This column is the second of two parts.
In his letter to the diocese in July, Bishop Andrew Asbil made a statement that should become the “north star” in our march against racism in the Church. “We must understand and confront white privilege, institutional and systemic racism that so many of us have been blind to for too long. And we must not be afraid to become agents of transformation. It means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. It means taking a very long look in the mirror and understanding the part that we each play.”
What can the Church do to respond to Bishop Andrew’s letter and the reality of this moment? Educational and other civic institutions are grappling with systemic racism in their contexts. Where do we go from here?
Firstly, the real work begins at the grassroots level for everyone, irrespective of race. It is necessary that Black Anglicans be seen and heard. The call for a group like the Black Anglicans of Canada went out more than 25 years ago. This should be supported by the entire Church. There is a precedent for this in the Early Church. When the needs and concerns of the Greek widows went largely ignored by the Hebrews, members of the Greek community (the seven deacons) were chosen to be the voice of and support for the ignored (Acts 6). There was no intention to create a separate church in Jerusalem then, nor is that our intention now, as was spread abroad by those opposed to a caucus of Black Anglicans. Our national church has embraced this model in relation to our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The role of a Black Anglicans caucus is to interpret the life and reality of the Black community to the Church. Who else can do this for Black Anglicans but Black Anglicans themselves? For too long, others have been trying to define Black people and tell us what is good for us. We need the space to be active subjects who are allowed to pursue and achieve a deepening awareness both of the reality that shapes our lives and of our capacity to transform that reality. Ours is the voice to tell the story of our pain and our hope for our Church, how we can contribute to its future, and how we can grow together with the rest of the Church.
Secondly, just as Black people must do their work, so must White people. We have been socialized in a system that has been built on White supremacy, a culture that positions “Whiteness” as ideal. It is through this “White racial frame” that White people are seen, or see themselves, as superior in culture and achievement, while people of ebony grace are seen as generally of less social, economic and political consequence. Hopefully, it is by recognizing this racial frame that they will overcome any discomfort or intolerance relating to issues of anti-Black racism and will be less inclined to be defensive in their interactions with Black people. Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility is helpful in this regard.
Thirdly, work must be undertaken at the institutional level. Our Church is called upon to revisit and re-engage with the policy that was adopted in 1992 following the Moseley Report to the General Synod. It clearly sets out the Church’s commitment to the work and ministry of cultural engagement. The policy was guided by principles that honour diversity and inclusivity. In many ways, it is a version of God’s dream for God’s world.
No Longer Strangers, a project based on the Rev. Dr. Romney Moseley’s work that was serving the useful purpose of helping our diocese become a more welcoming and inclusive community, should never have been abandoned. Nothing replaced this initiative. Hopefully, the seeds planted will bear some fruit in the work envisioned by our diocese and the national church.
Anti-racism work was first mandated by the General Synod of 2001. By 2004, the Charter for Racial Justice was approved as a working document. After some revision, it was approved as the official anti-racism statement of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2007. Recently, the Council of General Synod voted to establish a dismantling racism task force, charged with a five-point mandate and to report by 2022 to General Synod. One hopes that the report will be about what has been done and not what must be done. Perhaps the time is right now to call Black episcopal or executive personnel, at national or diocesan levels, to oversee the work of the elimination of anti-Black racism from the Church.
Fourthly, those in training for the ordained ministry or any other form of ministry should be immersed in diverse communities and be expected to participate in courses focused on cultural diversity and the development of cultural intelligence. Seminaries and theological colleges must be encouraged to address issues of ethnocentrism, racism and the divisive ideologies that do not present the values of the Kingdom of God. There ought to be an inter-cultural curriculum that is central to the process of theological formation, liturgical renewal, and Christian social engagement.
Beyond formal academic training, there is a need for mandatory anti-racism training for all staff (ordained and not ordained), leaders and volunteers in the Church, similar to the training required for the Sexual Misconduct Policy. In addition, there ought to be a code of conduct for all in staff and volunteer roles with stated anti-racist values, expectations and accountability.
Finally, individual members have their own part to play. They must make use of opportunities and occasions for their benefit. Attendance at events of diverse ethnic and cultural communities, reading and tuning in to ethnic and community newspapers and other media, and eating in ethnic restaurants are examples of self-education. It is a useful way to begin to break the “White frame” used to view life in our diverse Church. This can only be done when one seeks to learn about the other, by seeking to understand, interpret and make meaning of that which one has come to know. Let us work together to bring about our mutual healing!