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How are Anglicans around the world fighting racism inside and outside church structures?

Posted on: April 19, 2021 2:29 PM
Members of the family of George Floyd raise their fists as they walk to the Hennepin County Government Centre during the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. The death of George Floyd, on 25 May 2020, sparked a global wave of protests and increased awareness of the absence of racial justice in many areas.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Pfosi / Reuters

Churches around the Anglican Communion are deeply involved in the fight against racism, both within the structures of the church itself, and in wider society. The year 2020 was marked by an increase in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, following the death of George Floyd, an African American, at the hands of police officers in the US. Many churches released statements in response to the tragedy, affirming a commitment to racial reconciliation. Covid-19 has also disproportionately impacted minority groups. Churches around the world have been doing what they can in the fight against racism.

When talking about racism, many churches have seen the need to examine their own internal structures. The US-based Episcopal Church (TEC) has a ministry entitled “Becoming Beloved Community”, a long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in personal lives, ministries, and society. As part of the resources available within that ministry there is a 10-part film and reading series called “Sacred Ground”. Small groups are invited to walk through chapters of America’s history of race and racism, while weaving in threads of family story, economic class, and political and regional identity. It is built around a curriculum focused on Indigenous, Black, Latino, and Asian / Pacific American histories as they intersect with European American histories.

The Church of England (C of E) have similarly been examining their own structures. An Anti-Racism Taskforce was set up in 2020 by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It was challenged to develop bold changes to ensure greater racial justice and equality in the C of E. It came after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told the General Synod there was “no doubt” that the Church of England was still “deeply institutionally racist”.

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The Church of England's Anti-Racism Taskforce carrying out preparatory work ahead of this year's launch of the Archbishops’ Commission to address racism.

As part of its work, the taskforce is examining more than 160 formal recommendations made since 1985 on racial justice in the C of E. They will publish a final report on Thursday (22 April). In an update, the taskforce said: “where racism is found, it must be challenged. Whether masked in our behaviours, whispered in our pews, institutionalised in our systems or paraded on our streets, the Church as the body of Christ is called to oppose those actions which cause others to be treated as less than fully human and to dismantle those practices which prevent the full flourishing of God’s people.”

The taskforce identified five key areas in the life of the Church where urgent action is needed. These are participation – including appointments, education, training and mentoring, young people, and governance and structures. Members of the taskforce have been working together in sub-groups on the priority areas and will publish an action implementation timetable in the final report. They have said that “the time for talking and lament has now given way for a time of action.”

The Anglican Church of Canada was one of the provinces to release a statement after the death of George Floyd. In it, they described being “horrified by the public murder of George Floyd” and offered their “prayerful support and solidarity with our sister church [TEC] as it prays and guides its people”.

They said that their commitment to confronting racism in the life of the church and the place of racism in their own nation was a commitment that needed to be “renewed daily”, adding: “our own house is not in order. Systematic racism exists in every part of Canada.”

They repented of their complicity in the continuing structures of racism and oppression in the church and society. The statement drew on the fourth of the Anglican Communion’s Marks of Mission: “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation” and said: “the Anglican Church of Canada has been wrestling with racism and our complicity in systems of injustice for decades. It is a matter of public record that the Anglican Church of Canada has been committed to and learning about a new path to reconciliation with indigenous Anglicans. We recommit ourselves today to that path. The legacy of racism, colonialism, and the residential schools they spawned as well as the open wound of the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls continues to call out for healing.”

In June 2020, 12 archbishops and more than 60 bishops signed the Statement on Environmental Racism issued by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. This statement was also released in response to the death of George Floyd. It said that “in order to fight environmental injustice, we must also fight racial injustice.”

The statement is a call to concrete action with signatories committing to a number of action points, including but not limited to: listening to the voices of indigenous people; recognising and challenging white privilege in society and the church; recognising the colonial past of the Anglican Communion; identifying the need for further study and active listening around issues of racism; and recognising and challenging theological ideologies and social norms that perpetuate racism.

As well as confronting racism within their own institutions, churches have been supporting members of society who are most impacted by racism. For example, in 2019, the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) convened a regional workshop to define and design a coordinated response to migration and trafficking. Migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are often the victims of racism and xenophobia in society. CAPA are working with Churches Witnessing with Migrants-Africa to realise a vision where “all migrants feel safe, are treated with dignity and are empowered to realise their full God-given potential”.

They do so through a network of grassroots migrants, migrant-serving institutions and faith communities and individuals and partners working for the dignity, hospitality and companionships of all migrants, refugees and IDPs.

In Brazil, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit indigenous communities the hardest. Many of them have minimal health care, no access to masks or protection supplies, and are not being given proper guidance on how to keep themselves safe. The Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (Anglican Church of Brazil) have been sharing resources and have manufactured hundreds of masks for those most at risk of coronavirus. They have joined forces with the Association of Indigenous Women Artisans of the Upper Rio Negro to help families who depend on the income of indigenous women who have not been able to work during the pandemic.

In Cyprus, Covid-19 has also had an impact on vulnerable minorities. Refugees and asylum seekers, who often suffer from racism and exploitation, have struggled to gain access to food during the pandemic. They are often reliant on food vouchers, which can only be used in certain shops, where goods cost more than those bought with cash. The Cypriot government is moving asylum seekers out of the hostels where they have been living, and into the Kokkinotrimithia reception centre. The refugee Council has described the centre as: “a detention centre made up of tents where people are living in appalling conditions”.

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A child is silhouetted while walking into a migrant processing centre at Kokkinotrimithia, Cyprus.
: Yiannis Kourtoglou / Reuters

Saint Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Nicosia has long been providing monthly meals for refugees and asylum seekers, however since the pandemic, they have partnered with Refugee Support Europe and other individuals, and have delivered hundreds of meals to those in need.

Churches are also involved in impacting the global conversations around racism. The Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations’ delegation to the United Nations Environment Assembly successfully influenced the outcome of a joint statement by proposing the specific inclusion of “environmental racism” as an issue that the Assembly must address.

  • The Anglican Communion News Service will carry a report on the Church of England’s Racism Task Force on Thursday.