When Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke on reconciliation at the annual reception for faith groups at Lambeth Palace on March 10, he did not shy away from hard truths.
“We Anglicans, and we Christians, know a great deal about killing each other for purportedly religious reasons,” he said to a gathering of faith leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Jain and Christian traditions, as well as British political representatives. “We have no great mount of righteousness on which to stand, from which to judge the rest of the world.”
One of the reasons faith leaders must come together was “to create a space that is relational…in which we know each other well enough to say the difficult things to each other,” said Welby, in remarks published on his website.
Even as he emphasized that the very fact that so many leaders could gather together peacefully was evidence that progress was possible, Welby acknowledged that the differences between faiths are real and substantial, and that reconciliation is not a matter of erasing difference, but of living with it.
“The challenge for us here, as UK religious leaders, is not to find some kind of strange syncretism in which we say there are no differences,” he said, “but to find ways of demonstrating reconciliation-diversity held, but diversity as blessing, not danger.”
Speaking of his experience travelling throughout the Anglican Communion over the past two years, Welby lamented not only the violence that rages unabated in various parts of the world such as South Sudan, but also the less-publicized scars that conflict has left on places like Myanmar, where bishops must sometimes negotiate heavily-mined roads to visit their parishes.
Conflicts arise from “complex issues,” said Welby, but he did not hesitate to admit that religion is sometimes responsible for them. “Evil-minded people use religion because it’s simple,” he said. “If you say, ‘You belong to X faith and you’re good, and they belong to Y faith and they’re therefore bad…’ everyone can get their mind around that pretty simply.”
Welby expressed his gratitude that the United Kingdom has not seen the kind of constant internecine violence that other parts of the world have been confronted with, but he was quick to add that “there have been attacks on people from faith groups in the UK too. There’s been animosity, fear and division.” Of particular concern for Welby were the attacks on mosques and synagogues. He denounced such violence as “totally, utterly abhorrent and unacceptable.”
But he also spoke of the positive work that is being done to build healthy difference in the United Kingdom, and he singled out members of the gathering whose work was of particular note.