If I may say this with respect, though I realise it may well not be taken that way, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, displays a truly frightening lack of understanding over what Christ actually taught. There is a famous story in the gospels, where Peter comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). In response, Jesus says, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Note, Jesus did not say to Peter, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting one, Peter. Has there been a rebalancing of justice? Has the perpetrator made sufficient restitution?’
In an interview on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning (June 26), Justin Welby, having expressed the view that some statues in Canterbury Cathedral ‘have to come down’, was asked by the interviewer if he wasn’t perhaps downplaying ‘forgiveness’, and whether people shouldn’t perhaps forgive the trespasses of those being commemorated. Without the slightest pause, the Archbishop replied, “… there can be forgiveness, I hope and pray as we come together, but only if there’s justice.” (italics added) (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2020/jun/26/uk-coronavirus-live-visitors-social-distancing-beaches-covid-19-politics-latest-updates?page=with:block-5ef5ae138f08a3ad642af643#liveblog-navigation. Please note, you will have to scroll through the day’s reports to find this section at the beginning of the day).
His meaning, sadly, was clear. Britain has in the past done such terrible wrong in its contribution to the slave trade prior to abolition, that we cannot now be ‘forgiven’ unless and until we abase ourselves and erase every last trace of our history that might imply any contact with those in any way involved. At every level, he is wrong.
First, his position is historically misinformed, feeding into the BLM narrative that the British Empire was built on the cruel and vicious exploitation of slaves. As readers of this blog will know, this is a wilful misrepresentation of fact designed to fuel racial division and tension, while dismissing the brave fight of men like Quaker Thomas Clarkson and politician William Wilberforce, who spent their lives, at great personal cost, campaigning for abolition.
It is hard today to comprehend just how revolutionary that campaign was, but at the time bondage was universally accepted – as it had always been, and still is in some countries today. Yet these men stood out against it – not from any desire for self-aggrandisement or motives of personal gain, but from an honest and noble desire, under God, to win freedom for those they could see being so appallingly abused. Britain’s part in the wave of current unrest is perhaps being deliberately overdrawn and misrepresented by those whose primary desire is not ‘equality’, but to attack Western culture.
The Archbishop, however, seems completely unaware of all of this. Britain is simply branded wrong, and there is a conspicuous lack of recognition or acknowledgment for any of the good our forbears undoubtedly did. And so he betrays and trivialises the nation’s history.
But perhaps of far greater importance than this, given his role, is the Archbishop’s apparent commitment to the ‘gospel of woke’. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines woke as the awareness of social problems such as racism and inequality (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/woke). Within and on top of this, there is a strong element of political correctness, freely exploited by the overtly Marxist-inclined BLM movement (https://blacklivesmatter.com). Woke screams victimhood and demands that people pay.
But this is not the message that Jesus proclaimed.
Again, as we have pointed out in earlier blogs, Israel at the time of Christ was under Roman occupation, and there was fierce hatred on the part of many Jews towards the Roman forces of occupation (https://www.jpost.com/blogs/why-israel-belongs-to-the-jews/100-years-of-opppression-from-pompeii-to-the-death-of-christ-496410). Tensions were running high – and it is entirely possible that Barabbas, freed by Pilate at the crowd’s behest instead of Jesus, was not just some other common or garden criminal, but one of the freedom fighters active in inciting rebellion. Jesus was not stupid. He knew all this, but when asked by Peter how many times he should forgive the brother who sinned, Jesus did not say ‘Wait till they make adequate reparation, Peter – and then forgive them seventy times seven.’
No, Jesus came preaching a message of repentance for sin and love – and of absolute forgiveness towards others. In order that we might be freed from the slavery – the imprisonment – of sin, and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, He died to break the devil’s hold, established through sin. At no point did He teach that there are gradations of sin, and that some ‘wrongs’ are unforgiveable, unless and until the perpetrator has been forced into abasement. This apparently is what the Archbishop does not understand – and in this, in his desire for public acceptability, he becomes partisan and unfair – and an enemy of the gospel. Leader of the Anglican Communion though he is, it is not his to judge the relative merit of past actions – but it is his duty and calling to preach the gospel, as delivered by Christ.
As it is, one fears that the Archbishop is so wedded to woke acceptability that he will soon start to express solidarity with those calling for the destruction of Europeanised ‘white’ statues of Christ and the apostles, as is happening now in the US, and which will no doubt soon spread to the UK (indeed, from one email just received by VfJUK, it already is!). For those who are feeling slightly puzzled at this development, by the way, it’s because such representations are apparently evidence of white supremacist attitudes (https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11937134/blm-activist-shaun-king-statues-jesus-torn-down/; https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/shaun-king-jesus-statue/). One wonders if BLM activists are now going to call for similar destruction of black representations of Christ in Africa, or of oriental looking depictions in Japan? But perhaps the outrage only extends to ‘white’ images.
It is time for this madness to end. On the whole the UK has one of the most tolerant and diverse societies in the world – of which we can be justifiably proud. This is not to say there aren’t problems – of course there are! But white and black we need to tackle them together, in unity. We need to go forward into the new, and not tear ourselves apart in petty hatreds and division, and attacks on the police. It is time for Christians of every shade and every race to stand on what the bible really says. And instead of feeding the narrative of racial difference, the Archbishop needs to start defending the gospel of Christ, calling us to unite as one people – forgiving each other for past offences (and there are clear wrongs on both sides), and working together as one people, for the good of all. As it is, his pseudo-righteousness, seeking to undermine the nation’s heritage, can only cause harm.