BAME vicar and trainee priest claim racism has blocked their church careers.
Church of England bishops have been accused of “utter hypocrisy” for publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while failing to address racism in their dioceses.
Two men from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, a vicar and a trainee priest, claim discrimination has blocked their efforts to advance within the C of E hierarchy.
The Rev Alwyn Pereira was rejected for seven posts as a vicar in the diocese of Bristol before he discovered a letter on his personal file saying there were “cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”
Augustine Tanner-Ihm, a trainee priest who applied to become a curate, received a rejection email that stated “the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working-class, where you might feel uncomfortable.”
Both men said they were angry that C of E leaders had voiced support for the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while failing to act on systemic discrimination against BAME people within the church.
Pereira said: “This is utter hypocrisy. Our church offers hope, and it is right that our bishops speak out against injustices, but it is a concern that endemic racism persists within. Over 30 years have elapsed, and our church is still ‘discussing’, still ‘listening’.”
On Monday, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted that “the racism that people in this country experience is horrifying. The church has failed here, and still does, and it’s clear what Jesus commands us to do: repent and take action.”
Following the tearing down of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday, Vivienne Faull, the bishop of Bristol, said Floyd’s death had “brought the issues of racism, oppression, inequality and injustice once again into the spotlight, where they should be. These are issues that the diocese of Bristol, like many organisations, has been aware of, discussed and attempted to address. However, while we have taken some positive steps, it is clear that we have not done enough.”
Pereira launched a discrimination case against the diocese of Bristol after discovering the letter on his file. Michael Hill, the bishop of Bristol at the time, wrote in July 2016: “I think the other thing I need to say, having worked closely with people from the Indian subcontinent in my past, is that I think there are cultural differences in the way people like Alwyn communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.”
Pereira, who is now a vicar in Aldershot, Hampshire, is not from the Indian subcontinent. He is of Indo-Portuguese heritage, was born in Kenya and educated almost entirely in England.
In a preliminary hearing, an employment tribunal heard that emails dating back to 2014 showed several bishops had blocked Pereira’s job applications, one citing “cultural eccentricities”.
The employment tribunal dismissed the claim last month on the grounds it was out of time. Pereira made an internal complaint that was also ruled out of time by the C of E’s clergy discipline commission tribunal, a decision he is appealing.
He said: “I suspect my journey [in the church] has been impeded by systemic racism, because of my skin tone.”
The support by bishops for Black Lives Matter felt like “PR spin”, he added.
In a statement, Hill said he had used “racial stereotypes which were unacceptable and offensive” in his letter. “I deeply regret the incident and I wholeheartedly apologise.”
Faull said Hill’s comments had been “unacceptable”. She added: “I have made the commitment to address institutional racism and to recruit and support more BAME clergy. I stand behind these and my other commitments. This work won’t be easy but I will be relentless in my dedication to bringing about change.”
Tanner-Ihm, a black American who is training to become a priest at Cranmer Hall in Durham, said he was shocked and angry to receive a rejection email earlier this year saying he “might feel uncomfortable” in a white working-class parish.
When he challenged the view, pointing out that he was adopted by a white working-class family and had previously worked in predominantly white inner-city areas, “I got a response along the lines of ‘sorry you took it that way’.”
He added: “I felt broken down. The church has said they are investigating but I don’t know how. No one has formally reached out to me.”
The C of E said the letter was “plainly unacceptable” and it was seeking clarity from the diocese.
The church’s director of ministry, the Rt Rev Chris Goldsmith, said: “We fully recognise that the C of E has a lot more work to do to become a place where our leadership is representative of the rich heritages of all the people of England.
“We reject racism of all kinds so we must not only root out discrimination but recognise and correct the unconscious biases which each of us carry and which can undermine our intention to recognise the gifting and calling of everyone equally.”
He added: “We need to be both humble and determined as we strive for the goal for full equality in our shared life.”
You can read the same Guardian article here.