(Photo: REUTERS/Dan Kitwood/Pool)
With the search for a new leader for the Church of England unfolding, a claim that racism is taking hold within the Anglican Communion has spurred a debate about snobbery, elitism, and race within the nearly 80-million member body, whose majority of worshippers hail from the African continent.
In March, Rowan Williams, the current spiritual leader of the Anglican Church and head of the Church of England, announced that he would be stepping down as the Archbishop of Canterbury and returning to the ranks of academia. Williams had previously served as a professor of divinity at Oxford University. His fture role is the position of Master at the Magdalene College at Cambridge University.
Upon the announcement of Williams' departure, Ugandan-born John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, quickly emerged as an early favorite to replace him. Sentamu is the only black bishop within the Church of England – the mother church of the Anglican Communion, affiliated with Anglican and Episcopalian churches worldwide.
York is a widely popular and outspoken bishop, and the Church of England's second most important Episcopal see. However, recent reports suggest that Sentamu has fallen out of favor to replace Williams due to his African roots.
Allies of Sentamu argue critics of the archbishop are trying to tarnish his name by conducting an "anonymous whispering" campaign that points to the racism and inequality that lies within the church's ranks, according to a recent Sunday Telegraph report.
"At its best, the besmirching of John Sentamu has revealed that strand of snobbery which views outsiders as lacking class, diplomacy or civility – in other words 'not one of us,'" the Rev. Arun Arora, a former aide to Sentamu and current communications director of the Church of England, told the Sunday Telegraph in April.
"At worst, it is has elicited the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface in our society, and which is exposed when a black man is in line to break the chains of history," he added.
Other members of the Anglican Communion have also come forward to suggest that the widely popular and outspoken Sentamu is a victim of institutional racism.
Jamaican-born Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who serves as the chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II and the Speaker of the House of Commons, told Reuters that "blatant racism" is still prevalent within the church and that she herself has experienced it.
"It is there, we might dress it up and call it different things, but it is there, and it is sad because it is contrary to the Gospel," Hudson-Wilkin told the news agency.
The claims of racism reaching the top ranks of the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion are additionally troubling as the church has been experiencing increased polarization between progressives ready to allow female bishops and same-sex unions and traditionalists uncomfortable with such reforms.