Church is racist, says black bishop

Kathy Marks
Tuesday 13 July 1999 23:02 BST

THE CHURCH of England was accused of institutional racism yesterday by a Ugandan-born bishop who was a member of the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry team.

In an outspoken address, the Right Rev Dr John Sentamu, Bishop of Stepney, told a session of the General Synod in York that the church failed to reflect the diversity of society. "The organisational culture of the Church of England ... is still socially glued together by a culture that is monochrome - that is, white," he said. "It still lacks colour and spice."

Dr Sentamu, one of only two black Anglican bishops in the country, said that within the church, "the expectation of the historic, white, educated, elite English norm is maintained, regardless of the make-up of a congregation".

The Synod was debating the lessons to be learnt from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which concluded that racism was ingrained in the police service and other institutions.

The bishop, who was one of three advisers to Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, the public inquiry chairman, said the church was no exception. It had failed to monitor events within its own walls or to create programmes for change, he said.

He told the Synod session's audience, which included Neville Lawrence, the father of the black teenager murdered in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993: "At present, the church experience of its different cultural and ethnic groups isn't generally drawn upon in our education and teaching."

The definition of institutional racism set down in the inquiry report - "unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people" - should be used by the church as well as police and government bodies as a "plumb line to judge its corporate life", he said.

The bishop urged the archbishops of Canterbury and York to instigate measures to increase the confidence and participation in the church of Anglicans from the ethnic minor-ities. "No one is born a racist," he said. "Racism is not innate: it is caught, learnt, taught, imitated and then practised. It can be rooted out. We must be converted into a church that celebrates our diversity."

Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, acknowledged in an address to the Synod that, in relation to fighting racism, the church was still a "very long way from being home and dry". He said that the church needed to look at ways of increasing the number of black and Asian priests, as well as appointing more people from ethnic communities to its staff and councils.and making them more visible within its leadership.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in