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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 21.03.2024

21st March, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

I wanted to have a chat this week about something that I’m aware is exercising quite a few people across the diocese: the recent announcement of a project in the West Midlands area to create some posts to address issues of current and historic racism, and our built heritage. This is funded from the Church Commissioners historic assets and has no bearing on our own diocesan budget. Other than support for ministry in areas of deprivation, we don’t receive any money from the Church Commissioners to support our parish ministry.

I want to focus on the key justice issue here.  A forensic accounting examination of the Church Commission’s assets showed that £750 million be traced directly back to profit from investment in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This vile trade was a shame on our nation and many others. Its abolition was spearheaded by a small group, the Clapham Sect, led by William Wilberforce, who worked tirelessly over many years.  I wish I could say the whole Church of England was on board at the time – it wasn’t.  Many Bishops were not supportive and some even kept slaves themselves. As an institution we were not at the forefront of abolition.

Now, I really want to focus on these ill-gotten gains, which is the root of why General Synod mandated the Commissioners to act as part of the wider issue of the limited representation from people of UKME and GMH background in positions of leadership in our church. It is of course true that there was African involvement in the slave trade; and that Barbary pirates engaged in European slavery. However, that is not the point, nor is it actually relevant. The question is how do we address a historic injustice from which we as an institution have benefitted. I may have questions about the practicalities, but not the principle.

I wish that this could be consigned to history. But you can still see interviews with chattel slaves on YouTube. It is not that many generations distant. The crimes of the past do bleed into the present. UKME and GMH people today continue to suffer generational disadvantage that can be traced back to that period. If you doubt the possibility of such generational effects consider that there are villages in our country who have animosity to neighbouring villages because they were on opposite sides in the civil war. The slightly puzzling second part of the first commandment in the Book of Common Prayer: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” is simply acknowledging in Hebrew idiom that we are social beings, and things do get passed down from generation to generation. Trauma in our forbears has effects in the present, often all the more dangerous because their roots are hidden.

So, there is a hangover into contemporary experience and we see it in our own Church. The Windrush generation were invited to leave the Anglican Churches they first visited in London to go down the road to worship with those of their own ‘kind’.  There remain cultural barriers to the full inclusion of all in our church leadership. These need to be addressed if we are to be the Church we profess to be where there is no Jew nor Greek, Slave nor free. To do this extra work on top of all that our overstretched clergy, bishops and archdeacons are doing requires extra capacity which is what these posts are for. I note a speaker in the house of Lords suggested the other day that we should be focussing our energies on filling the pews.  But justice is part of the proclamation of the gospel, and sitting on £750 million of blood money will not endear us to the younger generation who came out in large numbers to support the black lives matter protests. The £100 million is being offered as a seed fund to begin to address some of these issues.

A couple of years ago I was involved in some work on the contested heritage of the main building of Trinity Theological College where I am chair of Council.  It was a painful process and I heard many of the arguments proffered about why we should ignore it, consign it to the past, invite forgiveness.  The building was built because of slave money. The pain was in the members of the council from UKME and GMH backgrounds. Such minimizing was extraordinarily hurtful to them in a way I hadn’t realised before. It seemed to trivialise the experience of their great grandparents.  All had plenty of stories too of their recent experiences of racism.  It may be true that Britain is a less racist country than others.  But holocaust denier websites try to tell you that the number killed was much less than reported, as if to say it wasn’t as bad as all that, and that somehow minimises the horror. Racism and injustice are sins and we need to address these in ourselves if our proclamation of Christ is to have credibility.

There is a whole related issue about the Churches missionary work overseas and cultural sensitivity, but that will have to wait another video! Suffice to say I always think sharing the gospel with anyone anywhere is a mandate from Jesus. Check out Matthew 28: 16-20 if you doubt that.


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