UK

‘Woke’ being misused by Government ministers, says first black female bishop

Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson-Wilkin saw her motion on racial justice overwhelmingly welcomed at the Church of England’s General Synod.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, put forward a motion for racial justice at the Church of England’s General Synod
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, put forward a motion for racial justice at the Church of England's General Synod (Andrew Matthews/PA) Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, put forward a motion for racial justice at the Church of England’s General Synod (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Church of England’s first black female bishop has warned against lip service and box-ticking when it comes to racial justice, as she criticised Government ministers and others for misusing the word “woke”.

Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson-Wilkin said it is a movement, rather than just a word, and that those who feel threatened by it “want to scare us into thinking that being woke is a sin created by people on the left”.

She spoke ahead of an overwhelming vote at the General Synod on Sunday in favour of further work on racial justice in the church, including a call for better data collection to monitor diversity and encouraging parishes to develop local action plans to address issues of racial injustice.

In a passionate speech to introduce her motion, the Bishop called for racial justice in the church’s governance structures to be strengthened “in order to hold our church’s feet to the fire”.

She said she was in “no doubt that the church must continue to work at embedding racial justice in all its life and structures – lip service will not do, neither will ticking boxes”.

She told the Synod: “When it comes to the topic of racial justice, I’ve heard the word ‘woke’ being bandied about by many people including Government ministers, certain radio presenters, those in the media. And in every case, they’ve used it incorrectly.

“The term woke originated in the USA, and it was a black terminology speaking specifically and directly to black people regarding the need to wake up and stay alert, to be consciously aware.

“So it is not just a mere word, it is a movement. Those who are threatened by the authenticity of this movement, want to scare us into thinking that being woke is a sin created by people on the left.”

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said there has been some learning in the church from historical wrongs but added: “I continue to lament, because what we have done has not been good enough and that is a scandal and an affront to God.”

He told the gathering: “Today, we discuss racial justice. Tomorrow, we will think about how we move forward into the future in response to the church’s involvement in chattel slavery.

“And all of this requires us to be honest about the terrible failings of the past, not to flinch from the failings and challenges of the present, and to build a better future.”

Lay member Daniel Matovu said institutional racism is “embedded” in the church.

He said: “In this chamber, the vast majority of you are sitting next to and surrounded by other white people.

“Across the church the general picture is the same – in your pews, on your PCCs (parochial church councils), deanery synods, diocesan synods, at every level up to and including the House of Bishops.

“Institutional racism is deeply embedded in virtually every institution in this country, including sadly, in the life and culture of the church.”

Meanwhile, this week Yvonne Clarke, who was the first black female deacon in the Church of England, will have a hearing in her appeal against what she has previously alleged to be a racist decision to dissolve her parish.

The hearing, before the Privy Council on Tuesday and Wednesday, will consider whether there was a failure to consult appropriately as required by the Equality Act 2010 and whether there was any indirect discrimination in the decision taken by the diocese which was upheld by the Church Commissioners, law firm Leigh Day said.

It follows cost-cutting proposals by the Diocese of Southwark, approved in September 2021, which would  dissolve her parish and divide it between the parishes of St George, Shirley, and St John, Shirley.

Ms Clarke said: “I overcame the most upsetting racism when I first arrived in this area, from those who would not countenance a black woman priest.

“My ministry and the work of my parish council has been to take the word of God into the entire parish, and to be prevented from those acts of inclusivity has been very harsh.”

Her solicitor Frances Swaine said: “My clients will demonstrate to the court how decisions were taken about their parish without adequate consultation and with insufficient due regard to the unique qualities that a black woman priest and a global majority parish council bring to an area of London with an ever-growing global majority population, especially serving the migrant and refugee community.

“At a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury is spending much time talking about racism in the Church of England, my clients deserve to have had the special characteristics of their parish considered very carefully before any decision to get rid of them was taken.”

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “It would not be appropriate for us to comment while the matter is subject to ongoing legal proceedings”