The Church of England has joined the growing reviews of monuments and public spaces prompted by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign that has seen major protests in the UK and elsewhere, besides demands to pull down statues of individuals with links to slavery.
The Church of England said it has more than 16,000 churches and 42 cathedrals, almost all of which are home to memorials and monuments to individuals from a period spanning more than a thousand years. The histories of the individuals are being examined.
Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, has said the review will be conducted “very carefully” to assess if they should be retained in their places or not. The very image of Jesus as a ‘white Jesus’ will need to be reconsidered, since every culture has a different image of him, he added.
The church said that the events of the past weeks in response to the death of George Floyd in the United States have brought into focus the question of monuments to individuals who have participated in systemic and targeted discrimination or exploitation based on race.
Church of England’s director of church buildings and cathedrals, Becky Clark, said: “Action is being taken by parishes and cathedrals across England to consider monuments which have links to slave trading or the exploitation of people”.
“Some churches have previously acknowledged and exposed this legacy, but many are just beginning this work in response to the spotlight shone on these questions by the Black Lives Matter movement”.
Welby told BBC: “Some will have to come down, some names will have to change,” adding that the historical acts of those memorialised could be forgiven “only if there’s justice”, and that forgiveness can only be granted “if we change the way we behave now and say this was then and we learn from that and change how we are going to be in the future”.
Clark added that the decision about retaining or removing statues will be taken locally by dioceses as they confront the complex challenges of the past and the reality of the present and how the past impacts people living today.
The Greater London Authority, councils across the UK and organisations such as the National Trust have initiated reviews of public spaces under their jurisdiction, following major protests in London and elsewhere and the pulling down of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol earlier this month.