay? However, if ideologically the first draft is the real manifesto and captures a vision the hierarchy are willing to go with then this will impinge on more than just issues of race. This is because we only need to look at the universities to see what happens when the grim manichean vision of Critical Race Theory and its variants takes hold. Do we really want an Established Church where even the mildest of dissenting voices are “cancelled” and everyone fears their position by accusation of wrongthink?  

I for one cannot buy into the ideological world of victimhood which divides people into “them” and “us”: the oppressed and the oppressor. It is a recipe for tyranny of thought, a new orthodoxy. For me, the radical politics of Jesus Christ is the inverse of creating “safe spaces” but rather the call to a generous love even of adversaries. It is about robust discussion not the closing down of thought. Of course, any racism present in the Church must be addressed. Racism is appalling and deeply sinful. Nevertheless is CRT with its militant ethos the right set of tools to bring this about?  

History shows the revolutionaries slip in and  often take hold when an atmosphere of fear and gloom prevail. Ripe for this the Church of England has been officially downbeat about the state of our nation for a while now. Morose official pronouncement after pronouncement paints a downbeat picture of a failing Britain that makes wonder if these church authors are living in the 1970s? Take for instance the seven bishops of London’s recent response to Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparity which concludes affirming the words of the new bishop of Dover, Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin that Britain is not as yet a model country.

“The (government) Commission seems to imply that better research, targeted funding and ‘levelling up’ – procedural solutions – will make a difference, whereas procedural intervention arguably works properly only where there is a level playing field. Fairness does not achieve justice.”

Here I am genuinely puzzled as to why the bishops would pushdown the signs of optimism that the independent report painted? Are they annoyed that things are getting better?

My fear is that the Church of England will now employ an army of experts and specialists to roll out mandatory unconscious bias training, manage appointment quotas, decolonise curriculums and pump out even more reports. Terms like ‘white privilege’ will be introduced without question while faith and reason will have to go second place over ‘lived experience’.  Ironically if the “lived experience” of universities is anything to go by then the much cherished genteel Anglican culture of debate and intellectual enquiry will be shut down. Is this what we want?

Thankfully rising star and government minister Kemi Badenoch’s ban on CRT in the classroom last year may at least shield church schools from this. She and other prominent conservative Black voices (James Cleverly, Chris Rose, Calvin Robinson, Trevor Philips, Dominique Samuels, etc) may be our last hope for a pull back from every British institution being radicalised. Ironically Black conservative voices represent a much larger constituency than the Anglican establishment seems willing to acknowledge. Their theology is probably not what the Archbishop’s task force envisages when it talks of Black Theology (largely an American import).

What would be truly awful would be for the Anglican Church not to learn the lessons of the Windrush generation and close the doors afresh on a whole section of the BAME community this time because their politics and theology did not fit some Hard Left bias and agenda. Here there is irony within irony that borders on the farcical. Sadly, this it is not uncommon to find disparaging if not racist slurs slung against those who follow a traditional faith. Some of this is on the basis of, say African churches being perceived as backward. I’ve seen it. I once argued at a dinner party for John Sentamu to succeed Rowan William as the Archbishop of Canterbury and got the reply from another guest that he ran his diocese like a tribal village leader and was far too traditional anyway.

I have begun to notice that objections to the appointment of the presidency of Anglican global communion moving away from Canterbury have something of those same overtones. It’s subtle but nevertheless present. Is it not unreasonable to say that this is what occurred when Afro-Caribbean Anglicans came here sixty years ago and probably explains why most set up independent churches or went Pentecostal.  

Of course if the Church of England wants to improve its racial diversity then there is a straight forward oven ready solution, ask the African Anglican provinces to send missionaries to our shores. They make up the majority of the Anglican global communion by far and their growth in numbers seems unstoppable. They have a surplus of clergy.  Several thousand clergy and bishops would boost our endeavours.  However, I do not imagine them holding much truck with CRT etc. Yet, they might yet succeed in revitalising Christianity where the home team have failed.

Photo Credit.

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