Alongside our response to COVID-19 and the easing of the lockdown we have seen a crying out for racial justice across the world. The Black Lives Matter protests locally in Swindon and nationally had a particular focus in Bristol when on 7th June the 19th century statue of Edward Colston was toppled.
As many of you will be aware, on 8 June I made a series of public commitments as Bishop of Bristol highlighting what I think we need to do in Bristol Diocese to tackle racial injustice, namely:
- Acknowledge and repent of the Church’s past involvement in and benefit from the slave trade;
- Challenge and address institutional racism, listening to and learning from the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people;
- Recruit and support more Black, Asian and minority ethnic clergy, staff and volunteers;
- Make our churches truly welcoming to everyone, taking responsibility for the need for profound cultural change in our Church.
- Work with others in the Diocese of Bristol and the Church of England to bring these things about
Our record in this area in the Church of England is not good and I begin by acknowledging past failures in this Diocese to implement Church of England initiatives requiring us to make changes. This has simply not been a priority. For me, racial justice (alongside care for our planet and care for those who are poor) goes to the very heart of the gospel. Jesus died on the cross for all. If we limit God’s love, fail to be a church for everyone, we betray the gospel. It is that simple.
So, I want you to know that working for racial justice is at the very top of my agenda, and that of my Staff Team. We will move quickly where we can (for example appointing a Bishop’s Advisor for Racial Justice, embedding unconscious bias training, working hard to increase the diversity of our clergy and staff teams). You will have seen some of the changes made already with the removal of 19th century references to Colston at Bristol Cathedral and St Mary Redcliffe.
But this is a long-term commitment in which we will need to look more carefully at our history, admit our past failures, and examine ourselves individually and institutionally in a spirit of repentance, trusting in God’s forgiveness and promise of new life in Christ who draws all people to himself. I will share further and more detailed plans when we have them.
The changes which are happening are deeply unsettling to many. I am committed to listening to all voices and communities, especially those on the margins of society or who are feeling ignored.