In Depth

Archbishop of Canterbury labels Church ‘institutionally racist’

Justin Welby says he is “ashamed of our history and our failure”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised for the Church of England’s history of racism and called for “radical and decisive” action to tackle the “injustice”. 

The Most Reverend Justin Welby spoke out at a meeting of the Church’s ruling General Synod in London, where the assembly voted to support a motion to apologise to the “countless” Black, Asian and minority ethnic people who have experienced racism since the Windrush migration in 1948.

Many of the immigrants to Britain who attempted to worship at Church of England churches were “met with hostility”, says HuffPost.

What did Welby say?

“Personally, I am sorry and ashamed. I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure. I’m ashamed of our lack of witness to Christ,” Welby told the Synod.

“We did not do justice in the past, we do not do justice now, and unless we are radical and decisive in this area in the future, we will still be having this conversation in 20 years time and still doing injustice - the few of us that remain, deservedly.

“We have damaged the Church, we have damaged the image of God and most of all, we have damaged those we victimised, unconsciously very often.” 

In what The Independent describes as “off-the-cuff remarks”, the clergyman added that “there is no doubt when we look at our own Church that we are still deeply institutionally racist”. 

Welby had said he felt the need to “ditch” his prepared speech after hearing the opening address by Reverend Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, from Southwark Diocese.

As The Guardian reports, Moughtin-Mumby told the story of Doreen Browne, a member of the Windrush generation whose family was barred in 1961 from entering the south London church where he is now rector “due to the plain fact of the colour of their black skin… a horrible and humiliating racism”.

Fellow south London vicar Rosemarie Mallet added that as a member of the Windrush generation, she too had faced “overt racism, unconscious bias and sometimes simple racial arrogance”.

What next?

Welby called for better minority ethnic representation within the Church, saying: “I have white advantage, educational advantage, straight advantage, male advantage... I’m not ashamed of those advantages, I’m ashamed of not knowing I had them.”

The phrase “hostile environment” was extraordinary and terrible, he continued, “but we have to transform it into a hospitable, welcoming one”.

As part of the motion to apologise for the Church of England’s historic racism, the Synod also voted to request research on the impact of such racism in terms of members lost and church closures over the years.

In addition, the ruling body will appoint an independent person to “assess the current situation on race and ethnicity in the Church”, The Independent reports.

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