Church of England must seek 'justice for all people,' says priest who sought church apology for racism

Feb 13, 2020

The Church of England is trying to come to terms with its long history of racism. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the church's most senior bishop, said he was "personally sorry and ashamed" and called the church "deeply, institutionally racist." 

So officials at the Church of England approved a motion Tuesday to formally apologize for discrimination against the Windrush generation, the name given to people who relocated to the United Kingdom from Caribbean countries after World War II. 

Father Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, a south London rector of Jamaican British heritage, put forward a motion for the church to formally apologize. He spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about racism in the church. 

"The best form of apology is changed behavior, and I think that is the spirit in which the Archbishop of Canterbury made his apology," Moughtin-Mumby said. "I think there's a real sense that his apology is one which will lead to change, and that's the spirit in which it's authored." 

Marco Werman: Do you see this racism impacting members of your own church community? 

Andrew Moughtin-Mumby: I do, yes. And in my congregation, I have black people who have had their homes raided by the UK Border Agency. They've been arrested in front of their children and taken away to detention centers only to eventually be released. Now, that is no humane way to treat people. And you look at the people who are being detained and you think, "This is because of the color of their skin." 

We have to represent the people of the Windrush generation as well. What did they face after coming to the UK over the years, and what racist treatment did they face at the Church of England? 

There are lots and lots of examples, but the one that I've chosen to focus on is one which affects the parish where I serve directly, St. Peter's Walworth in south London. It was in 1961 that Doreen Browne's sister Muriel and her parents and their siblings came along with a white neighbor who said to them, "Look, let me take you along to the local parish church." When they arrived at the steps of the church on Sunday morning, the then-priest literally stood at the top of the steps, and as Muriel has said, he said, "I'm going to have to ask the congregation about this." And he would not let them enter the church. And, you know, Doreen and Muriel have told me how their mother was absolutely fuming about this. But what could she do? There is a priest who, as Muriel said to me, should have been welcoming people into God's house — not his house, not his church, but God's church — and yet he didn't even let them enter the building. Anecdotally, we know that that happened to a lot of people from the Windrush generation. 

Related: Britain apologizes for 'appalling' treatment of 'Windrush generation' migrants 

There is an acronym that is used in the UK, a BAME. It stands for black, Asian and minority ethnic. I've seen numbers suggesting that the number of Church of England priests from a BAME background has been growing recently, doubling to 8% between 2016 and 2018. Are things in the church changing, or does that number not tell the whole story? 

I think the answer is both, and — because things are changing. I've been part of a group which has tried to work to increase minority ethnic vocations to ordained ministry in the Church of England, recognizing that for many people there have been all sorts of barriers. It has been true, and in some ways still is true, that clergy and others select people after our own image. We select people like us for jobs and roles in the church, including encouraging people to explore a vocation to ordained ministry. So it's a mixed picture. 

I'm just curious, what is the relationship of the Church of England to the British government? I mean, is your apology kind of a stand-in for British government policy? 

The Church of England is the established church here in England. And so there is a relationship with the UK government. Some of our senior bishops sit in the House of Lords, but equally, we are a completely independent religious body. So the church cannot speak for the government. And in fact, what I am saying in my motion is that the church should actually be challenging the government. 

The church should be speaking prophetically for justice for all people, regardless of the color of their skin in our nation today. So in some ways, I'm encouraging those bishops who sit in the House of Lords, but also ordinary clergy and laypeople to really speak out against injustice.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


From The World ©2019