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November 30, 2005

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen reflects on the enthronement of Archbishop Sentamu, the Macpherson Inquiry and japing Bishops

Posted by Peter Mullen

Dr John Sentamu was today enthroned as Archbishop of York. Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen - Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange - thinks the Church of England can expect many japes from the new Archbishop, but hopes that he will not bring the Macpherson Inquiry - of which John Sentamu was a member - approach to race relations to his new role.

Dr John Sentamu was today enthroned as Archbishop of York in the great Minster. I sympathise with Dr Sentamu because he will never escape the media tag "the first black archbishop". But some of his recent protests suggest he is enjoying the cliché. He complains that the Church of England is "institutionally racist". The phrase is paranoid and meaningless and its absurdity is nowhere better demonstrated than in the fact that the new Archbishop of York is a black man. If the church is so colour-prejudiced, how come he gets to sit on one of its highest thrones today?

But then Bishop Sentamu has sat in the best school for learning political correctness. He was a member of the Macpherson Inquiry which followed the murder of Stephen Lawrence. This is the inquiry which invented the ridiculous concepts "institutional racism" and "unconscious racism". When sceptics asked for a justification for these tendentious neologisms, it declared loftily:

We do not pretend to produce a definition which will carry all argument before it.
In other words, we won't answer your awkward questions.

Worse, the Macpherson Inquiry went on to define a racist incident as:

..any incident so described by the victim, or any other person.
This too is meaningless of course, but it is a catch-all terminology. If anything can be legitimately described as a racist incident, then when I ask you if you'd like a cup of tea, it can report this as a racist incident if anyone deems it to be such.

It is a bad omen when a future Archbishop of York is seen to be giving his backing to such lying definitions. I had hoped that his elevation to a position of high authority would make John Sentamu hesitate before he allowed his name and status to be abused by the politically motivated.

But to lighter things. I have a personal recollection of our new Archbishop. This was at a clergy conference in Oxford on the very morning of 11th September 2001.

It was one of those godforsaken clergy conferences we're all obliged to go on from time to time: plinky-plonky music, guitars, bum-clenchingly politically-correct prayers and all conducted by some naff clerical comedian with a lisp, a leather jacket and an earring. Bishop Sentamu was preaching and he said:

In a few minutes it will be time for us to exchange the Peace. I want you to hug one another – and in a minute I'm going to ask you to do something else.
Well, I knew the Church of England had developed a more relaxed attitude to sexual relationships in recent years, but I must admit to some trepidation, especially as I looked round at my nearest neighbours in the pew.

The Peace came and there was the usual shambles of handshakes and cuddles, clergypersons strolling about, backslapping, smiles on full beam – nothing you wouldn't see degrading a regular Anglican celebration of the Holy Mysteries these days. Suddenly the Bishop bellowed:

I want you to turn to the person next to you, place your hands on his or her shoulders and say three times, You are everlastingly loved.
Relieved this was all that was being expected of us, I turned to my colleague the Rector of St James Galickhythe and mumbled as best I could the magic words. Fr Alan Griffin was merciful in his regard for my embarrassment and, as I recall, covered it beautifully with the reassurance that he would buy me a pint before lunch.

I was just glad it was all over. But it wasn't. The Bishop was not satisfied and he called out:

Again, do it again – and louder!
It all took me back to the Christmas pantomime at the Sunderland Empire circa 1956 and the bellowing compere:
He's BEHIND you!
I thought any minute Bishop Sentamu might strike up with:
Where's the Archdeacon? Have any of you little children seen the Archdeacon?
I'm afraid the media are going to have years of fun once the new Archbishop gets his feet under the table at Bishopthorpe. He will not be able to resist similar outbursts of spontaneity. People will be accepting of this sort of performance for a while and some may even be mildly amused by it. But the recent example of David - "conjuring trick with bones" - Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, shows with hideous clarity just how easy it is to get tired of endless japes.

On the race issue Dr Sentamu is quite wrong: it is black bishops who are currently wielding the most power and influence in the Church. It is black African bishops who have got under the skin of the "progressive", English hierarchy by objecting to their wholesale surrender to secular nostrums and political correctness regarding homosexuality in particular. It was the secularising and modernising bishops and powerful apparatchiks in the General Synod who were delighted by John Sentamu's appointment – if not influential in it. It enabled them to say:

See, we've got a black Archbishop as well – and he's not a bigoted reactionary like those Africans causing all the trouble!
Dr Sentamu is wrong about the mood of the country too. People are not obsessed, as he is, with worries over the colour of bishops and priests. I know from my experience as an urban vicar, head of RE in a multiracial school, a country parson and now a City Rector that there is a great hunger for spiritual teaching. Secularisation has failed. But the hungry sheep look up and are not fed. Instead they see their new Archbishop as deeply preoccupied with social engineering as any member of Blair's cabinet.

Help with the spiritual revival is what we need, not more obsessive social delusions.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.

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The sort of stuff the new Archbishop does sounds to me spiritual enough. Loving the everlasting is hardly one of your beloved left-wing causes.

And you might find people more responsive if you diidn't think of them as sheep.

Do you think there is no sexism in the Tory party because it was once led by Margaret Thatcher?

Also, are you seriously saying racism cannot be "unconscious"? Everyone who expresses racist views knows it?

"institutional racism" is not defined in a quick sentence, no. But I might be able to give you ideas from theology that you might think were too complex to express in a soundbite. Would that mean they were humbug?

However, the report (6.6ff) has lots of good and clear examples. I urge you to go and read them.

Posted by: Tubby Isaacs at November 30, 2005 06:17 PM

So now you're afraid of a little love? Why must you be ashamed of telling your fellow person that they are "everlastingly loved"? God loves us all, why can't you at least try to do the same?

Posted by: Myke w/ a Y at December 2, 2005 04:48 AM
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