Sir: Douglas Murray complains that the C of E has embraced the ‘new religion’ of anti-racism (‘The C of E’s new religion’, 20 March). But the truth, which neither he nor the church seems to have realised, is that the ‘anti-racist’ agenda is a secular attempt to plug a long-standing gap in western Christianity. The answer is to recover the full message, not to bolt on new ideologies.
The earliest Christian writings insist that in the Messiah ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’. The book of Revelation envisages Jesus’s followers as an uncountable family from every nation, tribe, people and language. At the climax of his greatest letter, St Paul urges Christians to ‘welcome one another’ across all social and ethnic barriers, insisting that the church will thereby function as the advance sign of God’s coming renewal of all creation.
This is the three-dimensional meaning of ‘justification by faith’: all those who believe in Jesus, rescued by his cross and resurrection and enlivened by his Spirit, are part of the new family. This was and is central, not peripheral. The church was the original multicultural project, with Jesus as its only point of identity. It was known, and was for this reason seen as both attractive and dangerous, as a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, chastity-celebrating, socially responsible fictive kinship group, gender-blind in leadership, generous to the poor and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless.
If this had been celebrated, taught and practised, the church would early on have recognised ecclesial racism for what it is: the ugly side-effect of splitting the church into language-groups and thence into national ‘churches’, preparing the way for, and disarming the church against, the self-serving ‘racial’ theories of social Darwinism. If it has taken modern secular movements to jolt the church into recognising a long-standing problem, shame on us. But the answer is not to capitulate to the current ‘identity agenda’, and then to enforce it with breast-beating, finger-wagging neo-moralism. Douglas Murray doesn’t like that and neither do I. The answer is teaching and practising the whole biblical gospel.
Rt Revd Prof N.T. Wright (former bishop of Durham)
Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
Originally published in The Spectator, vol 345 no 10,048 for 27 March 2021, p 31.