The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has addressed the rise of far-right politics, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain’s decision to vote to leave the European Union, in his presidential address at the start of the Church of England’s General Synod.
Welby said it was a time when the future offered a wider range of opportunity, or of threat, than we have been used to culturally, politically and economically. “There are a thousand ways to explain the Brexit vote, or the election of President Trump, or the strength in the polls in Holland of Geert Wilders or in France of Marine Le Pen and many other leaders in a nationalist, populist, or even fascist tradition of politics,” said Welby. “Almost certainly there is no simple explanation, almost certainly the impact of globalization economically, or marginalization politically and of post-modernity culturally have some role to some extent.”
He said these developments would be studied for years to come, but at present, “we are in the middle of it all and we see neither the destination nor the road.”
However, Welby also said it was a moment of potential opportunity and challenge-a challenge that, as a nation, could be overcome with the right practices, values, culture and spirit. He told synod members that for the church, it was an extraordinary opportunity to be part of reimagining a new Britain, its practices, values, aspirations and global role. “We can be part of the answer, we have a voice and a contribution and a capacity and a reach, and above all, a Lord who is faithful when we fail and faithful when we flourish,” he said.
Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, came out in favour of the U.K. remaining in the European Union in the EU referendum last year. Welby said that in the necessary reimagination of the country, the church could not dictate but had to participate. “Participation means being a listening, suffering and reconciling presence, not a hectoring, self-interested one,” he said. “The language of public life at present is deeply, savagely divided and may become worse.”
He said the heritage of the Church of England is to be used confidently, but not arrogantly. “We have at present the extraordinary privilege of sitting in parliament, the remarkable gift and responsibility of educating chaplains in every sphere of life, and a role in public life of the nation,” he said. “We have a heritage of presence across England, burdensome although it may sometimes be, and the vocation of being the default point of help and support in times of trouble, or celebration in times of joy.”
Welby concluded by setting out the challenge for the church: “In this time of a choice between national hope and opportunity or threat and fear, we may play the part to which we are called in reimagining our country and seizing the best future that lies before us.”