The Church of England is a body contaminated by unchallenged prejudice

Papers are reporting that Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury has been the victim of “naked racism”. Is there naked racism in the Church of England? I also was to ask, is there homophobia in the Church of England?

The naked racism comment comes from the Reverend Arun Arora who has been appointed the Church of England’s director of communications. On March 23 he wrote on his blog: “At its best, the besmirching of John Sentamu has revealed that strand of snobbery which views outsiders as lacking class, diplomacy or civility – in other words ‘not one of us’. At worst, it has elicited the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface in our society and which is exposed when a black man is in line to break the chains of history.”

Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph carried comments from two bishops they interviewed anonymously. One told the newspaper: “I think Sentamu is clearly going to be a very strong frontrunner, although I think there are also the people who are not quite sure that he is suitable in terms of the way he behaves, because he is quite tribal and the African chief thing comes through.

The other, a retired bishop said: “There is something in Sentamu which retains his African views and approach, which can be at one time an asset and another time can be a problem.” The retired bishop said Dr Sentamu’s African background was apparent in his understanding around issues of human sexuality.

This report may be related to today’s Daily Telegraph news that Dr Sentamu has stepped down from the body responsible for the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury which means that he can formally be considered.

The Sunday Telegraph commented: It is an unhappy truth that allegations of racism sometimes surface during an appointment process, and can be deployed as a crude form of blackmail: “Pick this candidate, or be branded a racist.” We hope that is not happening here. But the Church of England needs to establish that the process of choosing its most senior prelate is not going to be distorted by corrosive allegations, and also that it is genuinely free of the taint of racism.

I want, of course, to link this story with the reports about Dr Glynn Harrison’s membership of the Crown Nominations Commission, the body from which Dr Sentamu has stepped down.

There is clarity about racism and the need to ensure that the Church is free from any hint of racism. To be honest, the comments reported in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph might as easily be reflections on Dr Sentamu’s behavioural characteristics as be racist – might – and I hope they are. He does have a tendency to bully and get angry, despite Arun Arora’s claim that he doesn’t.

It’s the retired bishop’s comment that Dr Sentamu’s African background was apparent in his understanding around issues of human sexuality that is the key link for me.

I’ve known John Sentamu for over 35 years. He was training for the ministry at Ridley Hall when I was training at Westcott House. We both went from Cambridge to the Diocese of Southwark. I was confident enough of his openness to homosexuality to invite him to become a patron of Changing Attitude 12 years ago – he declined. The listening process being undertaken in the Diocese of York, which he endorsed, has been a model of it’s kind – no other diocese has done better. I don’t know what the Archbishop’s personal views about homosexuality are. I know he is in a position where he has to uphold what has become accepted as the Church’s official teaching.

The big question raised by the allegations of racism is whether prejudice against lesbian and gay people is equally to be abhorred and condemned. But the Church of England can’t condemn homophobia in the way it readily condemns racism because the Church is systemically homophobic in the teaching and attitude towards LGB&T people it espouses.

I think it is as unacceptable for a member of the CNC to hold views which are prejudiced against gay people, and that any such member should stand down.

The Church doesn’t understand what it is to be homophobic. It tolerates organisations and individuals who claim that homosexuals can be healed or cured and become ex-gay or post-gay. Such organisations claim they have the right to freely express such opinions. Try expressing similar opinions about black people – to be cured of being black, to be ex-black and post-black doesn’t sound good, does it?

Today, a hint of racism is reported to shame the Church. Tomorrow, a hint of homophobia in the Church should equally shock all Christians.


  1. john hughes says

    Prejudice implies that there is no basis on which to deny someone something like the preferences and privileges of marriage. But in fact there are good reasons, which means that homosexuality is radically different than the questions of race. Homosexuals cause most cases of AIDS & syphilis. The practice is dangerous even if there is monogamy, which is rare. Also, affirming homosexuality is a further deconstruction of the very thing that promotes the well-being of the human race more than any other, which is the raising of children with a balance of a masculine parental influence with a feminine parental influence. The word prejudice, therefore, shouldn’t refer to something that is eminently rational.

    • Kate says

      If you look for only the negatives in a group of people, you’ll manage to find it. Should we demonise men because they form the vast majority of the prison population? Or heterosexuals, a leading cause of divorce and one parent families?

      And the jibes about promiscuity don’t actually stand up – from memory about 5% of gay men are having an incredible amount of sex with hundreds of partners – the sex lives of the rest are broadly the same as the heterosexual population. And of course and as usual you never hear about lesbians in these tirades – who are more faithful and have less STDs than any other group. But no doubt none of this will stop you from saying the same thing again on the next discussion board you happen across. Things are rarely black and white – instead of dismissing a whole class of people, isn’t it rather your duty as a Christian to seek a more nuanced understanding and, if you know any gay people at all, not approach them with a shed load of presuppositions? Im not denying theres a promiscuous male subculture if you go looking for it, but certainly most of the gay people I know (I’m 40) have settled down and would be pretty astonished to see the visions of wild bed hopping that are clearly uppermost in your mind.

  2. David James says

    Thanks Kate, that was very elegantly put. The faithfulness of the vast majority of homosexual relationships are no different to heterosexual ones. Men in general are more promiscuous than females, therefore it is no surprise that gay males account for more STDs and lesbians less STDs than the ‘heterosexual majority’. It is all to easy to blindly propagate misconceptions by amplifying unrepresentative and marginal examples. This destructive cycle of misinformation needs to be broken by continued dialogue and understanding for true progress to be made, and I am very optimistic that we seem to be moving in that direction. Thank you Colin for the good work.

  3. john hughes says

    Homosexual practices are dangerous regardless of whether promiscuity is involved. The human body is sensitive, and when it is being used in a way that Mother Nature didn’t intend it to be used, it reacts in a painful and damaging way. We are not free to abuse people in this manner, even if they consent to it or desire it. In the meantime, it is urgent that people begin to reaffirm the distinctive qualities of men, as distinguished from the distinctive qualities of women, in that most important activity of child rearing and not merely blur those distinctions. The whole of humanity will suffer more from this than from any number of wrong-headed public policies.

    • Kate says

      I think the word you’re skirting around is buggery. For a start you’re again assuming that all gays are men. I also think you’ve been influenced by the latest Internet meme about one cell thickness in the rectum. But the reality is that most gay men in steady relationships are not walking around with buggery-induced illness – some of course don’t practice it, and some heterosexuals do (most people seem to have tried it at least once!) There’s no shortage of dangers associated with straight sex too: it all really comes down to understanding your own body adjusting your behaviour accordingly.

      As for children, I think if you’re keen on two parent, opposite sex child rearing then you need to go off and have a serious word with the heterosexual population who are falling down very badly in this respect. I’ve always found it very odd that the high hetero divorce rate is somehow ‘ caused by gays’.

      Speaking of Internet memes – here’s a chap who was raised by two lesbians – does he look messed up and badly adjusted to you? As I said before, life is complex – homing in on one characteristic as the root of all evil rarely stands up. Christianity is making itself increasingly ridiculous by this sort of scaremongering and scapegoating. And the risk is that when it has genuinely worthwhile things to say about how to frame a life, no-one will be listening any more to the ‘nutters’.

  4. john hughes says

    I have some genuinely worthwhile things to say about how to frame a life. Much can be learned by observing the things that are causing depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction and then avoiding those things. According to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Assn., gay men are at an increased risk of HIC infection, hepatitis, and many STDs, while lesbians are at higher risk for breast cancer, obesity, and gynecologic cancers. As for the high rate of divorce, it certainly isn’t caused by gays, and it is certainly a cause for alarm — so much so that the whole society should start refocusing on the critical importance of mothers and fathers and sponsor marriage enrichment courses and anything else that will highlight this fact as essential to the well-being of humanity. You can always find exceptions, such as my very well-adjusted grandmother, who had been raised as an orphan. But it should also wake us up a little to know that nine out of ten people in prisons had no good recollection of a father.

    • Kate says

      Goodness, and a third go, and another set of one- sided statistics. Other women who are at a higher risk of cancer is any who happen to be childless – its much higher for nuns for instance. Do you think they should ignore their vocation and leave behind their dodgy lifestyle?

      In the end what life’s about isn’t trying to shoehorn yourself into a category with the lowest ever mortality rate (or most saints would be pretty stuffed) but to live out the hand you’re given bravely and well. A very long life pretending to be what you’re not seems less worthwhile to me than a shorter one honouring how you are made. Yes, there are *averagely* higher risks if you are gay – the same sort of risk profile that you see across all groups who are less supported and loved. The answer is to stand up for the marginal – not to say ‘do you realise you’d be better off if you were someone else?’. There are plenty of partnered gay lives being led by Christians that don’t fit into any of the hell holes you’ve proposed. Why not lay off the internet forums for a bit ( statistically associated, alas, with anger and introversion) go and have a drink with some gay Christians (yes, you are bound to know some if you look) and see how your array of stats translates into actual human beings.

  5. john hughes says

    Well, if it’s worth a warning from the Gay and Lesbian Medical Assn., it should be worth a warning from anyone’s viewpoint. The illusion is that you’re being admirably tolerant and benevolent by ignoring that kind of thing. If I had a drink with some gay Christians, I’d no doubt find that they’re not more inclined toward self-destructive thoughts and behavior than I am myself. But it’s time for all of us to learn how to be accountable to one another with some standards of healthy and moral behavior in view. The risks of engaging in self-destructive behavior are objectively real and have little to do with whether I or others like me are supported and loved. How many young men and women have to be sacrificed to this Moloch before a rational and loving way can be found to avoid homosexual behavior?

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