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.