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Bishop Martin Seeley reflects on a week which in which the Church was accused of systemic racism

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Many of us will be aware how this pandemic has heightened the urgency of challenges in our society we were perhaps not taking as seriously as we needed to.

In fact, for some of us, we may have experienced something similar personally, where something we had been ignoring, or saying we would get round to, now in the light of the pandemic seemed critical.

So people have observed this past several months that we have become aware of two further pandemics, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic – the pandemic of the environmental crisis, and the pandemic of racism.

Bishop Martin Seeley
Bishop Martin Seeley

As we, and we pray it is so, begin gradually to emerge from the pandemic and develop a way of living with the virus, people are now asking how we make a difference to those other two pandemics, and indeed to the host of areas where we have realised that the world is not as it should be. In particular this last week racism has been in focus. The pandemic has made us recognise the reality and pervasiveness of systemic racism and the profound impact it has on people’s lives. So, can we now act differently and eradicate this sin?

Panorama presented a programme last Monday that demonstrated the presence of systemic racism in the Church of England, and contained a number of painful personal stories describing treatment that should never have happened.

On Tuesday, George Floyd’s killer, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, was convicted of second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. As one African-American woman in Minneapolis observed, “Now our lives matter.”

And then on Thursday, the anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, we learned of the failure to properly commemorate black and Asian troops who died in World War One fighting for the British Empire and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission determined that the reason was ‘pervasive racism’.

On the same day, the Church of England published a report calling for substantial action in the Church to challenge and eradicate racial injustice within the Church, in areas of participation and appointments and across a culture of systemic racism that subtly influences the engagement of black and minority ethnic people.

There is no shortage of evidence of systemic racism, even if a recent report from the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities sought to argue against that.

Ironically, it was another Government report, published just last November, that found that more than 75 per cent of black people in the UK do not believe their human rights are equally protected compared to white people, more than 60 per cent do not believe their health is as equally protected by the NHS, and 85 per cent are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.

Racism is a sin. It is rooted in the belief – or the fear – that someone who is different is a threat to us and our way of life. It is bound up in issues of power and privilege, which is why racial diversity usually decreases the higher up one goes in an institution or organisation.

But race is a gift, if only we would see it as so. Our differences are God-given to celebrate and value in a world where they are all held as precious. That is the better world we can create now, and together we can do this.

- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic

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