Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England
Religion and Belief Correspondent, National Public Radio
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, joins Thomas Gjelten, National Public Radio's religion and belief correspondent, to discuss pressing international issues including the escalating migration crisis in Europe, international religious freedom, and the rise of religiously-motivated violence. Welby begins by outlining the structure and history of the Anglican Church. He goes on to highlight the church's involvement in global affairs. Over the course of the conversation, Welby offers his thoughts on Europe's reckoning with the massive influx of migrants and refugees, interfaith dialogue in international affairs, and the church's role in the global conversation on climate change.
GJELTEN: Thank you very much. Welcome, everyone, to the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks for coming on this especially early morning. I hope it’ll be a good and stimulating start to your day.
I’m Tom Gjelten from NPR, where I am the religion and belief correspondent. And it’s my honor to lead this Council meeting today with the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury.
Reverend Welby is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He’s the 105th in line in that position, going back many hundreds of years.
I’m going to be engaging Reverend Welby in conversation for about 30 minutes, and then you’ll get your turn to jump in. One reminder: those of you who are regulars here at the Council know it’s your duty to turn off your cellphones at this point so we’re not interrupted.
So welcome, Reverend Welby. Thanks for squeezing us in. I know you have a busy schedule in a very short visit here to Washington, just for a couple of days.
WELBY: Sadly, yes.
GJELTEN: (Laughs.) Maybe you could begin by giving us a sense of the Anglican Communion worldwide—the Episcopal Church here in the U.S., but also around the world. Just give us a sense of the Communion.
WELBY: The Communion is—has churches in about 165 countries with 38 what we call provinces, each headed by a primate of some kind or another—though in the United States it’s called a presiding bishop and in Scotland a primus. I’ve never quite worked that one out, but there we are. It sounds to me like a camping stove, but that’s—(laughter)—the primus is very good. It does the same—the same role. The 38 provinces are each autonomous, but interdependent.
The Church of England, for historic reasons to do with the empire, to do with the expansion of Christianity through Britain’s role in the—and mission in—and foreign missions in the 19th century, is the sort of where it all started from. And the Diocese of Canterbury—the See of Canterbury, as it’s called—is the titular center of the Anglican community.
The average Anglican is an African woman in her 30s living in sub-Sahara Africa on less than $4 a day. So what you see in this country or in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, is really the exception. On the whole, to use Pope Francis’ phrase, we are a poor church with the poor.
GJELTEN: That’s an amazing statistic.
WELBY: And there’s about 18 million of them.
GJELTEN: Eighteen million.
WELBY: Roughly, mmm hmm.
GJELTEN: And so where—that is a very important data point, but where does the—where is the concentration? What’s sort of the macro-data behind that? Where are your biggest numbers? Where is your membership growing? What are the trends that you see underway?
WELBY: Right. Well, it’s very typical of many of the traditional historic churches. The mainline churches typically are growing in the global south, and so are we, and static or shrinking in the global north, and so are we. In the United Kingdom, or in England—because we have four province in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland—in England, we were at our height in the 1930s, about 3 ½ million people, and today we’re about 1.2 million, a bit more—1.5 million, depending on how you measure it. And whereas in Nigeria, roughly 17 to 20 million people attend Anglican churches on a regular basis.
GJELTEN: Now, you say that these provinces—38 provinces—are autonomous. What exactly does that mean, specifically with relation to your own role as archbishop of Canterbury and this—what does it mean to be the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion?
WELBY: Well, you probably—some people may know Balfour’s great saying about the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, that the House of Lords has power without responsibility, with the privilege of the harlot throughout the ages. And the archbishop of Canterbury has responsibility without power, which is the privilege of the monk throughout the ages. (Laughter.)
It is a symbolic role. I can’t order anyone to do anything. So when we gather the primates, which we’re hoping to do in January for the first time for four years, it’s an invitation. It’s not an instruction. And if I gave an instruction, quite properly they would ignore it.
But that works in England as well. I mean, the archbishop of Canterbury has influence, but not power, and I think that is the key thing. And the influence depends on a mixture of spiritual life and of seeking to work with and build groups focused on particular issues that affect the Communion or the Church of England or whatever it happens to be.
So it’s not a personal primacy in the sense that the pope is. There is no Anglican pope, nor are there Anglican cardinals. The primates are not the equivalent of the cardinals.
And the way that it works in different countries is very different. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, when the archbishop says something, people tend to do what they’re told. In England, they consider that an interesting suggestion as a start of the discussion. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: So with so many of your members, so many of the provinces being in the global south, what challenges does that present to you as the archbishop? Now, you just mentioned just outside the door here that from here you head basically to Cairo. To what extent does that reflect sort of the way that you structure your work? I mean, is that—is that mission very—
WELBY: Structure would be a euphemism. (Laughter.) Symbolic, to use the word—the word of the morning.
I think what it is, it’s not unique to us. Quite the reverse. We are just a type, a paradigm in some ways, of the problem that I think most people in this room will be facing—and this is a theme I’ve been more and more conscious of over the last year—that if you have a mobile telephone, modern mobile telephone—an Apple or an iPhone or something like that—you have the entire world in your hand. All the stuff comes in from Twitter, through the news feeds, through the blogs. It’s all there. But there is no personal relationship. So you have variety, diversity, coming at you at a huge rate, in an unprecedented rate.
Look, in the 19th century, when the divisions in the Anglican Communion were certainly as complicated as they are now, but they took several months to get to you by ship. Now they come at you in microseconds. And yet, you don’t have the personal face-to-face contact which enables you in the way that, through diplomacy, through prayer, through interaction at a human level, through facing, to deal with that diversity. And that’s typical of business, of diplomacy, of the church, of many, many different—of NGOs, of many, many different areas.
So there are two ways. First of all, we have to build structures that enable us to be able to trust each other and not to be drawn into conflict by our structures within any institution, any global institution. And that’s a massive challenge. It’s a massive challenge for everyone here, as well as for us.
Secondly, you do have to spend time going to see people and sitting down with them and listening with them. So when I’m in Cairo later in the week, I will be sitting, listening to some global south primates who will be quite critical of the things I’ve done, and they may well be right. There’s often plenty to be critical of. And I will listen to them. We will pray together. And the diversity is held in personal relationship.
But I think that’s a common problem in the world today, which we are increasingly struggling to deal with.
GJELTEN: You have been quite candid about the disagreements or even divisions within the—within the Communion. Pope Francis has talked often about—and he uses the term “ideological colonization,” referring to the sort of tendency of liberal congregations in the north sort of imposing their kind of liberal agenda around social issues on the south. We’re all familiar, I think, with what happened here in the Episcopal Church a few years ago, with the ordination of a gay bishop, and the ramification that that—ramifications that has had throughout the south. Can you explore that a little bit? What are—what have—what has been your experience as archbishop in dealing with these really difficult disagreements, principally around issues of sexuality, social issues, marriage, homosexuality, et cetera?
WELBY: Well, I’m very aware that in this room that most people have forgotten more about this than I will probably ever know, so I will speak cheerfully, as I usually do, from ignorance.
I think the—one of the things that strikes me—and I need to declare an interest. I came from a family that—on my mother’s side that was involved in running bits of the British Empire for generations—(chuckles)—so, you know, I’m one of the bad people on this.
When you talk to leaders in the global south, whether it’s politicians—or listen to people in the global south, whether it’s politicians or church leaders, religious leaders, we need to remember that religion in the global south is still THE predominant feature of life. We mustn’t forget that. Someone a few years ago—an NGO—involved in NGO—said, oh, we’re going to do this. They were talking about in a particular country in sub-Saharan Africa, and they said we’re going to do this not involving religious people, because they’ll be biased. And I rather tactlessly said, so, which telephone box are you going to meet in? (Laughter.) You know, the—you can’t get away from the reality of religion.
But the sense with leaders that colonization has not stopped, it’s merely undergone a metamorphosis, a sort of Ovidian metamorphosis. It’s become—it looks like something else.
Let me give you two examples. First of all, economically, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa—Burundi, for example—need to develop their economy through agriculture, yet they have immense difficulty shipping agricultural produce into Europe because of subsidies by the European Union. That is a form of colonization. It keeps them in poverty. It keeps them in dependency.
Socially you’ve mentioned the issue of sexuality is one that goes intensely deeply into the way that the world is understood by all of us. It’s a question of identity for many people—for almost all people. And the imposition, as it is seen in the global south, of new approaches to what it is to be human is resented more deeply than it is possible to describe. And this isn’t obscurantism. It is a sense of, hang on, you are telling us whom and what we should be.
A senior figure in one country said to me a few years ago—he said, I didn’t go through—he was an elderly man then—he said, I didn’t go through the colonial period and get rid of you people in order for you to come back in a different form and do the same to me as you were doing before. And I think there’s that sense that colonialism has not stopped.
I’m not saying that gives us a solution, but I think we do need to be frank and to identify the problem very, very clearly. It’s an economic, it’s social. It’s on the issues like sexuality, where our understanding of the nature of the human being has changed very dramatically in the postwar period. And it goes to a lot of philosophical underpinning of our views of the human being. The postmodernist move toward radical autonomy has a profound effect on the way we see how society should be structured, which does not cohere with many other countries.
GJELTEN: So as the—at least the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, do you see that there is a place for church teachings? Or do church—is there no room for church teachings sort of in the global sense? Do you have to sort of leave the definition of doctrine, therefore, to each province?
WELBY: No, absolutely not, because—well, if we’re going to talk pure church here, at the heart of Christian faith is—at the heart, at the core is the encounter with Jesus Christ—with the risen, living, present Jesus Christ. For those who are Christians, we understand that in different ways, but we meet Jesus. It is—it is all about Jesus. There isn’t another way. It’s not a body of doctrine in which Jesus features. It’s about Jesus, and the doctrine springs from the church’s struggle to understand who this figure was, this figure understood to be both fully god and fully human. So when we come back to that and when we come back to the call of Christ to serve the poor, to sacrifice, to take up his cross, to bear suffering with him, the church tends to unite, albeit struggling with issues of doctrine.
But what we all struggle with—and I’m not criticizing anyone else here; it’s something that I find within me, as well as within the situation in which I work—we struggle with wanting our own view of how that doctrine applies to be the universal view. So no, we can’t just say, well, you know, in England you can believe this and in Kenya you can believe that. That’s not how Christian faith works. At the heart of—you know, we believe that in Christ we’re all one. National barriers and racial barriers and stereotypes are broken down or extinguished, dissolved. That is crucial, and that’s my hope and vision for the Communion.
My prayer for the Communion is it will be a which says, in a world of immense diversity coming at you, in your face, there is hope to live together, to be a people who collaborate for the common good, serving Christ. And the Anglican Communion is one of those bodies that should demonstrate that.
GJELTEN: Just to take one example, would you let—I guess you have no choice but to let each province, then, sort of approach the issue of the role of women sort of at their own pace.
WELBY: Yes, we do. And at their own pace, given that the Church of England just over 30 years from moving from saying there is no doctrinal objection to the ordination of women as bishops to the point where we ordinated women as bishops, actually our own pace is not always noticeably swift. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: So you have done a lot of work in Africa. And the issue of religious violence is pressing around the world, but it’s hard to imagine it being any more intense than in countries like Nigeria, for example. But throughout sub-Saharan Africa, tensions between Muslims and Christians have turned violent in so many cases. Talk a little bit about what role you have played and what role the Communion has played in attempting to resolves some of these very deep issues.
WELBY: I think the Communion—let’s talk about the Communion and I’ll say one or two things about myself, but trying not to over-personalize it.
Over the first 20 months that I was in post, I managed to visit with my wife all 38 provinces to meet the primates. Not to see the whole province—that would be ridiculous—but just to meet personally with the primates in each province. One of the things that was most striking in that and one of the common features in that was involvement in reconciliation work and mediation work. It seems to somehow be in the DNA of Anglicanism. Despite our own differences, we seem to find ourselves doing this stuff.
So when you go to the South Sudan—we had a particularly memorable trip to the South Sudan, both to Juba and then then up to Bor, which at the time was in the middle of some very, very severe fighting—bodies everywhere, and it was a dreadful, dreadful place of suffering. And the DRC similarly. We were there a few days later, eastern DRC. What we found in South Sudan was the archbishop leading the reconciliation work. We see that all over the place.
So the Communion—I know that Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop here, has been very involved in this. The Communion is deeply involved in reconciliation. And in our own struggles, we need to find a way of modeling how you do that.
We will always have significant differences. That’s sort of off-piece. That’s in parentheses.
My own role, I think, is—having some difficulty, despite my best efforts to be everywhere always—is to bless that work of reconciliation and to strengthen it, and for us from Lambeth to encourage and develop local skills and reconciliation where they are facing conflict. More than half our provinces are either facing persecution, or are in post-conflict or actual conflict.
GJELTEN: More than half.
WELBY: More than half.
So that is—that really is—means this is, for me, one of the key issues because war is so—the more you see of it—and I’ve spent quite a lot of time doing this over quite many years now, long before I was archbishop—the agony that you see is beyond all description. And as many people here know it sears the soul.
What—so we need to be involved in that. What does that look like? I think it involves building skills and building capacity in the way that you would expect, but it also involves a willingness to reexamine ourselves and our own role in conflict. The West, the economic system—which often generates conflict—the overspill from conflicts in which we may have been involved—I think one of the striking things in northern Nigeria was—has been over the years the way that they’ve watched the Levant and Mesopotamia and the Holy Land and the developments there, and have found either inspiration or provocation from them. It’s not the decisive reason. There’s plenty of very local—the main reasons are local, historic, based in ethnic and religious features. But it contributes.
And we also need to get away from simply a binary Christian-Muslim question. In Myanmar, I had a call when we were there. We were meeting bishops whose whole dioceses were torn apart by fighting going on, which involved no Muslims. South India, we’ve seen significant pressure on Anglican churches and other churches there over the last 18 months, two years.
One of the most interesting socioeconomic developments over the last four or five years, it seems to me—perhaps 10—is the development in all the major global faith traditions of a stream within them of radicalized violence. Now, I don’t know why this is happening, but I think it bears significant research. It’s something we should think more about. Why is it that so many faith traditions are seeing a radicalization of a small proportion, but a significant proportion of their adherents? What is it that is behind that? And how is the mainstream within each faith tradition strengthened to give a narrative that challenges and subverts sufficiently the narrative of the radicalized people?
GJELTEN: I think that’s a very important point, to take it out of I mean, because it’s so—our preconception is so wrapped up in radical extreme Islam, and you’re extending that. You’re saying this is a—this is a bigger problem than that.
WELBY: I’m saying it’s global. I don’t think I’m—(chuckles)—I’m copying other people saying it’s global. I haven’t had an original idea as long as I can remember, so, you know. (Laughter.) “I’m saying it’s global, I’m the archbishop of Canterbury, I’m terribly important, you must all listen to me, hey.” (Laughter.) You know, let’s forget that.
It is global, it’s generational, and it is ideological. And the use of a phrase I’ve discovered through meeting with some people in the armed services not long ago, it was kinetic force. I understood after a while that they meant killing people. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: Yeah, that’s right. And blowing things up. (Laughs.)
WELBY: And blowing things up, yeah. Or both.
And the use of violent force in many of these conflicts may—I mean, you know, some of us here will be pacifists; others, like myself, not—may be justified, it seems to me, on a quasi-police analogy as a way of creating space, time, safe havens, whatever. But in the end, these issues are going to be dealt with principally ideologically and theologically. And like it or not—and many people in secular government don’t like it—we have got to deal with the religious mindset and get inside the religious mindset in order to have a serious impact on these—on these conflicts.
If you look at the three most radical Islamic groups in the Levant and Mesopotamia—including ISIS, Daesh, whatever you call them—one of the common features for them is a deep conviction that we are in the end times, this is just about the world is about to end. Well, when that’s your view, it does slightly change your response to people attacking you, because you haven’t got a lot to lose. In fact, you’ve got everything to gain. And it’s that narrative that needs to be subverted and shown to be false within their own ideological framework if we are going to begin to have impact on those groups.
GJELTEN: You have not always been in the church. You started out in the oil industry and you worked in Africa.
WELBY: You know, I’ve said sorry for this many, many times. (Laughter, laughs.)
GJELTEN: Well, here, this is a new audience, so. (Laughter.) Tell us a little bit about that experience and explain how you’ve—
WELBY: What, the oil industry? You dig holes in the ground, black stuff comes up, you flog it, you make money. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: What did you learn from that?
WELBY: (Laughs.) Don’t dig the holes in the wrong place. (Laughter.) Which we did.
What did I learn from that? I think that I learnt—well, let’s say one thing in favor of the oil industry. Forgive me, but I’m going to. It’s probably in my bones somewhere. The oil industry and global industries are made up of people. That’s the first thing. So I’m very loath to be easily condemnatory of large organizations, institutions, global institutions. There are—they do have their culture. Some cultures are deeply unhealthy. Some are very healthy. I had the good fortune in my last company to work in one with a very healthy culture, and that was wonderful.
GJELTEN: What was your job?
WELBY: I was group treasurer. I sort of looked after—I ran the money. So I borrowed lots of money and—
GJELTEN: Spent it.
WELBY: Spent it and paid some back, and then quit—(chuckles)—before—you know, before it came back to haunt me. I think it was a big—it was small by oil industry standards, but large by company standards.
One of the other things is the important to focus—of focus and of research, of trying to find out what you’re talking about before you get into it. Now, that’s not always been one of my strengths, probably still isn’t. But I’m—I think the importance of saying, when we look at a current problem/challenge, like religiously motivated violence, what are the key features of this? To what can we contribute? What short-term objectives make sense that we can make a difference to? What can we do that only we can do? Because that’s the only thing we should do.
It’s very easy in this role to sound off about, you know, people are bad, it would be better if they were nice. But that doesn’t get you very far. So I think one of the key things I learnt was a certain pragmatism, which is probably in my nature anyway.
GJELTEN: Was there a—was there a moment when you—pragmatism is too easy an answer. (Laughter.)
WELBY: (Chuckles.) Thanks. (Laughs.)
GJELTEN: Was there a moment where you—where you sort of—was there a moment of crisis for you, where you saw—I mean, you’re working in Africa. You were exposed, I’m sure, to a lot of suffering and—
WELBY: Yeah. Corruption.
GJELTEN: And you know, was there a moment when you sort of realized you wanted to sort of do something else in response to that?
WELBY: No. Yes, there wasn’t a moment when I wanted to do something else, there was a moment when I felt compelled that—I mean, the short answer—it’s difficult to answer that question without sounding either flippant or hotline-to-God-ish. But the reality is that we were at church one evening, my wife and I, and—when I was in my mid-30s. And we were listening to a very good sermon actually by an American who was talking about his call to ministry. And I had a sudden very clear sense that that’s what I ought to be doing. And as we drove home, I said to her, you know, this has happened. What do you think? And so we spent about 18 months, two years exploring that, and going through the process of application.
But there was a moment when it came into my mind—the longer we went on through the two years, the less I wanted to do it. So, I mean, I’ve said this before. It’s quite a well-known story, but it bears repeating. My final interview with a bishop at a residential conference in the north of England, he said—his opening question to me was, why do you want to be ordained? And I said, I don’t. So he looked surprised and said, what are you doing here, which was a reasonable question. I said, I can’t get away from it. He said, what will you do if we turn you down? I said, go back to London, and take my wife out to the best mean I can afford to celebrate. So there you are. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: The rest is history. All right. Well this is a fascinating conversation. And now it’s your opportunity to join in this conversation, raise your own questions. I do ask you in the Council on Foreign Relations style to—obviously to wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, and begin by giving you name and your affiliation. Yes, sir. You’re right next to the microphone.
Q: Thank you, Archbishop. I’m Jay Kansara with the Hindu American Foundation. I appreciate your presence here today.
Your counterpart, Pope Francis, in a trip to Latin America, apologized to the indigenous peoples for grave sins of the church in spreading their doctrine in particularly colonial times. What role can the Anglican Church play to also facilitate a dialogue along those lines for some of the—for some of the damage done to indigenous peoples, particularly in some of the places that you mentioned where there are conflicts today?
WELBY: I think we have to acknowledge our responsibility very clearly. My family, as it happens, were mainly in what is now India and also what is now Pakistan. I think we have to acknowledge the failures that there were there. And the church needs to acknowledge its part in those failures and to say sorry for that. And we have done that. And I continue to do that and feel that very deeply. I think we also particularly need to acknowledge the way in which too often faith not so much followed the flag as piggybacked on the flag, and was used by government and also used government to establish its power, rather than to see to challenge. There were other places where—as with the Catholics in Latin America—where there was an honorable defense of the powerless. But very often, it was the acquisition of power.
And as in all institutions, there is an extraordinary mixture of he deeply wicked and the enormously heroic. You look at people like Archbishop Tutu in South Africa and you see extraordinary heroism, virtue, beauty of life. There are plenty of other extraordinarily bad examples. So it comes back to, honestly, about our history and reality about our history, studying, recognizing where the myths are being established and de-mythologizing the way we’ve behaved. But it also comes today to listening to—in England the Hindu-Christian Forum, the Muslim-Christian Forum—to listening to their critique of how we are today. And we spent a lot of time doing that in England.
GJELTEN: Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you, Archbishop, very much for the time you have given us today.
As you know, the—data shows that both membership and attendance in Anglican churches and the Church of England and, I think, the Anglican community is declining, and significantly so. It’s the same trends that we’re seeing in America with Catholicism and American organized religion in general. Many reasons for this, but one of the issues that interests me is when you look at younger people and their disconnectedness with religion, they’re all having—they’re actually having problems with the basic message of Christianity and the death, resurrection, salvation of—represented in Jesus Christ. Against that background, you and Pope Francis have a lot in common.
WELBY: I wish. (Laughter.)
Q: No, but your fundamental belief in the Christian message and Jesus Christ. You’re both humble. You’re both simple in the way you deliver your messages. And both of you—I mean, you have a pope who writes and encyclical where he shows a pretty good grasp of chemistry. You write and speak with great eloquence on morality and ethics in financial institutions and energy. And you both have tremendous compassion for the poor.
So again, against that background, why don’t we see more collaboration when you’re both fundamentally facing the same challenge with regard to new generations, and also the information age, where younger people, in particular, are getting their information from—they’re not getting it from going to stone churches and singing Anglican hymns. They’re getting it from a lot of sources of information in which the church finds itself in competition. So these are pretty serious problems, it seems to me, and what a great thing it would be to see a kind of dream team of you and Pope Francis—(laughter)—out there building sentiment for a true revival of religion in the Western world.
WELBY: I’m very cautious about putting myself in the same sentence as Pope Francis. He is a most extraordinary global leader—most extraordinary. But, yes, our divisions within the church are institutional and physical divisions, are profoundly hindering to the work of the church in the Western world, and for that matter around the world. They are deeply damaging. And I wish I knew the answer to that. It’s a bit like—well, I won’t use that analogy. We’ve been separated from Rome now since 1532, or somewhere round about that, depends on which particularly bit of Henry VIII reign you pick. And after the thick end of 500 years, separation becomes a bit of a habit. And it’s just how you think about the world. And I think our first step is to challenge that psychology of separation that has set in so deeply.
Now, for instance, at Lambeth Palace, you know, the wonderful place that I have the privilege of living in while I’m in this role in London, it’s quite a big place—a very big place indeed. And we’ve started a community—a quasi-monastic community called the Community of St. Anselm, led by a Roman Catholic—a Roman Catholic—monastic community called Chemin Neuf, French origin. There are five of the Chemin Neuf people and there are 16 in the community of St. Anselm for 10 months, called a year in God’s time. And there’s 23 part-time—16 resident, 23 non-resident.
These are—we had over 500 applications for those 16 places, from people who’d given up their jobs, their careers, paid a significant sum of money, in order to work extremely hard not to have very much money at all in quite simple conditions, and spend an awful lot of time in prayer and study, as well as their extremely hard work. And they’re aged between 23 and 35. This is not—they are deeply attracted by that. I think one of the things the church has to do is stop—is to say that the Christian life is a life of challenge and following Jesus Christ. Take up your cross and follow him.
And when we don’t soft pedal that, the response from young people seems to be absolutely extraordinary. And when we say, oh well, it’s all about self-valorization, whatever it happens to be, they think, oh well, there’s a million other ways we can do that that are slightly less complicated. Take up your cross—had a pretty strong message at the time of Jesus, still seems to now. But the community of St. Anselm, every single day we pray a prayer that comes from the Chemin Neuf community that we will feel the pain of our separation. And they’re of all denominations. They’re Anglican, they’re Catholic, they’re Pentecostal, whatever. And we are living the pain of that separation day by day, every time we have the communion service. Some people can’t receive. Others can, depending on who’s celebrating and which priest is celebrating.
We have to challenge this habit of separation. I have—there are no easy answers to it. But it’s something that we cannot live comfortably with. We have to challenge. And we start with our social actions together, which is what we’re doing. It’s not a very good answer, but it’s the best I’ve got at the time—at the moment.
GJELTEN: Yes, sir. Back here in the middle.
Q: Jacob Harold with GudeStar.
I’m wondering if there’s a theology of climate change. And I ask this because it seems to me that climate change is a different kind of issue, because of long-term time horizons, physical interconnection, a sense of risk. So would you agree, is there a distinct theology of climate change?
WELBY: Yes. I think there very definitely is. You are talking to one of the least scientifically capable people on the face of the planet, as far as I know. I do try and keep up with this and read up about it, but I don’t pretend to any expertise at all. But theologically, yes. The theology of climate change starts with God is creating—however everyone understand that, what God is creating. It continues with the church as existing in time and in space—the church is all Christians through time and through space, geographically and temporally. And therefore, there is a profound commitment to those—there is a profound overriding of the temporal horizons of our own lifetimes. And it has also, within it, the stewardship of creation with which humanity is entrusted.
Now, those are three of the key building blocks for a theology of climate change and how we deal with that. Within that, we have to apply the science and I’m not going to go further down that road, but we have to apply the science. People like Lord Stern, Nicholas Stern in the U.K., have been extremely influential on this. There’s plenty of equivalence over here. And Pope Francis was profoundly advised by many people, by very many great experts, in Laudato Si’, his recent encyclical. But, yes, there is a very clear theology that says that caring—that the love for those who we don’t see because they are not yet born is as important as the love for those who we do see because they’re all around us. There is also a common responsibility to the most marginal people on Earth, which is part of solidarity, which is a key part of both Catholic and Christian social teaching. When I talk to our primate in Melanesia or in Polynesia, you know, he says, this is really quite important because actually we are literally drowning.
GJELTEN: Yes, ma’am.
Q: Elisa Massimino with Human Rights First.
We talked a lot today about violence, religiously motivated violence in the global south. But one of the trends that we see now is the rise of antisemitism in Europe and anti-Semitic hatred and violence. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you’re doing to help build bridges between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. And then, if you have a moment, I would love to hear also about your thoughts on the role of the church and the broader Communion in dealing with the refugee crisis in Europe.
WELBY: Thank you. I’ll try and keep it very short. One, I discovered after the newspapers sort of started digging into my past when I was appointed to this role—they discovered that my father was in fact Jewish. So this was slightly a surprise, but he’d not mentioned that. (Laughter.) He died in the 1970s. And there you are. So this is—this is something—and they came—his family fled from Germany before the great war, foreseeing trouble, very wisely. But some didn’t, and suffered the consequences. That’s a sort of declaration of interest, really.
OK, in terms of the rise of antisemitism—I don’t think there’s a rise of antisemitism. I think there’s a reemergence of a latent antisemitism that is deeply embedded in European culture and always has been. I don’t think there’s new people become anti-Semitic who were previously not anti-Semitic. Thank you. I think that there is this sense that has existed in Europe that emerges catastrophically from time to time. It is very powerful. What are we doing? We’re doing some of the sort of public stuff, symbolic stuff, which goes—which I think is important, and making statements.
So we had the all-party parliamentary group’s report on antisemitism. We hosted the launch of a major report earlier this year at Lambeth Palace, and that got a lot of attention, three weeks before the election. A number of top politicians came to that, despite the fact that they had other things on their mind, and from right across the political spectrum. We are very tough where we find antisemitism within our own clergy, and we are very, very straightforward with that. The communion—so it is a challenge. And I think we need to keep speaking about it. It’s one of those challenges that you can never take for granted. And we have to remember that in Europe—I’m not saying United States—in Europe, we have very little moral standing when it comes to dealing with antisemitism. Our history is too bad and too long to have—we need always to speak with great humility.
Secondly, the issue around the refugees, the Church of England bishops are working—we’ve been working very hard with the government. I’ve spoken in the House of Lords—one of the strange things about this job is I sit in Parliament—and was very involved in the debate on how many refugees we took. And we’ve been having very clear discussions with the government on the numbers that should be taken. Around the world, the Anglican community has been less impacted because it’s—on the whole, it’s—our biggest parts of the Anglican community are in the places from which refugees are coming, not to which they’re going.
Europe, there’s a friend of mine, actually—an old friend of mine called the bishop in Europe. We don’t call him the bishop of Europe, because we’ve already got one of those in Rome, and it seemed a little presumptuous. And the bishop in Europe, we have chaplaincies across Europe, 3(00) or 400 churches across Europe. Our chaplaincies in Athens and places like that, Bucharest, have been working unbelievably hard on the ground in meeting the needs of the refugees appearing. As the Communion, this is an area—there are now, according to U.N. figures a few weeks ago—59.7 million—UNHCR said 59.7 million refugees in the world. It’s not only in Europe.
And in the Communion where we meet as primates, that may well be one of the issues we discuss, because places like Tanzania, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, the Great Lakes generally, west Africa, have numbers of refugees that are far greater than those coming into Europe, who are entirely forgotten. And perhaps one of our roles is to remind people of the poorest of the poor, whose struggle and suffering is beyond all description, even compared to the appalling situation of refugees on the borders of coming into Europe.
GJELTEN: What are these primates telling you about the—about the conditions that drive their people to leave?
WELBY: A lot. It’s nothing surprising. It’s war. It’s poverty. It’s inequality of opportunity. It’s persecution, which the U.S. government, of course, is particularly good on confronting. It’s also societal breakdown in other ways. There is a growing trend of breakdown of families, which leaves children and, as always, above all, single women immensely vulnerability. Modern trafficking—the trafficking of slaves affecting over 30 million people is a major drive, particularly in women being trafficked into being sex workers.
I was meeting a charity last Thursday not far from London, extraordinary bunch of young women, who were called by God very clearly about seven or eight years ago. They just operate off no money at all, their budget is less than a thousand pounds, $1,500, a month for all of them. Only one of them gets any pay at all. And they work with sex workers in that particular area. They reckon 85 percent of the people they work with have been trafficked—85 percent. It’s very, very rare to find someone who is not trafficked. And their work is to try and, first of all, give them a sense of their human dignity. And secondly, then practically to try and find ways forward. What is driving this is all the things that have always driven it. But given that we now know about it, we have no excuse for not responding to it.
GJELTEN: Yes, sir.
Q: Dane Smith.
What suggestions, Archbishop, do you have for religious leaders and lay people in promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue and reconciliation?
WELBY: Challenge stereotypes. We have to start with challenging stereotypes. We have to start with actually sitting down and meeting people. We’re doing a lot of that, both with lay leaders and with ordained from within the Christian community. Take risks. We have to be willing to talk to people who are not always the kind of people we want to talk to. And I’m trying to put this rather tactfully. I don’t mean—I’m not talking Daesh here, or the jihadist extremists. But I am saying that it is no use saying we’ll only talk to the nice people. It’s not the nice people that are causing the problems. They’re often the victims.
We have to work our way towards an honest discussion that doesn’t start with a syncretistic we all really agree with each other, don’t we, so let’s be nice, which is, you know, what I used to say to my children when they were small, and had about as much impact then for that matter. But we need to work away from that, towards a real integrity that says, here are our differences, here is our fundamentally—here are the fundamental issues that cause us to differ. We think we are right. You think you’re right. It gives a different worldview, a different approach to the human being, a different approach, particularly, to how you deal with people on the edge, the people outside your faith community. We need much more integrity of dialogue.
But to do that, you must form relationships. You must form relationships with people whose views may be exceptionally challenging and uncomfortable. We have to take some risks doing that, and not be naïve that we’re just dealing with nice people with whom we can all have nice conversations. I don’t think that helps. I mean, I could go on for hours on this. It’s a passion of mine. But the best work that I’ve seen or, for that matter, been involved in, has been when we got to the point where we’re able to say we disagree with you profoundly on this. How do we transform this profound disagree from violent to nonviolent?
GJELTEN: Are you having any of these discussion in England with Muslim leaders and—
WELBY: Yes. Yes, constantly.
GJELTEN: Yes, sir.
Q: My name is Tom Getman. I’m an NGO executive and professional board member. Your Grace, thank you.
We, as you know, have a daughter who is an Anglican priest. And she said, one of the things she that she appreciates is your evangelical spirit. In this country, Evangelicalism is a dirty world for many people—misunderstood, mis-efined. And those of us that are evangelical sometimes find ourselves struggling to explain what it really means. How do you define evangelical and what would you say to instruct people in the media here who use it wrongly? Thank you.
WELBY: That is a really seriously difficult question. (Laughs.) I wasn’t prepared for that one. For what it’s worth, my definition of—I would consider—I’m not a great party person. I don’t mean—I love parties. I don’t mean, you know, I love jolly parties, I just don’t join groups very easily. I consider—yes, I consider myself evangelical. Not all evangelicals agree with that, I think it would be fair to say. I would define as evangelical as someone for whom the final authority in belief and practice is found in scripture properly interpreted. And that covers the difficult bit. So that’s where I come from.
It has nothing to do with your politics. You can—I know evangelicals on the left in England on the right. I agree with some, I disagree with some. I agree with some of the things that some say on both sides and disagree with some of the things that some say on both sides. It is not about your attitude to guns, the nuclear deterrent, or social rights. It is about where you find authority in your life, in your creed, and in your behavior. It’s a rather short-hand definition, but if you don’t mind I will probably leave it there.
GJELTEN: Yes, sir.
Q: Good morning. Emre Celik, Rumi Forum.
I’m wondering, going off your previous answer, how we can move interfaith dialogue into a social movement beyond the dialogue industry and the nice people that you referred to. (Laughter.)
WELBY: I think we have to be real and say you can’t do everything in public. There’s moments for symbolic get-togethers of, you know, what in England we call slightly ironically the great and the good. And there are moments where you have to operate below the radar—meeting people quietly, in safe spaces. The most difficult thing, I think, we find and that we struggle with—and David Porter, my director or reconciliation is sitting just down here who is the expert on this—is how do we create safe space for people to get to the point that they say what they really think? It’s unbelievably difficult. Everyone will be worried that if the media or their friends will find out they’ll be threatened. I’ve had a religious leader from another faith tradition overseas ringing me not long ago at 11:15 at night saying, I’ve just had my third death threat of the day. I just can’t go on with this.
We need to realize that people take huge risks doing that, and we need to take risks. But part of the risk is being willing to create safe space and not be seen to be doing what we are doing. Part of our—of this the world in your hand problem is that unless you’re seen to say something or do something, clearly you don’t care. Which is, of course, rubbish. But for those who have—we’re at the Council on Foreign Relations. I presume there’s quite a few diplomats here. You will know the problem. You know, you can’t say everything you’re doing. So it means backstairs, below the radar, the risk of being deeply misunderstood. It means you have to be politically slightly canny. That’s an English word. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: Yes, sir, back there. Yeah.
Q: Good morning. Bill Aiken from the Soka Gakkai Buddhist community. Thanks very much for taking the time with us today.
I’m wondering if you could go a little bit further into—you’ve been discussing the issues of dialogue and sometimes difficult dialogue. And I imagine some of your most challenging dialogue is within the Communion—within the Anglican Communion. And we talked earlier about ideological colonialization. But I’m sure that that comes face-to-face with sometimes fundamental senses of human dignity and morality and ethics.
And I’m wondering if you could just give us a little more light into your process and how you’ve been engaging this and dealing with issues which you may have to walk that line between not wanting to be an ideological colonial, but having some moral—speaking truth, I guess, in those difficult moments, whether it’s the issue—I’m not talking about gender issues regarding positions in the church, but I’m talking about fundamental treatment, whether it’s genital mutilation, care of girls, et cetera. Could you give us a little bit more insight into your struggles with that?
WELBY: The struggle—the main struggle is getting very isolated. You’ve got to meet people. After I met these people in—these sex workers I was talking about a few moments ago. The next day, one of them tweeted a most lovely picture saying that they had met me, and it was just a lovely message. And when my family came in and found me in floods of tears in the kitchen, because I was so moved that—by this. You have to let your heart be broken. You can’t be too professionalized about this, in the wrong sense, but be highly professional. But you’ve got to let your heart be broken by encountering people where they are. And the danger of this role is you spend your life in a little bubble of everyone treating you grandly. And you don’t get out and away from all the folderol and let your heart be broken by the plight of the people you meet.
And that will come in a number of ways. So I can still remember agonizing—I find this—you’ve touched on a point which, for me, is a point of immense personal pain, is how one holds truth and compassion together in public discourse. And I spend my time asking myself, telling myself I’ve got it wrong. But I remember a conversation a few years—quite a few years back in sub-Saharan African with people on the issue of human sexuality. We differed very deeply on it. But as I listened to them, I sensed their anxiety, their sense of betrayal in what I was saying. And you have to let yourself be touched by that. You can’t just reject it as an ignorant view. You have to let it hurt.
And I think part of the dialogue that we need is a dialogue that involves great pain. We must let ourselves be heard. And I struggle with it because I—like all of us, I don’t like being hurt. I don’t like the pain. I will go a long way to avoid it—emotional pain, particularly. Does that make any sense?
GJELTEN: I’m afraid we’re going to have to go close it down now. The archbishop is going to have to be leaving. But I do want to ask you for one final thought, sir. We’ve been talking about a lot of issues here—climate change, migration, violence—that are handled by secular institutions. Do you see any challenge for the—any danger in the church becoming too secularized by its focus on these institutions, because several of the things you mentioned I think are very important—the importance of not soft pedaling your faith.
WELBY: Yes, I think there is. I think in a bid for favor and for making people like us, we can end up wanting to say the right thing about everything. We are called, as Christians—I speak only for myself, or for—as a Christian, I am called to be someone the scripture, the Bible, the words of Jesus teach me to believe that for someone to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is the best decision that they can ever make in their life. And therefore, the heart of what I have to do, even at interviews like this or on the BBC, or whatever it happens to be—or ITP (ph), whatever—I need to say that, and not to become what Pope Francis, in another of his brilliant phrases, calls a practical atheist. In other words, you believe in God but you seek all the secular solutions. In the end, it’s all about Jesus. I said that earlier, I think. (Laughter.)
GJELTEN: All right. Thank you so much, Archbishop. (Applause.)
A couple of reminders. I should have mentioned this at the beginning, but this has been an on-the-record event. I’d like to thank the Council on Foreign Relations, and in particular our co-sponsor, the Council’s religion and foreign policy initiative. The archbishop has to take off very quickly now, so if you could give him the courtesy of remaining seated while he takes off. Thank you so much, sir.
WELBY: Thank you very much for your time. (Applause.)
GJELTEN: Thank you.
This is an uncorrected transcript.