Church process ‘not fit for purpose’ says Jesus College Master as Rustat appeal option turned down
Jesus College will not appeal the Consistory Court judgement of March 23 2022 which allows the memorial to slave investor Tobias Rustat to remain in Jesus College Chapel.
A statement by Jesus College, released this morning, said: “Having taken advice, and after much thought, the college council has decided not to appeal the disappointing judgement. While we believe the judgement is fundamentally wrong, the time and costs involved in appealing the decision are significant, and the grounds on which we are allowed to appeal are restrictive.”
The decision not to appeal was accompanied by a call for the Church of England “to change how it deals with matters of racial injustice and contested heritage”.
Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College, said the rejection of the college’s bid to move the memorial to what it considers a more appropriate exhibition setting “demonstrates the inadequacies of the church process for addressing issues of racial injustice and contested memorialisation”. Ms Alleyne added that the process “is not fit for purpose” and “shows a lack of understanding of the lived experience of people of colour in modern Britain.”
A statement by Jesus College headed “Church must drive change on racial injustice and contested heritage” said that “the current process urgently needs reform as it stands in the way of a constructive and inclusive discussion on sensitive and important issues”.
The two-year bid to remove the memorial to Tobias Rustat, a significant benefactor to the college and the University of Cambridge thanks in part to his involvement in the Royal African Company in the 17th century, is now over – but the college will continue to address the issue, says the Jesus College update.
Ms Alleyne said: “Many students and members of the college community put their trust in the church process, and understandably feel let down by the judgement and its misrepresentation of their views.
“The Consistory Court’s decision shows a lack of understanding of the lived experience of people of colour in modern Britain.”
Rustat supported and enabled the slave trade by investing in two important slave trading companies over a period of 30 years. In addition, he also lent funds and took on roles in the running of the companies.
The Consistory Court saw a robust legal defence of the status quo, funded by a group of Jesus College alumni, place much emphasis on the argument that Rustat did not make any money from slavery until he sold his shares. The college insists this is irrelevant – it contends that what matters is Rustat’s active participation in the slave trade.
The Rev’d James Crockford, dean of chapel at Jesus College, said: “This was a test case for the church. While the college considers its next steps, it is clear that, if the Church of England wishes to take diversity and inclusion seriously, it cannot ignore the implications of this decision for the wider mission of the church to be a place where all are welcome.”
Ms Alleyne added: “In short, the college is up against a church ruling which believes involvement in the slave trade over 30 years isn’t sufficient to warrant the removal of this celebratory memorial.
“The facts about Rustat and his involvement in the slave trade were very clearly proven by the excellent and meticulous research undertaken by the Legacy of Slavery Working Party chaired by Dr Véronique Mottier. Its findings, as well as the position taken by the college, were misrepresented by others in court, and we stand by the work of our world-class academics.
“We will take our time and consider what to do next. The presence of the memorial in our chapel continues to be a serious issue for our increasingly diverse community. We strongly believe that our stance will place us on the right side of history.”
The college’s application drew widespread support, including from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last week 160 clergy, including a former Archbishop of Canterbury and two bishops, signed a letter to the Church Times opposing the decision which prevents the college from moving the memorial to an appropriate exhibition space, where it could be properly contextualised.
A spokesperson for Cambridge Stand Up to Racism said: “The court and the 65 alumni should hang their heads in shame. It is very much a Pyrrhic victory for the 65 alumni who used their wealth and influence to defend the life of a slave trader.
“The moral victory is that of Sonita Alleyne and others – both people of faith and no faith –standing up against a racist symbol on the walls of Jesus College.
“The movement to not turn a blind eye to the horrors of slavery will continue.”
Ms Alleyne concluded: “There is a much overdue debate happening within the church about how best to face up to the legacy of racial injustice. We will continue to keep up the pressure, because this matters to our students.”