Former Bishop Mike Hill was the first bishop to admit racial stereotyping in the Church of England and to face a disciplinary measure by consent.
The Church’s investigation followed an exclusive article in the Guardian reporting that, Bishop Hill, who ran the diocese in Bristol wrote a letter to a fellow clergyman in July 2016 and said there were “cultural differences” with the way people like Reverend Alwyn Pereira from the Indian subcontinent handle issues of truth and clarity.
Right Reverend Mike Hill wrote to the Archbishop of York who was the investigating officer and said: “I am content to admit, on reflection, that my injudicious and foolish comment in my generally very supportive reference to Dan Tyndall dated 5th July 2016 is conduct that is unbecoming from someone in my position.
“It certainly was a clear and obvious error. I inadvertently, used a form of racial stereotyping which I understand to be unacceptable.”
Bishop Mike Hill resisted several appointments of Reverend Alwyn Pereira to parishes in the diocese of Bristol over a period of years when he was Bishop of Bristol. He was serving in his retirement as Honorary Bishop of Bath and Wells until the Guardian investigation last summer. In December, Reverend Pereira received a written apology from the former bishop.
Right Reverend Mike Hill stepped back from all public duties in June pending an investigation into racism. He was formally rebuked on Thursday 28 January 2021, and has been ordered to attend unconscious bias training before he will be granted permission to officiate in the Church of England again.
Ms Vivienne Faull who is currently the Bishop of Bristol said: “Racial stereotyping is serious, whether intentional or not. It causes upset, harm and undermines what we are trying to do as a Church.
“The Church of England is determined to address institutional racism and I have set out my commitments for the Diocese of Bristol. This instance underlines how important these commitments are. There is a lot of work to do, we have made a start, and I remain relentless in my dedication to bringing about change.”
Last October the Church of England announced a racial taskforce to prepare for a Racial Justice Commission. Bristol diocese has appointed a Bishop’s Racial Justice Advisor and a Minority Ethnic Vocations champion.
But the commission must have the ability to sanction racist clergy or refer them to the Clergy Discipline Commission and make reparation in order to stamp out racism effectively. Without the ability to impose sanctions or make reparations, Reverend Pereira says the commission will have no teeth.
Reverend Pereira said: “This is historic, a watershed, it’s the first time that a senior cleric in the Church of England has been rebuked for racism. Earlier in 2020, the Church acknowledged that, as an institution, it had a problem with racism.
“On the one hand I feel vindicated, having pursued this case at great cost to myself and my family but on the other hand I am concerned for my church that the level of systemic racism present in recruitment processes exposed in this case, remain unaddressed.
“My hope is that the Church will show leadership in the area of racial justice. This case has presented the church with an opportunity to learn and to lead, to be forthright and strident in setting an example to society in addressing racial injustice.
“It would be nice to move on in my life with a written apology and it’s reasonable to ask for some form of compensation.”
When asked about solutions, Reverend Pereira said: “We need a root and branch evaluation into the entire process of recruitment or selection of Anglican BAME candidates to find out why the discrimination happened in Bristol and to make sure it does not happen again.”
It is clear the Church needs to work hard to become more ethnically diverse, at every level and particularly among her senior clergy. She needs to create a space for BAME voices to be heard. She may be surprised by the richness they bring – diversity is not a threat, it is a strength to be celebrated.
Since the retirement of Right Reverend John Sentamu, all of the senior bishops in the Church of England are once again, white, as are most clergy, suggesting white supremacy remains pervasive. The church must take intentional collective action to demonstrate she is a more diverse, equitable organisation untarnished by privilege.
In the Employment Tribunal judgement, Judge Cadney made specific reference to emails written by the Right Reverend Mike Hill two years before the letter suggesting people from the Indian Subcontinent have issues with truth and clarity.
In these emails, Right Reverend Mike Hill blames other senior clergy including the Training Bishop Right Reverend Lee Rayfield who is still the Bishop of Swindon. These emails were ruled out of time by the Employment Tribunal and have now been destroyed. Reverend Pereira has copies of them.
The court heard that emails dating back to May 2014 showed that several Bishops had blocked Rev Pereira’s applications due to “cultural eccentricities.”
For example, on 25 May 2014 Rev Hill wrote to colleagues: “I took some serious flack for not shortlisting him to Stoke Bishop. Lee [Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, Training Bishop] mentioned to me that his application was culturally eccentric but this is slightly dangerous as of course Alwyn is a minority ethnic Anglican (whose cause according to the National Church, we should be promoting.)
“…There was strong support for shortlisting him at Hotwells and St.Stephens which Lee resisted… he (Rev Pereira) has much if not more experience than some getting shortlisted.”
They are important because the Employment Tribunal mentioned the emails written two years earlier from 2014, not the letter written in 2016. Judge Cadney said in court: “In my judgement there is some merit in the contention that on the face of it the emails relied on could without explanation from the respondent be sufficient for the tribunal to draw an inference of discrimination.”
In an article published about safeguarding in the Times on 15 August last year, Andrew Carey, son of former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, criticised the church for protecting senior clergy. He said: “The Church of England is in a mess of its own making. To atone for past failures, it has thrown junior and retired clergy under the bus in a system which lacks justice.”
Reverend Pereira, who had to move to serve a parish in Aldershot, Hampshire when he could not get a job in Bristol, is not alone in facing racial discrimination. Augustine Tanner-Ihm, a trainee vicar, contacted the Guardian about a similar problem he faced getting a curacy at the end of his training at Cranmer Hall in Durham. He was rejected by eight metropolitan dioceses.
Mr Tanner-Ihm received one rejection email stating: “The demographic of the parish is monochrome, white working-class, where you might feel uncomfortable.” Mr Tanner-Ihm felt Cranmer Hall was trying to make him into a white, middle-class priest. Issues of ethnic identity are at the heart of his concerns.
He wrote in his penultimate report: “I refuse to be colonialised by Cranmer Hall. The Church of England will never take my blackness away from me.”
After George Floyd was killed by Police in America, there was a global outcry for racial justice. The challenge is to create a positive environment where BAME people can express themselves in culturally authentic ways and flourish.
Reverend Pereira said: “Sadly, racism is embedded in the structures of the Church. During my ordination selection interview I was advised to adapt and become more ‘English.’ Like many of my BAME colleagues, I just wanted to feel I belonged to God’s Church.
The Church must ensure that, if BAME clergy are invited to train for the ministry, they are then supported to serve in parishes throughout England alongside their Caucasian colleagues without facing barriers because of their race.
While the Church of England is right to rebuke Right Reverend Hill and this is a very important first step, it must seriously investigate all accusations of racism against serving bishops and other clergy as a matter of course.
If it does not, there is a risk that the church is scapegoating a retired bishop rather than addressing a wider culture of racism in the South West, Durham and potentially even in metropolitan boroughs across England.