Last week’s admission by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of his own failing in not pushing back harder against institutional racism in the Church of England, as well as the mandate by its synod that the church be more vocal against it, ought to be a reminder to Anglicans everywhere of the prophetic mission of their faith. Jamaica is not exempt from this obligation. For while the issues it needs to confront may not be racism as understood in Britain, the insistence that Jamaican Anglicans engage in similar self-reflection may be even stronger.
This is given that the initiator of the conversation among the English Anglicans was a Jamaican-born priest, whose point of departure was an issue that has victimised larger numbers of Jamaicans living in the United Kingdom (UK) – the Windrush scandal.
Windrush, the name of a ship that took the first batch of post-war West Indians to England, has come to typify Caribbean people of that generation, who, after decades living in the UK, thought they were British citizens, but in recent years have faced attempts to push them out of the country, ostensibly for lack of documentation.
Several who left the UK found it difficult to return during what the Conservative government had called its “hostile environment” for immigrants.
Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, the rector of south London church of St Peter’s, brought to light the Windrush issue, and wider matters of racism in the Church of England, “because it’s a matter of simple Christian solidarity with a group of people who have fallen victim to the injustice of discrimination at the hands of our government and our church”. He wanted, he said, to “hear a much stronger voice from the church, as a whole, in speaking truth and justice to our nation”.
Archbishop Welby agreed. He said: “When we look at our own church, we are still deeply institutionally racist,” for which he was “personally sorry and ashamed”.
“I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure,” he said. “…I’m ashamed of my lack of urgent voice to the church.”
Archbishop Welby’s remark was important, both in its institutional context and his willingness, as the lead shepherd, to be held accountable for being insufficiently protective of God’s flock, particularly its most vulnerable.
That’s a lesson for leaders who operate not only in the spiritual realm, but in all spheres of life. With regard to leaders of the church, it was a declaration, too, that God’s mission isn’t only about the elevation of souls to ethereal vistas. His prophetic mission includes the elevation of bodies and the delivery of social and economic justice.
VOICE AGAINST RACISM
Archbishop Welby’s immediate job, therefore, is to be a louder prophetic voice against racism and other forms of justice in British society, while starting the refashioning of the Church of England to be a better reflection of the UK of today, lest, as he observed, the same conversation is still being held “in 20 years’ time and (we are) still doing injustice”.
Indeed, this is a theology that is both understood and practised by Howard Gregory in his dual roles as archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Jamaica and of the church in the Province of the West Indies.
In Jamaica, the issue may not be anymore racism in the institutional sense of the UK. But it has its equivalence, or correlations in terms of shade, social class and economic status and gender. There is, generally, a look to poverty, crime and social injustice.
Archbishop Gregory, as Justin Welby has done, should recommit himself to being louder against these weaknesses, while urging other spiritual leaders to do likewise.
In his own organisation, he should also redouble his efforts to erode that last major bastion of male privilege, to ensure that women can become bishops and have a shot at the top job.