Academic quits C of E body over chief rabbi’s Labour antisemitism comments

Gus John lambasts Justin Welby’s support amid church’s ‘woeful’ record on racism

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Harriet Sherwood writes in Haaretz, 3 December 2019, “A leading campaigner against racism has resigned from a Church of England advisory body in protest at the archbishop of Canterbury’s support for the chief rabbi’s comments last week on antisemitism in the Labour party.

Gus John, a respected author and academic, said: “As a matter of principle, I cannot continue to work with the Anglican church … after the archbishop of Canterbury’s disgraceful endorsement of the chief rabbi’s unjust condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn and the entire Labour party.”

Justin Welby backed the chief rabbi’s unprecedented intervention, which in effect called on British Jews not to vote Labour in next week’s election, because the way the party leadership had dealt with allegations of antisemitism was “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud – of dignity and respect for all people”.

Three days later, John wrote to Elizabeth Henry, the C of E’s national adviser on minority ethnic issues, saying “those who occupy houses clad with stained glass should perhaps be a trifle more careful when they join others in throwing stones”. He could no longer serve as a lay member of the church’s committee for minority ethnic Anglican concerns, he added.

The media had responded to the chief rabbi’s criticism “as if he were the pope, speaking for all British Jews as the pope would for all Roman Catholics. Secular Jews and those who do not hold with the views of Jews for Labour are considered not to matter”.

He said: “No one section of the population of this nation has a monopoly on oppression, pain and hurt,” citing the unlawful detention, harassment and criminalisation of black and Asian people. “What ‘positive reassurance’ is the archbishop of Canterbury insisting that political parties give the many thousands rendered vulnerable by the government’s ‘hostile’ environment’?”

Gus John, Anglican academic

The church’s record on combating racism was “no less woeful now that it was 30 years ago”, John’s letter said. “Black and global majority people in the church, whether as clergy, laity or employees are still experiencing discrimination and exclusion, benign and sugar-coated or otherwise, at every level of organisation in the church and yet, their active presence in communion with the church is responsible for its survival and buoyancy in many communities.”

In an accompanying statement, John said: “What gives the archbishop of Canterbury the right to endorse the chief rabbi’s scaremongering about Corbyn and adopt such a lofty moral position in defence of the Jewish population? I have often had cause to wonder how it is that Justin Welby was made archbishop of Canterbury, rather than John Sentamu [archbishop of York] … it was widely expected – in some circles at least – that Sentamu would get that post. Sentamu was a highly respected black senior cleric and had been a bishop since 1996 and archbishop of York since 2005.”

John added: “If Anglicans in the UK from the African and Asian diaspora were to judge Justin Welby as the leader of the established church by the same criteria he appears to be employing in his assessment of Jeremy Corbyn, he too would fail the fitness to lead test.”

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Dr Elizabeth Henry, the Church of England’s adviser on race and ethnicity, said: “Prof John made an immense contribution to the work of the committee for minority ethnic Anglican concerns and he will be greatly missed by the committee and the wider church. We wish him well for the future.” This article is printed in its entirety.

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