In a virtual meeting held July 25, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) voted to approve the creation of a task force charged with dismantling racism within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The vote took place in a session led by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who shared that she had asked a small group of staff in the church’s national office—including Reconciliation Animator Melanie Delva, Lead Animator for Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice Ryan Weston and Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Canon Ginny Doctor—to address racism, an issue that Nicholls has said she wants to focus on as primate.
“We began to realize … in light of the significance of this topic and the depth we were seeing of what needs to be looked at, that a staff group was not the most appropriate way to go about this—that what we needed was a body that was empowered by the Council of General Synod to help us as a whole church,” Nicholls said. “So we thought that maybe the way forward was to think about reinvigorating the Anti-Racism Working Group from the past, giving it a new name as the Dismantling Racism Task Force.”
The Anti-Racism Working Group was active between 2001 and 2007, according to the Anglican Church of Canada website. That group’s work culminated in the church’s Charter for Racial Justice, which was adopted in 2007.
Delva told CoGS that the staff group had looked into the work that group had done when crafting the motion.
The motion called for CoGS to establish a dismantling racism task force that would:
• “Review policies and processes to identify systemic barriers to full participation for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) in the structures and governance of General Synod and make recommendations for redress”;
• Update and promote the Anglican Church of Canada’s Charter for Racial Justice;
• “Recommend a process of anti-racism education and training for the Council of General Synod as well as Coordinating Committees, Councils, Commissions and employees of General Synod”;
• Develop “a plan to engage the whole church in the work of dismantling racism, including identifying and/or developing resources and training to be offered to Provinces and dioceses”; and
• Report the results of its work, at the latest, to the meeting of General Synod in 2022, “including recommendations for ongoing work to dismantle racism within the Church.”
The motion also indicated the breakdown of the membership of this task force, which will include six to eight members and “should reflect the communities of the Church most impacted by racism, and so should be composed primarily of BIPOC members and members with experience in anti-racism ministry and leadership, including young people.” The motion specified that the task force should include members recommended by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), Black Anglicans of Canada (BlAC), members of “other racialized communities (e.g. Asian, groupSouth Asian, Latinx, and others),” one member of CoGS and “relevant staff for input and support.”
Members are to be appointed by CoGS following a call for nominations to the identified groups and the wider church.
During a period of discussion before voting on the motion, CoGS member Michael Siebert (province of Rupert’s Land) raised concerns about the “theoretical approach” that would be used in the dismantling racism work. “As many people know, there are several theoretical approaches that one can take in order to oppose racism…. One of them that I’ve been learning about and studying… [that] I have some reservations about is called critical race theory.” Siebert expressed worry that such an approach would be informing the work of the task force.
Critical race theory views racism as inherent to society. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, proponents hold that racism is ingrained in the law and legal institutions, and that race itself is a social construction.
In response, Delva stated that the task force did not have a specific theory or method in mind “except for the fact that we are doing this out of our baptismal covenant of seeking justice for all and seeing the face of Christ in everyone.”
Delva added, “Certainly we have witnessed—myself, I have witnessed—certainly online, especially, unhelpful ways of having conversations about race and identity, so I hear you that there are helpful and unhelpful ways to go about this work.”
National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald also addressed the concern, saying, “I’ve been at this a very long time, and I would have to say that the only theoretical approach that I’ve found that I don’t have reservations about is in the Bible.
“But having said that, I think an ideological rejection of a particular point of view would be as damaging as adopting that as the only framework. I am aware of the objections to what you call critical race theory, and the objections that I’ve heard I would share. But I have found it, like a whole number of other theoretical approaches, to be very helpful—and I have found, like most things in the church, our approach is pluralistic and pragmatic…. I find an ideological rejection of it as problematic as an ideological acceptance of it. So I hope it will be part of the conversation. I certainly would object to it being the only part of the conversation.”
In response to another question, Nicholls clarified that the work of the task force would not preclude CoGS from doing any anti-racism training or education before the group made its recommendations to General Synod.
The subject of membership in the task force was also raised. Ann Cumyn (province of Canada) suggested that there should be at least one member who is not part of a racialized or targeted group.
In response, Nicholls stated, “I think it was understood that if there was a member of the Council of General Synod, given the composition of the Council of General Synod, it was highly likely to be somebody white … the majority of the council is white, and I think a key part of dealing with dismantling racism is conversations with the white community.”
While the council deemed it unnecessary to amend the motion to mandate the task force include a white member, it was noted in the meeting’s minutes.
Nicholls said that racism has been a focus of public conversation in recent weeks, after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers ignited Black Lives Matter protests across the United States and around the world. The wave of protests, she said, has “broken open a crack—well, many cracks—in our institutions and in our lives generally,” raising questions “about the institution, the effects and power of racism.”
“I do think that part of this is learning how we as a Christian community bring a theological critique to what’s happening in the world, and that that includes critiquing things that are happening around us as well as affirming that which is consistent with Christian values and principles and understanding,” Nicholls told CoGS. In the area of dismantling racism, “the learning curve is pretty steep for all of us,” she added.
“I think it’s going to be particularly critical to listen to the voices that we have not always heard from.” She noted that the House of Bishops had recently, in a Zoom videoconferencing session, asked two bishops of colour to speak about their experiences of racism in the church. “It was, frankly, an extremely painful conversation for their colleagues to listen to…. Until we start to hear those voices and work at that together, I think that’s going to be part of the learning as well. And that takes some time, for us to sit with being uncomfortable.”