By David Paulsen
Episcopal News Service
The Episcopal Church publicly released a report on April 19 that assesses the racial makeup and perceptions of a broad sampling of the church’s leadership and summarizes how race influences internal church culture. The release of the 72-page report, nearly three years in the making, also sheds light on nine dominant patterns of racism that were identified during interviews with dozens of church leaders.
|“I feel like a commodity,” one Black priest said. “I’m on these leadership groups so … the leaders can check a box.”
The audit confirmed that the church’s leadership, like its membership, is overwhelmingly white, and it found that white leaders and leaders of color tend to perceive discrimination differently. People of color said they have often felt marginalized – despite the church’s professed commitment to racial reconciliation. White Episcopalians, on the other hand, frequently weren’t aware of how race has shaped their lives and their church.
The Racial Justice Audit of Episcopal Leadership was conducted on behalf of the church by the Massachusetts-based Mission Institute. More than 1,300 people completed a written survey offered to five leadership groups: the House of Bishops, the House of Deputies, Executive Council, churchwide staff members and leaders from 28 dioceses. Additional narrative interviews were conducted with 64 participants who had expressed a willingness to share personal stories and observations with the institute’s researchers.
“This racial audit has attempted to magnify the voices of people of color in the church, while also maintaining a spotlight on the systems and structures created and maintained by the white dominant culture,” the Mission Institute said in unveiling its findings. By putting those findings into their historical context, the institute concluded that “even though we have come far in addressing racism within the church, we still have a long way to go.”
Episcopal leaders see the audit as part of the church’s efforts to become more inclusive and to bridge racial divides in an increasingly diverse America. Since 2017, those efforts have centered on Becoming Beloved Community, the church’s cornerstone racial reconciliation initiative. It aims to deepen conversations about the church’s historic complicity with slavery, segregation and other racist systems while enlisting all Episcopalians in the work of racial healing. One of its four components is telling the truth about churches and race.