Allegations of racism in Church of England are 'deeply worrying'

Clergy have spoken of racism in the Church of England and complaints going unheard.(Photo: Unsplash/Daniel Polevoy)

Monday night's episode of BBC Panorama disclosed serious allegations of racism in the Church of England. 

The episode, 'Is the Church Racist?', heard from Dr Elizabeth Henry, the Church's former adviser on race relations, who claims that some victims were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. 

She retired last year feeling "frustrated by the lack of progress" on addressing racism in the Church, and told Panorama of one "really shocking" incident in 2019 when nothing was done about a picture of a banana sent to a young black man.

"A really shocking incident was a young black man who received a picture of a banana. But that banana had his head superimposed upon it - and underneath it said: Banana Man. That is a deeply offensive and deeply racist image," she said. 

"He took it to HR [human resources department] and he did file a grievance. And the decision was that it wasn't racist.

"That person left, and he received a very small compensation - however he was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement."

Brazilian-born Peterson Feital told the programme he experienced racist bullying at a London church where he was told by his manager that people of his "kind" were "not clever enough".

He said that when he tried to complain to senior staff in the Diocese of London, he was told to "keep his head down" because racism could not be proved and if he caused a problem he was "not going to get a job anywhere".

The Diocese of London said it was "appalled" by his experience and had "spoken with Peterson regarding the process for bringing formal complaints against those involved".

The episode airs in the same week that the Church is publishing the report of the Archbishops' Anti-Racism Taskforce. The report was commissioned last year by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to scrutinise previous reports and recommendations made to the Church of England over the last 36 years, and to establish what progress, if any, the Church has made on racial justice.

The Church of England said it had worked with Panorama's producers "to provide information and a response to a number of issues raised".

It said the allegations were "deeply worrying and there is no place for racism or discrimination within the Church". 

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who will be interviewed in Monday night's episode, said: "The stories we've heard are shocking and there is no doubt that the Church has failed our UK Minority Ethnic brothers and sisters.

"I hope that we are at least now approaching the challenge of tackling racism in a more intentional way and that that this will lead to much greater participation at every level of the Church's life in order that we might become the change that we long to see everywhere.

"The heart of the Christian faith is that in Christ there is a new humanity. The old barriers of separation and exclusion no longer count.

"This is the faith that was born on Easter Day 2000 years ago, a faith that drew in excluded people and I want us to recover that vision of this new humanity where barriers of separation are broken down."

At the February 2020 General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly apologised for the racism experienced by black and minority ethnic people who came to Britain as part of the Windrush generation, many of whom were turned away from white-majority churches. 

Addressing Synod, the Archbishop said there was "no doubt" the Church of England is still "deeply institutionally racist".

The release of the taskforce report this week coincides with Stephen Lawrence Day and will make dozens of recommendations to the Church as well as set down a timetable for action with the aim of making the Church of England "fairer and more diverse" and more "representative of the people of England".

It will also lay the ground for the creation of a Commission on Racial Justice that will be tasked with examining broader systemic racism in the Church.