Some statues on religious sites in Britain “will have to come down”, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Justin Welby told the Radio 4 Today programme that while there should be forgiveness for past trespasses, that can only come when there is also justice and that statues will have to be put in context.
“Some will have to come down. Some names will have to change,” he said.
“I mean, the church, goodness me, you know, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral, there’s monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey, and we’re looking at all that, and some will have to come down.
“But yes, there can be forgiveness, I hope and pray as we come together, but only if there’s justice.
“If we change the way we behave now, and say this was then and we learned from that, and change how we’re going to be in the future, internationally, as well.”
As Archbishop of Canterbury, Welby is the highest-ranking prelate in England’s Established church and de facto leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Pressed on whether statues will be taken down in Canterbury Cathedral, Welby added: “No, I didn’t say that. I very carefully didn’t say that.”
“We’re going to be looking very carefully and putting them in context and seeing if they all should be there,” he added.
Comparing the current movement of toppling statues to the one that followed the fall of Communism, Welby said it is “what people do at times like this”, adding: “And it’s a good thing, but there has to be, for forgiveness, there has to be this turning round, this conversion, the Pope called it.
“The change of heart that says we learned from them not to be like that, and to change the way we are in the future.”
Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597 before being completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. Before the Reformation, it was the premier cathedral in England – and remains so for Anglicans – and it still contains the shrine of St Thomas Becket, one of the country’s most famous saints.
Welby also agreed that the Western Church needs to think again about how it portrays Jesus, in light of a recent widely shared Tweet from Shaun King calling for Black Lives Matter activists to attack images portraying Our Lord as white.
“You go into their churches, you don’t see a White Jesus, you see a Black Jesus or a Chinese Jesus or a Middle Eastern Jesus – which of course the most accurate.
“You see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings. And I don’t think throwing out everything we’ve got in the past here does it, but I do think saying ‘That’s not the Jesus who exists, that’s not who we worship’ is a reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human.”
Mr Welby’s words come as churches and religious statues face a growing threat from vandalism, particularly in the United States.
Earlier this week, an account claiming to represent Black Lives Matter called for protesters to target a Catholic church in San Diego, alleging: “St Anne’s doesn’t think Black Lives Matter and are staunch Trump supporters. These are white people who bought out the church from a Mexican family. I would like to see if we can organize a group to protest here ASAP.”
It also claims that the church doesn’t “believe coronavirus and have been congregating since the beginning of the Stay @ home orders.”
In response, Fr John Lyons FSSP encouraged parishioners to “pray for those who have promoted this action against our parish.”
Statues of St Junípero Serra, a Hispanic missionary who brought the faith to California, have also been targeted. When one statue in San Francisco was brough down, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone condemned the mob: “What is happening to our society? A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism.”
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