Sixteen headlines from Justin Welby’s address and interview at the Religion Media Festival

Image credit: RMC

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, delivered an address to the fifth Religion Media Centre festival at the JW3 Centre in north London, and afterwards was interviewed by ITN’s Julie Etchingham. You can read his address here and see a recording of the whole session on our YouTube channel here. In his address he concentrated on religion and the media and his interview was wide ranging. We counted 16 headlines, unwrapped here.:

1. Valuing journalism

“We should welcome the challenge and scrutiny from the media that is part of living in a democratic society…When I started this job just over 10 years ago, the media landscape even that short period ago looked different. It has become faster, more complex, more driven by social media. In an age of misinformation, distraction, and the competition of noise with truth, it is ever more difficult for journalists to do their job”.  

2. In praise of local radio

“. I try to engage and I recognise the vital importance of seeking to communicate well what the church is doing and what we actually care about. I try to say yes, to as many media outlets as possible, including especially the local and the regional. I know how successful they are, because they are deeply embedded in the community …and they do marvellous things, despite especially at the local level, as we know, being immensely stretched and having had an incredibly hard time in the past 10 years. 

3. The last judgment for people who don’t welcome migrants

“If we take the illegal migration bill, for example, I find myself reminded of the passage in Matthew 25, verses 31 to 46, which is about the Last Judgment. It concerns two groups of people who unknowingly live in a way that either honours or fails to honours God commands for our way of life in the world. It echoes what’s often called the Nazareth Manifesto, in Luke Chapter Four, verses 16 to 21. These two groups of people, the sheep and the goats, they’re called, they either feed the hungry or fail to do so they nurse the sick, they visit the prisoner. And as we think about the illegal migrant migration bill, they welcome the stranger or they failed to do so. The second group live as though it didn’t matter. The first group is welcomed by Christ to eternal life. The second group have to face the terrible consequences of living for their own interests, as though those in need did not matter. Churches are active in this world and its concerns because they see God being active in this world. And many of those people who call for our help are Christians.”

4. On Boris Johnson misleading parliament

“The idea of service of, as Peter Hennessy put it, leaving the constitution and the country in a better place than you found it, as the key objective of politics, is a moral aim and has a moral foundation and a spiritual foundation. It’s clear that the committee has found in its process, and forgive me if that’s wrong, that he misled parliament. Now, we all know that politicians may just occasionally have misled parliament before. In fact, there may even in this room be people who are morally not 100 per cent pure and upright? Certainly, I’m not. But I think my first reaction is there’s a very good thing that there’s a process within parliament that measures the issues against criteria. The judgment they’ve come to his he misled parliament, they’re not explicitly examining his moral character. They’re saying he’s misled parliament, and misleading parliament is wrong, and therefore there’s got to be consequences.”

5. SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes was not treated fairly

JE: Do you think she was treated fairly?

ABC: No. I think it was an entire failure of many newspapers and reporters and radio and TV to do [their] job of explaining how this happens, why this view is taken? It’s presented as an entirely eccentric view. For many people disconnected with religion, it may well be and people are perfectly free to choose not to agree. But surely it is part of newspapers’ duties, to try to explain how that happens. So it’s not made as a snap judgment in a pile-on of the press. It’s made with understanding in which says, Well, if that’s the view, it’s not one I like.

JE: And do you think she was? I mean, it’s interesting that Humza Yousaf did not, many would see it, have the same scrutiny that she had. Do you think there was a particular issue around Christianity at that point?

ABC: Yes. And particularly because she is a member, I think I’m right, at the free Presbyterian Church. And people didn’t challenge him in the same way. And I think there was a noticeable difference in that.

6. Absence of forgiveness in social media pile-ons

“For good and sufficient reasons, reasons. I understand — I don’t criticise — good stories hang around people, don’t they? Stories that hang only around a concept are incredibly difficult to get across. And they don’t work well on television. You need a picture of a person, preferably looking slightly harassed or tearful, getting into a car and being driven away at speed. I mean, that’s the ideal news shot. There is an absence of forgiveness, there is an absence of the possibility of redemption. So people are treated as though they were the worst villain on earth. And where do you then go when terrible things happen? Where do you — if you’ve treated someone in, you know, sport or something like that as the absolute final say, in evil, how do you deal with  [the Russian army’s massacre of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians at] Bucha? How do you deal with South Sudan or Sudan? How do you deal with five million dead in the DRC, which is never reported? But it’s at war since 1995? There’s got to be a point where I know it’s just much less exciting, but is it really the most exciting? Are these pile-ons always proportional?”

JE: What does it feel like when it’s you?

ABC: Oh, well, I suppose it feels a bit like I’m just trying to thank it. It feels very uncontrolled. There’s nothing you can do about it except stick your head down and wait and see what happens. I haven’t had the worst of it. I mean, you know — obviously asked to resign quite regularly but by the people who are nearby my friends more than anything else …

7. When will he retire?

JE: You raised your retirement in your speech just now, so quickfire. When?

ABC: I am obliged to retire no later then January the 6th 2026, which is my 70th birthday, and I’m not going to answer the question any more than that.

JE: OK, so not before then … you don’t?

ABC: I didn’t say that. And I didn’t say not,

JE: But you didn’t say not. OK. Well, we’ll leave that. You didn’t deny it either.

ABC: No which means I didn’t admit it. (laughter) This is typical journalism, getting a story out of nothing. I can see ITN this evening, “Archbishop announces retirement to Julie Etchingham”.

JE: No, no, you’re safe.

8. I’m accountable for declining church attendance and see it as a personal failure

“The facts as they are, the further decline in the church, is something that in the end, even if I were not to be responsible for, I’m certainly accountable for so that I personally, I count as failure. That’s what I feel personally yes. I’m not sure I know what else could have been done. Because in the end, as I said, in my opening remarks, the church is not in the hands of indeed the individual archbishops. The future of the church, its survival or otherwise, does not depend on archbishops, it depends on God and the providence of God. And over the last 2,000 years, we’ve been in much worse places than this infinitely worse places. We spent 150 years killing each other, over the real presence in the sacrament.”

9. Have endless debates over same-sex relationships affected the church’s mission?

“Yes, I agree we are far too inward-looking. And that is that’s entirely wrong. No, I disagree, because within the life of the church, care and love for one another means we have to listen to one another and not as a sort of political party might do impose one group’s views on people who entirely disagree. So you know, the vast majority of Anglicans across the 85 million of them the Anglican Communion, would think that even the place we were in before the House of Bishops’ decision was far too liberal. And simply to treat them as someone said in a speech as people who are too ignorant to understand sex, is absolutely unacceptable. They are brothers and sisters in Christ.”

10. Tensions within the Anglican Communion “led by a white guy from England

“No one has yet left the Anglican Communion. Some may, but no one yet has. But as it happens, I entirely agree that the structure of the Anglican Communion needs reforming. The first thing I did in this job was with my wife Caroline we travelled to see the head of every Anglican church in the world in 38 countries. And the first question, when we got down got asked the politeness bit, was how do we reform the Anglican Communion so it’s no longer invariably run by white guy from England, in a communion that is 90 per cent global south. So this isn’t a new thing. And what this has given us is the opportunity to make those very serious changes. And I’ve said, I will welcome that. And don’t hold on to — grip — the position of being leader of the Anglican Communion”.

11. The Church of Uganda’s support of anti-homosexuality laws

“We..need to be fair to the Ugandans. The issues they called aggravated homosexuality are rape, homosexual rape and deliberate infection with Aids, and paedophilia, which are very, very serious crimes, and rightly, in this country. And so just that’s what I mean by presenting the complexities of the issue, and not just damning them, you know, bluntly, as it were. I think, and I will defend on some things — not on the death penalty, obviously, because I’m against that in on anything — but, you know, a lot of that some of that bill was other than people portrayed. I do disagree very strongly with the criminalisation of gay people — gay and lesbian people — and the Church of England in the Sixties was one of those most advocating for the decriminalisation. We’ve always felt that since. Is it irreparable? No, because of God. Yes, without God, it’s irreparable. We’re not a political party. The church has been in a much worse place than this, between 1644 and 1660, we fought a 16-year civil war, over much less serious things than that, and the church healed after that”.

12. Fully independent safeguarding system in the Church of England

“Anyone who thinks that the Church of England can lecture from some sort of high moral plane is in cloud cuckoo land.

JE: But it’s the church.

ABC: Well, I know that. And, you know, that’s what makes it so awful. That is why it is such a catastrophic and total failure. And the fact that there will always be safeguarding challenges, there always have been. It’s the differences now that we’re open about it, and transparent about and if you remember, a few years ago, when we suspended a bishop failing to deal with it, and the Archbishop of York has, the former Archbishop of York, Lord Sentamu, has been asked to step back, which would not have happened in the past. So we are much more strict about it were much more real about it, but until we have a fully independent central safeguarding system — and this is not the official view, but it’s my view — until we have a fully independent safeguarding system in the Church of England, we cannot hold our heads up”

13. On disestablishment

“Disestablishment is a question for parliament as establishment was and remains. We could argue about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. And there are varied views within the Church of England. I’m not going to say what I think about that. What I do know is God’s bigger than that. I mean, it’s not going to make any difference to the future of the church, whether it’s established or disestablished. It’s in the hands of God. This is what I keep saying, and we mustn’t fear the future…. One of my favourite predecessors, Archbishop Tait in the mid-19th century, from 1868 to 1881, had five disestablishment bills put forward in the first five years of his primacy, so there’s nothing new about this. So no, I’m not worried. If they do that, well, let them do it, we’ll see what parliament does. Parliament is sovereign. It’s entitled to vote on these issues. What the church would then do would depend on our consciences. And in the end, what we think what we, after prayer and consideration believe is right before God certainly may involve refusing to do what the law says, as it as for Christians throughout history”.

14. Committed to the local parish

“I was parish priest for 10 years. I am absolutely committed to the local and in the visits, I’ve just over the last weekend I made to Salisbury if you look at what I talked about, it was all about the local and that you could lose the House of Bishops tonight. I mean, they could all if we all disappeared in a puff of smoke. It’d be a couple of years before there was any noticeable impact on the Church of England. Whereas if you got rid of all the parishes and the churchwardens and the laypeople it would be noticeable in about one second. ..What we have to do is find ways of getting the whole church to live for the flourishing of the whole church. And that means that certain groups that have very large resources should be encouraged to share those resources very extensively, of people, and of leadership and of money. And that involves things like church planting, church crafting, building new churches. We opened more churches last year than we closed incidentally”.

15. Practising crowning the king and queen in a bedroom at Clarence House

ABC: I was asked around to practise with the crown, the real crown, because we had a sort of artificial one of the right weight that we were practising with beforehand. But this was the real crown, and I was invited round. A few days before the coronation, and there was the crown jeweller and the people who’d altered the sizing of the crowns for the King and the Queen. And we sat, they sat in their bedroom, and I crowned them again and again and again.

JE: In their bedroom?

ABC: In their bedroom, where at least there was a bed there. So it was a bedroom in Clarence House. I didn’t think it was polite to ask, is this your bedroom? It was definitely a bedroom.

JE: And then, millions, billions were watching that moment, globally … obviously, it was the sacred part of it, but the moment of the crowning itself. Well, there what was going through your mind?

ABC: Well, there was a certain amount of “get it straight”. That was going through my mind. And don’t fluff it. But it was actually there was a little bit of “Am I sure that it’s the square emerald at the front, and the oval one at the back?” But it was mainly we’d rehearsed it so often — and this is going to sound incredibly trite — but I found I was able to be in the moment and just be with the King on this enormously sacred moment for him, but also for the country, and so on, and enjoy it. And it was a wonderful, wonderful moment. Yes, of course, I wanted to get it on straight. What you had to do is put it tipped slightly backwards, and then bring it forward, hard down. And I just had this sort of, you know, I was thinking I mustn’t do it in such a way that I sort of crick his neck or whatever.

JE: That would be a great start.

ABC: It would be a really bad start, wouldn’t it? But it was an extraordinary it was an intense moment, it was a thin moment, a thin moment of huge significance and enormous privilege.

16. The Church should not be fearful, frightened or overwhelmed

“I’m not saying you have to have had huge tragedy to be able to be archbishop or something like that, I’m not saying that at all. But it is fascinating, the most beautiful of our Psalms, the one that so many people know, Psalm 23, the Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want. It has in the middle of it that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even there, your hand will hold me your right hand will uphold me. And I think there is something about the personal experience of the faithfulness of God that enables you to know that in the end, this isn’t actually about me at all. It’s about God’s people around the world in far worse situations than I’ve ever known or will ever know. And far better ones. And it’s about the providence and faithfulness of God, to his church, who rescues us, even when we get involved in the most terrible things, or do the most terrible things to each other. It’s about the love of God and Jesus Christ. And the job of the church is to simply keep on saying that, and not to be fearful, not to be frightened, not to be overwhelmed, and not ever, as Archbishop, to think it’s about me. It’s not about me, it’s about me as the 105th archbishop or the, 106th to come in the next few years, and just get on and do what it seems that God is leading me to do on each day as best I can.”


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