A vicar who claims he was a victim of repeated racial stereotyping when applying for posts in the Church of England has called on the equalities watchdog to investigate racism within the church, The Independent can reveal.
Reverend Alwyn Pereira, vicar of St Michael the Archangel Aldershot in Hampshire, says racial discrimination led to a string of unsuccessful job applications.
He claims he has been contacted by other ethnic minority clergy who have suffered similar experiences.
In a letter sent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), his solicitors at Leigh Day have asked the body to investigate direct discrimination, harassment and potential victimisation of ethnic minority applicants seeking appointments within the church.
“ââRacial discrimination within the church is not a new issue. Over the past 35 years, the church has produced more than 20 reports on racism aiming to tackle the issue,” the letter, seen by The Independent, reads.
The letter highlights an Archbishops Anti-Racism taskforce set up in June 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter to implement “significant cultural and structural change” on issues of racial justice within the Church of England.”
It was established to help set up a Racial Justice Committee, and provided its report, From Lament to Action, in April 2021.
The letter continued: “Despite the admission of institutional racism, it appears that the church is not willing to take the action its own taskforce recommends is necessary to prevent continuing discrimination.”
Kenya-born Reverend Pereira, who is of Indo-Portuguese heritage, has lived in the UK since 1973. The 59-year-old first raised his concerns in 2020, leading the former Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Mike Hill, to admit to being rebuked for racial stereotyping.
Other case studies referenced in the letter include that of Augustine Tanner-Ihm, a Black American former ordinand who having been rejected for over nine different dioceses for a curacy role, has yet to obtain this training role.
In February 2020, Mr Tanner-Ihm received a rejection letter for one post stating that “despite his “obvious gifts” it was not “worth pursuing a conversation” about a role he had applied for as they were “not confident that there is a sufficient match between you and the particular requirements of that post”.
Of two reasons given, the first was that “the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working class”, indicating that he had specifically been excluded from consideration for a role because of his race.
When he received the results of a subject access request, Mr Tanner-Ihm saw further correspondence from a senior Bishop who claimed that he “sees any change to his behaviour through the lens of racism and homophobia”.
It also stated that “we learn that once again he is using his race, sexuality and heritage as a defence when challenges about anything”; his concerns about discrimination continue to go unaddressed.
Reverend Pereira said: “Christianity advances a vision of love, dignity and equality of all races. Sadly, this is marred by the Church of England’s acknowledged problem of institutional racism and the unabated injustices it causes.
“We are having to seek the assistance of the EHRC to confront this problem in the established church, in our pursuit of justice, dignity, and true Christian love.”
Roshan Croker, a solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “The Rev Pereira experienced direct discrimination while looking for roles in the diocese of Bristol.
“Sadly, his experience was not unique and there appears to be a wider, systemic problem in the church’s ongoing failure to implement policies and practices that will counter the racism that the church recognises within itself.
“It is our hope, and the hope of Mr Pereira, that the EHRC will conduct a statutory investigation of the church in order to ensure that discrimination he and others have experienced doesn’t continue to go unchecked and measures to protect against discrimination are put in place.”
If the EHRC finds that the Church of England has breached the Equality Act 2010, it can make legally binding recommendations to the church on actions it needs to take.
According to the church’s most recent ministry statistics (2020), while congregations are estimated to be 15 per cent minority ethnic, the percentage of minority ethnic salaried clergy is only 4.1 per cent and they are far more likely to be in junior roles.
The Revd Dr Sharon Prentis, deputy director of the Church of England’s Racial Justice Unit, said: “It is plainly unacceptable for anyone to be discouraged from taking up a position on the grounds of their race or background, especially in the Church.
“Our faith teaches that everyone is made in God’s image, and all are one in Christ. That means Christians must reject racism wherever it appears, including recognising and challenging our own unconscious biases and organisational practices, which deny the Church the full glorious diversity God intends.
“The Church of England’s new national Racial Justice Unit continues to monitor and record progress against the recommendations of the Anti-Racism Taskforce report From Lament to Action.
“Separately the most recent report from the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice details progress against these recommendations, while identifying areas for further work.”
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We consider each complaint carefully and take action where appropriate.”