Monday 1 April 2024

Church of England's gone stark, raving bonkers. If it persists in telling white worshippers they're racists it'll condemn itself to oblivion (Opinion)

Readers of Private Eye will remember the magazine’s fictional vicar, the Rev J. C. Flannel. He is a worldly, waffley, wishy-washy sort of fellow.

Flannel steers clear of religious conviction. He is the kind of bland clergyman who likes to blather on about TV soap operas in order to seem relevant.

The Rev J. C. Flannel has been overtaken by history. He would be out of place in the modern Church of England. For one thing he is male and white, which would put him at a disadvantage in some quarters.

More important, I doubt that Flannel could get to grips with the craving for ‘racial justice’ born of ‘critical race theory’ that obsesses so many Anglican bishops and ­senior clergy.

I know the Church of England pretty well. My father was a priest, as were two uncles. Two of my brothers-in-law were bishops, and a third a canon. A nephew is a vicar. I can say with confidence that the Church whose ways I have observed, and in which I have worshipped, is one of the least racist institutions in our country.

However, the folk who run the C of E think differently. For many of them ­racism is ‘embedded’ — this is a key, often-used word in critical race theory — in our national Church, and must be rooted out.

They would doubtless say that, if I don’t discern endemic racism in the Church, it is because I am a white, relatively privileged person. Racism is buried so deep that you can’t necessarily see it. It is cause for shame and, if I and people like me can’t appreciate this truth, it is because we are fundamentally racist.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has proclaimed that the Church of England is ‘deeply institutionally racist’ and called for ‘radical and decisive’ action. This has entailed setting up a ­Commission for Racial Justice, and the appointment of a ‘racial justice directorate’.

The belief that the Church is ­profoundly racist is widespread in higher ecclesiastical circles. ­Anyone who doesn’t share it would be well-advised to keep quiet if interested in promotion.

When he was a black ordinand, Calvin ­Robinson was told by Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London: ‘As a white woman I can tell you that the Church is ­institutionally racist.’ He didn’t agree. Robinson subsequently left the C of E, and is now a priest in another denomination.

This past week — Holy Week, when Christians recall the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ — wondrous storms have raged that have made me seriously wonder whether the Church of England has gone stark, raving bonkers.

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, who is white and Archdeacon of Liverpool, declared on social media: ‘Let’s have anti-whiteness, and let’s smash the patriarchy.’ An archdeacon is one rung below a bishop in the ecclesiastical hierarchy and, although she may sound like a demented adolescent, Dr Threlfall-Holmes has resided on this earth for 50 years.

Unsurprisingly, some people were dismayed by her unsolicited eruption. She partly backtracked, assuring us that ‘whiteness does not refer to skin colour per se but to a way of viewing the world where being white is seen as normal and everything else is considered different or lesser’. This is unlikely to reassure many white people.

In view of Dr Threlfall-Holmes’s right-on opinions about the historical burdens of whiteness, I’ve little doubt she will soon be made a bishop.

Not to be outdone in this spate of Merseyside madness, the Rector of Liverpool, Canon Crispin Pailing, this week decided to resign. He told his congregation that he could ‘no longer, in good conscience’ represent a Church which ‘perpetuates bias and discrimination against sections of society’.

Dr Threlfall-Holmes’s somersaults followed some unconvincing cartwheels performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an interview with Times Radio.

Justin Welby was asked about the Diocese of Birmingham’s recent advertisement for an Anti-Racism Practice Officer (Deconstructing Whiteness)’ to work in an 11-strong ‘racial justice’ team. This post is entirely consistent with Dr Welby’s ­misguided programme to stamp out imagined racism in the C of E.

And yet, confronted with the absurd advert, the Archbishop became giggly and disowned it. He said it sounded like the BBC management lingo used in the satirical sitcom W1A.

This was disingenuous, partly because Dr Welby has ­zealously promoted ‘racism officers’, and partly because he is himself no stranger to impenetrable, bureaucratic language.

The Commission for Racial Justice he set up was evidently not intended to be balanced, fair and proportionate. Seven of its 12 members are non-white, including its chairman, former Labour Cabinet ­Minister Lord Boateng. The Commission produces periodic reports whose effect is to engender guilt in white ­members of the Church ­of England.

Having examined the biographies of its members, I think it probable that almost none of them could be described as even remotely Tory. Several of them haven’t tried to conceal their disdain, even dislike, for traditionalists, and have tweeted or retweeted remarks on social media that are both Left-wing and lacking in Christian charity.

For example, Professor Duncan Morrow, who is white, has laid into the Tories more than once. ‘When this round of Conservatives finally allow the UK population to choose their successors, they will be remembered for austerity, Brexit and Covid parties.’

Another member — Anthony Reddie, who is professor of black theology at Oxford ­University, and himself black — has retweeted posts criticising Margaret Thatcher, Nigel Lawson and Rishi Sunak. He has written a book which he describes, in terms straight out of the critical race theory playbook, as ‘a black theology take on decolonising knowledge’.

Reddie also hates the upper classes: ‘There’s a reason why no one likes the English upper classes. Anyone who honestly believes that colonialism was benign and for the good of the colonised is either a fool or something unspeakable.’

If I ever find myself warming to Justin Welby, I’ll remember how he sanctioned a Commission for Racial Justice that appears to be both biased and viscerally opposed to the values of many members of the Church of England, let alone huge swathes of the wider population.

Why has the Church become gripped by the secular, American-bred critical race theory to such an extent that, under Dr Welby’s leadership, it is effectively renouncing its past achievements, and lashing itself for its present supposed shortcomings?

I believe it is being gradually taken over by people for whom God comes second, and sometimes distantly so, to fashionable, Left-wing political theories. I also believe that if it continues along this path the C of E will condemn itself to certain extinction as our national Church.

This may not take long. The Church of England’s wrong-headed obsession with racial justice is putting it at odds with some members of its dwindling congregations, as well as with many in wider society for whom the Church seems increasingly irrelevant.

Take the issue of slavery reparations. Earlier this month, a body called the Oversight Group — an off-shoot of Dr Welby’s Commission for Racial ­Justice — recommended that the Church of England should pay £1 billion in reparations to atone for its historic links to the slave trade. Previously it had pledged £100 million.

The Oversight Group is chaired by the Barbados-born Bishop of Croydon, Rosemarie Mallett, whose background is that of an academic sociologist. She signs up wholeheartedly to the racial justice agenda. In an interview last year, she asserted that ‘racism — this binary of black and white — was born out of slavery’.

She also claimed that the ‘Church [has] walked together with colonialism, imperialism, chattel slavery’. No mention of the devout Anglican, William Wilberforce, who with fellow Christians successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which took place in 1833.

Slavery was an unconscionable evil, and I am appalled that the Church of England should have briefly benefited from it 300 years ago. But raising £1 billion isn’t going to undo what happened. The C of E could spend that amount of money to far greater effect on existing challenges.

I can’t, of course, see into Dr ­Mallett’s mind. But I believe that many who advocate reparations are not so much interested in ­restitution as in weighing down white churchgoers with perpetual guilt from which they will never

be freed. That is an essential ­component of critical race theory. White responsibility for slavery can’t be expunged.

It is forever ‘embedded’. That word again. Last month, the Jamaican-born Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, told the General Synod that the Church needed to ‘further embed racial justice’ and shouldn’t be afraid of being called ‘woke’.

The Church’s racial preoccupations are also evident in its attitude towards asylum seekers. Anyone can have reasonable doubts about the workability of the Government’s Rwanda scheme. I certainly do. But the bishops have consistently championed the interests of mostly non-white illegal immigrants over those of white and black people who live in this country and are sorely pressed by crumbling ­infrastructure and a lack of affordable housing.

The failure of the bishops to come up with a plausible alternative scheme to stem the flow of illegal immigrants suggests to me that they aren’t really interested in doing anything about it.

The C of E hierarchy has also demonstrated a near total indifference to well-documented stories about Anglican priests offering conversion to Muslim asylum seekers who are insincere. In some cases immigrants invoke their newly acquired religion to prevent their being returned to countries where Christians are persecuted.

Immigration files published this week show that convicted sex offender Abdul Ezedi was granted asylum after claiming to have converted to Christianity. His application was backed by a Baptist — not Anglican — minister. Ezedi, who threw himself into the Thames after attacking a woman and her two daughters with a ­corrosive substance in January, was given a Muslim burial earlier this month.

The extent to which Anglican priests are involved in such conversion scams is unclear. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman may have exaggerated when accusing the Church of ‘facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims’. But there is surely a case to answer.

Not as far as the C of E is concerned. The Iranian-born Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani, has dismissed Mrs Braverman’s concerns in her role as the Church’s ‘lead bishop’ on immigration. She denied that the Church had ever enabled bogus conversions. Dr Francis-Dehqani has described the Government’s Rwanda scheme as ‘immoral’.

It is of course the duty of the Church to care, as Christ did, for those who are poor or persecuted. Almost all Christians would agree with this. That is not the issue.

The issue is whether white churchgoers — and white society in general — should be made to feel guilty for the sins of their ­distant ancestors and their own ‘embedded’ racism. This is what is demanded by powerful activists, who I believe are driven by motives that are more secular than religious.

Many devout priests are alarmed by these developments. One of them recently pointed out to me a letter in the Church Times by an Indian-born Anglican vicar. It argued that white bishops, deans and archdeacons should stand aside in favour of people of ‘global majority heritage’ like him. That sounds to me like racism.

Tomorrow is the greatest day in the Christian year. Like many others, though a diminishing number, I shall go to church. I’m happy to say that the Rev J. C. Flannel won’t be present. Nor will there be any mention of ‘racial justice’.

But I know that behind the scenes in my church — our national Church — there are many working away, intent on making us feel perpetual shame for the sins of the long dead, and trying to shape what would be a very bleak future.